2012 Competition - Poetry Winners

General Comments from Peter Branson:

As you would expect with a poetry competition of national importance, all two dozen poems on the shortlist were of very high quality, so
it was with real difficulty that I selected a top ten. Getting ten down to eight was even more demanding and, to be honest, any one of those top eight would have proved a worthy first prize winner.

Three Poems, that didn't make the prizes, but are specifically commended:

‘Keeping a Wolf’ and ‘GIRL WITH A PEARL EAR-RING’ were the poems that most stood out on first and second readings. I admired the imagery of the former (‘like smoke or shadows’ and ‘eyes like gunsights’) and was drawn to the directness of the first and final lines. Also I liked the way it counterpointed traditional wolf mythology. However I decided in the end that the poem overall didn’t quite work for me as well as some of the others. 

‘Girl with a Pearl Ear-ring’ was equally striking on first reading, especially the last sentence, but I felt the characterisation of the girl was a bit one dimensional, certainly compared to the character in the novel (and film), now perhaps equally as well-known as the painting.

‘Waving Goodbye’ is another fine piece though there are a couple of weak moments that let it down. The clumsiness of the first line jars
for me (though I appreciate why it was written in that way). Also, although I found the ending moving and the stream-of-consciousness thought process engaging, I was unsure of the authenticity of the narration.

1st Place – Simon Jackson for “Weightless”

I remember the day you left.

You let me help you shave.

Holding the plunger down the can rattled,

shuddered and exhaled from its blowhole.

Foam spewed like lava, growing into far more

than the TARDIS of the can could contain.

I was astounded at this genie, expanding in my hand,

warm and soft and impossibly light.


Smiling you took the can from me,

scraped the lather onto hard hands

and built a snowscape over your chin.

The razor was orange as tangerines.

You ploughed your face smooth,

cutting new roads through the rough,

left an avalanche in the sink.


You wore your black suit,

the smart one saved for

interviews and family dos.

I asked Mum had you got the job,

was that why you hadn't come home,

and she said yeah, something like that,

but I knew even then that something was wrong.


I’d lie in bed and imagine I was that foam.

Weightless. Cleaner than I could ever be.

I didn't even recognise you

when you came to the door in that same black suit,

small, crumpled like broken tarmac.


I tried to picture how you were

but my only memory

was that soft mountain

still growing in my hand,

impossibly clean, weightless, white.

What our judge, Peter Branson said:

‘Weightless is a real triumph of a poem. I appreciate judging is a very personal matter but I am certain this piece would grace any
competition. The foam, like the child’s feelings about and understanding of what is happening is all-enhancing yet impossible to grasp. This is an adult voice, addressed to the father, recalling childish perceptions of his leaving home and family. We are not told the details of this, again an example of children being protected as in ‘A Trip to the Park’. The title and imagery in the first two sections emphasize the child’s inability to process the enormity of what is going on, the explosion of emotions involved. The detailed memories of helping him shave, the incidental details recalled, emphasises the sense of trauma. The suit and interview section and the mother’s cynical reply
re-enforces the child’s helplessness and confusion. ‘Crumpled like broken tarmac’ is a particularly effective line, as is ‘I didn’t even recognise you’, describing a later visit by the father. There is a pleasing circularity of form with a return at the end to the ‘weightless’, colourless foam imagery. The last two lines are especially poignant.

About Simon:

Simon Jackson ran Living Arts Space Theatre Company for three years. He then became an itinerant musician, journalist and teacher in East Europe, North Africa and South America where he was Head of Drama at Newton College, Lima.

He writes poetry, plays, short stories and music, all of which have won awards.  His short films have been screened by the BBC and internationally. His last play, Turning to the Camera, was The Guardian’s Pick of the Week for theatre. None of this have ever come close to making him a living but goes a long way to alleviating boredom.

Born Manchester, Simon now lives in Edinburgh, teaching part time, with his wife and daughter who vainly hope he’ll discover a taste for nine-to-five work soon.

2nd PlaceJackie Brewster for “A Trip To The Park

All August’s promises are broken.

An intimidation of grey clouds

ruffles the cushions

of perfect rose heads.

Watching the hierarchy of mourners

coiling the gravel drive,

I press my nose against the window,

a moment before I am driven away.

Grieving is slow dance of hard learnt gestures,

reserved for those who own polished shoes,

mints, and lace trimmed hankies.

It is my Nanna’s concern about her hair,

a furtive cigarette tossed in the hedge,

an amnesty on laughter,

a grown up private matter,

a checking and re-checking of small change.

Grieving is not the man who

showed me where,

below the crumbling wall

the blue-eyed fairies hide.

Nor the man who would

lift me up upon his knee, and

tell all the others to be good like me.

Gravel spits, only the branches wave.

What our judge, Peter Branson said:

‘A Trip to the Park’ is an excellent poem, with some closely observed and highly-charged imagery, especially ‘’ruffles the cushions’ and
‘Gravel spits’ at the end. The third and fourth stanzas are a wonderful description of a child’s observation of adult behaviour, especially ‘an amnesty on laughter’. It takes me back to my early experiences of funerals, though I was ‘protected’ in a similar way at an early age. Again this would have been a worthy winner.

About Jackie:

Jackie Brewster now lives in Long Eaton, Derbyshire, and is a freelance writer and editor when not chasing after her two young children. She is a member of Erewash Writers Group.

Jackie has always been fascinated by the moment of intimacy created between poem and reader. In A Trip to the Park she wanted to explore how a child tries to make sense of their world through fragments of observed behaviour.

Forthcoming poetry publication: Same Journey, Different Light, in collaboration with the artist Justine Nettleton.

3rd PlaceTamsin Forman for “A Pig In Portugal

Back-packing on a track in Portugal,

Jack revelled in an unpolluted land

Of lofty terraces with rich red soil,

Where men with faces punished by the sun

Ploughed furrows planting vines to bear the grapes

To turn into the port Jack drank at Christmas.

On holiday from farm and debt and care,

He breathed an orange blossom scented breeze

With culinary scents of boot-crushed thyme,

Among the olive groves and cork-oak trees.

Where two ways crossed, Jack saw a road-killed pig,

A neatly tottered, lifeless big blonde sow,

Her snout was puckered in a porcine grin,

Her eyes were glazed beneath their ginger lashes.

With dread Jack caught a stench of rank decay

Her smile was sweet, her carcass though was rotting.

Bad dreams returned to eddy round his head,

Past scenes of livestock plague and stacks of dead,

Where two roads crossed, by "déjà-vu" depressed,

Jack felt his pack was ballasted by lead.

What our judge, Peter Branson said:

‘A Pig in Portugal’ is a highly-original poem that grew on me more and more as I re-read, thus eventually finding itself high up the list in
third place. The use of ‘Jack’ was very effective as was the third person narrative. I loved the ‘Bad dreams returned to eddy round his head’ image and the final line but thought the word ‘porcine’ and ‘by déjà-vu depressed’ rather below the quality of the poem overall.

About Tamsin:

Tamsin was born in Malaya, worked and lived in the Middle East, Africa and Europe. Lives in the hilltop village of Brill in Bucks, writing poetry in my head as I yomp up the increasingly daunting hill. The poems get briefer as I run out of puff. The steeper the slope, the terser the verse. Jack felt his pack was ballasted by lead.

4th PlaceRoger Elkin forBoxing Safely Away My Foster-Mother’s Rosary

I’ve lived with it till leaving her,
that string of seed-pod beads -
fragile, antique, shiny-bright as tears -
wired to skin-thin discs depicting
Our Lady resplendent in silvery grace,
embossed with Souvenir de Lourdes,
and, beneath, a miniature crucifix
with Christ distended in suffering –
so much torn agony, such pain
for ordinary folk to carry around.

What miles of guilt and forgiveness
I’ve witnessed her pale hands journeying
in those daily Hail Marys and
ritual silences she put between us
with index finger-lifts of shushing.
So, it comes as no surprise that she’s
 picked me to receive the single thing
she thought fit for passing down, to keep it
safe, slithering through my riddling fingerings.

She’ll never know that after the wake
once we’ve put our lives back together,
I’ll box up that chain of faith, then slide it
deep inside the console drawer.

That way, hiding away her parades
of silences from my kids’ enquiring hands,
I’ll create for us a grace of sorts
that knows no display of pain,
no show of guilt, no hurt of minds,
just love, no strings attached.

What our judge, Peter Branson said:

‘Boxing Safely Away’ tells a riveting story. I was especially taken by the strong religious imagery in the first part and loved ‘ritual silences’ and ‘shushing’ though found the final line in the second section a tad clumsy.  The final two parts worked perfectly, especially the last two lines, the graceful white lies. This really could have won.

About Roger:

Roger was shortlisted for the Bloodaxe New Blood Book-length Competition (1987);
one of 10 shortlisted (out of 4,000 entries) for the Strokestown International Poetry Competition (2003);
and one of 6 shortlisted for the Keele University Poetry Prize(2007).

He has won over 150 prizes and places – 38 firsts - in (inter)national poetry competitions. His poetry has received 

the Lake Aske Memorial Award (1982 & 1987)                           
the Douglas Gibson Memorial Award(1986)
the Sylvia Plath Award for Poems about Women (1986)              
and the Hugh MacDiarmid Trophy (2003).

He became the first recipient of the Howard Sergeant Memorial Award for Services to Poetry in 1987; and was The Writer’s Rostrum “Poet of the Year, 1991”.

His poetry appears in the following collections:

Pricking Out                          (Aquila, 1988)

Points of Reference              (Headland, 1996)

Home Ground                       (Headland, 2002)

Rites of Passing                    (Shoestring, 2006)

Blood Brothers                      (Headland,2005)

No Laughing Matter             (Cinnamon Press, 2007)

Dog’s Eye View                     (Lapwing, 2009)

Fixing Things                        (Indigo Dreams, 2011)

Marking Time                        (Sentinel Poetry Movement, 2012)

5th PlaceSylvia Goodman forTrouseau

Gnarled hands that cannot hold a spoon
finger the trousseau of her memory.
Four day-dresses, button-through, for walking,
taking coffee, lunch at home with Nanny
part of the family. “Everyone changed
in the afternoon,” so different dresses elegant
for sitting, reading, dutiful daughter, gracious hostess.
Her gaze is turned to seventy years ago,
visiting the dressmaker, eyes bright, pert hat,
gloved hands caressing fabrics, choosing
seeing the full length dress with long sleeves
for bridge with dish of sweets and dainty evening cakes
and tea in china cups when mugs were metal,
just for workmen. Chiffon evening dresses swirl
around dance programmes with tasselled pencils
palm court orchestras, gentlemen in tails
and white gloves splayed across her back.
She rustles among leaves of tissue paper,
easing out folds of silk, the crumpled pleats
already ironed to perfection. She smoothes the satin
of a favourite frock, strokes the velvet wrap
she snuggled into, comforting the backless dress.
Her thoughts begin to catalogue French knickers,
early nylon stockings, slips of silky rayon
magically now uncreased, and slide
among the fearful sheets and pillowslips
towards the wedding night. Clouded now,
she veers away to don the smart ribbed suit
in fashionable brown and briefly, with a modern eye,
smiles at the floppy bow in bengaline.
Ruminating on the word brings back the present.
Today she has no need of hat or gloves
or coat or suit to complement the weather.
One dress will do. Memories clothe her now. 

What our judge, Peter Branson said:

‘Trousseau’ is an excellent piece with some lovely observations and elegant imagery. However I felt the poem was rather too long and bordering on repetitive in the first section, and too obvious in the middle part. I like the final line very much but found the word ‘ruminating’ a little clumsy.

About Sylvia:

After my degree I started as a secretary and at the same time did a course in stage management. Following a spell in Italy working in travel I returned to England and took a diploma in adult education. I spent twelve years as an organiser, specialising in teaching people how to teach adults. In this connection I received a bursary to study for five months in Australia and New Zealand. Subsequently I moved into the field of psychological testing, working with a wide variety of businesses. Another change, and I did a course in writing and production for the media.

I have published articles broadly in the fields of education and travel, and poems in publications of Biscuit, Forward Press, United Press,
Poetry Now, the National Poetry Anthology, Envoi and Acumen. I have received prizes for poetry from Indigo Dreams, the Society of Women Writers and Journalists, and Envoi. I also received a prize for a short story from Optima, and a full length play was given a rehearsed reading at a fringe theatre in London.

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