Our 2014 Poetry Competition Shortlist
A big thanks to all who entered our 2014 Poetry Competition.
We have now completed our final judging stage and Sharon Black, our poetry judge, has decided upon the winners, see below.
Congratulations to all of the shortlisted poets and, of course, our prizewinners.
1st Place - Sheri Turner for "Halves"
2nd Place - AKS Shaw for "Scrap"
3rd Place - James Knox Whittet for "Facing the Earth"
4th Place - S. M. Davies for "Once"
5th Place - S. M. Davies for "Miranda and the Moon-calf"
Other Shortlisted entries
Sweeping The Yard - Robert N. Gutsall
Scattering - Margaret Eddershaw
The Pianist - Margaret Eddershaw
Stocks - Anna Wigley
November 5th - William Alderson
Hutton’s Unconformity - David Smith
Departing The Rough Bounds - Mike Bannister
Harmonic Minor Ten - Mike Bannister
When I Came Home - Sarah Macleod
Professional Mourner - Sarah Macleod
Feeding The Grass - AKS Shaw
Turning The Tide - AKS Shaw
Appeasement - Clifford Hughes
Eleven View’s of my Father’s Hand - Hilary Jayne
A Childish Prayer for Snow - Julie Burke
Madeleine - D I Harrison
I Don’t Like Him - Judith Wilson
Hammer - Pat Borthwick
He Is Dead - Tom Neill
Gleaners - Eithne Cullen
Lodiann - Callum Coles
The Seashell - Shirley Anne Cook
Comments from Sharon Black our
2014 Poetry Judge
this year’s competition was a pleasure and a privilege. It was the first time
I’d judged a poetry competition on my own and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I
read the 27 poems with a mixture of curiosity and growing apprehension as none
of them jumped out as being ‘the one’ on first reading. So I put them aside for
a week and came back to them with fresh eyes. Slowly a ‘maybe’ and a ‘no’ pile
began to take form. The poems that made it into the ‘maybe’ pile had something
in them that delighted and surprised me – original imagery (stocks that are
‘heavy with softness / and the colour of English girls’ [‘Stocks’], a cliff
path ‘as treacherous as a kiss’ [‘Hutton’s Unconformity’]), humour (tears that
‘I get black / market off a crocodile’ [‘Professional Mourner’], a seductive fluidity of rhythm and/or sound
(of ashes, ‘they smoke over the snow-white drop’ [‘Scattering’] or a confidence
that made me sit up and take notice (‘A solemn Caribbean, / late forties, /
slumped in a work jacket, / at a corner table with a pint of beer’ [‘The
Pianist’]). A number of poems in the ‘no’ pile suffered from same weaknesses:
inconsequential or predictable endings (as if the writer had run out of
enthusiasm two thirds through), clichés, over-use of adjectives, thudding end rhymes,
and the use of self-consciously poetic language. Many almost made it into the
‘maybe’ pile only to be pipped at the post by one or two of these slips that
spoiled an otherwise fine poem.
the winning five poems was difficult but ultimately I am happy with my choice.
A different reader may well have picked out different poems for prizes but what
they shared for this reader was that my fondness and appreciation for them grew
with each reading. A huge congratulations to the winning poets with my thanks
to everyone on this shortlist for the privilege of letting me read your work.
1st Place – Sheri Turner for Halves
the cleaning now
fragile frame no longer fit
and sweep and bend.
dispenses pills each night,
for her five for him,
he would forget
in case it makes a difference.
guides her through the garden,
hand beneath her elbow,
plants to grow this year
saying how fine the delphiniums are.
holidays, weddings, parties,
that the other has not changed
they have grown so old.
marks his programmes in the Radio Times
turns the volume up for him.
her warm her feet on his in the night
every morning hands reach under covers
for warmth in the other half
prayers are said that when it comes
them both as one.
What our judge said about Halves:
place, ‘Halves’ is a tender portrait of an elderly couple helping each through
the minutiae of daily life as together they face death, and their hopes to be
taken ‘as one’ at the end. It’s a simple story, simply told, and with a
deceptively light touch that grew on me with each reading. The rhythm is
careful and deliberate, the details – ‘She dispenses pills each night… /
knowing he would forget / and just in case it makes a difference’ – universally
recognisable yet intensely personal, and I was won over by the lines ‘He lets
her warm her feet on his at night / and every morning hands reach under covers
/ to check for warmth in the other half’. An example of how a successful poem
does not have to resort to flowery or complicated language.
Sherri Turner was brought up
in Cornwall and now lives in Surrey with her husband. She writes short
stories and poetry and has had many stories published in women’s magazines in
the UK and overseas. Her work has won
and been placed in competitions for both poetry and short stories and has
also appeared in a number of short story anthologies.
2nd Place – AKS Shaw for Scrap
as one last glimmer of sunlight,
drops like a golden thread
through the purple sky,
along the deserted beach, and puts his heart
into the wreck of a small
fishing boat, which lies
on a bed
of shifting sand, amid the ghostly wreckage
generations: a beachcombers’ paradise.
remembers a tall ship, a tall ship anchored in the bay,
its maiden voyage around the
Cape of Good Hope.
long given up scanning the horizon for miracles.
Instead, he keeps his eyes on
the upper circle:
wheel of screeching gulls: the chancers:
the hawks decked
out in drag, now massing leeward.
waits for the turn of the tide, the breakers:
the mob of luddites, already
foaming at the mouth,
reclaim their lost dominions. He watches them gather
strength, watches them come
rushing up the shore,
them throw themselves on the shingle, mass around
vessel, and strike one final blow.
And he waits for the six stately pallbearers: old mates,
to carry the broken carcass, to carry it gently,
to carry it gently and slowly, to carry it
very gently and very slowly, over the last strip
of sand, over the threshold of chattering pebbles,
over the chattering pebbles, and back to the breakers' yard.
What our judge said about Scrap:
second place, ‘Scrap’ is the story of a stranded shipwreck, a small fishing
boat rotting on a deserted beach, and the stories it has to tell. The speaker ‘puts
his heart / into the wreck’ and in doing so remembers other vessels on the
skyline, even though ‘ he’s long given up
scanning the horizon for miracles’. I loved this switch from the
particular to the universal and, although the poem had a couple of weak points
– the second comma on the first line, the clichéd archaism of ‘lost dominions’
– I was swept up and away by the slow-building repetition in its final stanza
echoing the ebb and flow of the sea, and the final ambiguity of ‘breakers’
yard’ which made me think both of a salvage yard and of the ocean’s breakers.
About AKS Shaw:
A K S Shaw(aka A K Scutter)(Keith Shaw) was born in 1941 and educated at Queen Mary’s Grammar School, Basingstoke, and Hull University. He then qualified, first as a chartered accountant, and then as a solicitor, with firms in private practice in Reading. He joined the Civil Service in 1975 and spent twenty one years commuting to central London from the home counties. He now lives in retirement in rural Somerset and writes poetry as a form of therapy and relaxation.
3rd Place – James Knox Whittet for
Facing The Earth
melodies flooded through my mind
was a girl. It was if I was a burn
truths and music. Village elders frowned
claiming that I brought shame upon
but I went on composing in secret.
my ear to whispers of winds as they
pathways through stoned fields of oats.
stilled evening, streamed with peat smoke,
tunes out of the very air. The roar of
stags in autumn found its way into
verse. When departing tides left their
rings on shell sand, I beachcombed
like salt sieved driftwood. I waulked
my mother waulked the urine soaked
when she joined her voice in wave after
wailing song, wrenching music out of cloth.
creel of seaweed on my back, chilled salt
dried by sunlight, crusting around my neck,
words like leaping salmon psalms
breath. It was as if my people
me even I was just a woman.
the voice of love, exile and drowninh;
voice of the curlew calling from bouldered
with the bog cotton dancing licentious jigs
the hill lochans that wore their nexklaces
moonlight like shy brides. My brother joined
this conspiracy of song. They would not teach
form scrawled words on paper so I sang
regimented my silenced words in lines
soldiers on parade. I grew bold through time,
up in ceilidhs - they could not stop me
my words like nets around the centre
of glowing embers. I spun out my years
healing gauze of my poems until death
my voice and nw lie with my shameless
to the earth as to a dark lover.
look closer – come, look at me closer –
see my lips still mouthing words,
to speak for the dead as I spoke for
living: creating beauty out of loss and dirt.
It was the tradition for female Gaelic poets
and song writers in the Scottish Highlands and Islands to be buried face down
after death as a punishment for usurping the male role of Bard.
What our judge said about Facing The Earth:
place, ‘Facing The Earth’ is a fascinating tale of an old Scottish custom told
from the point of view of a young woman buried face down as punishment for
reciting songs and poetry, considered a man’s role. The poem is a stand in
favour of our right to express ourselves through words and music whatever our
gender. The poem is lyrical but also ballsy; the speaker is defiant: ‘now I lie
with my shameless / lips pressed to the earth as to a dark lover.’ I admired
the original images and use of Scots dialect – ‘It was if I was a burn / for
truth and music’, ‘I waulked / words as my mother waulked the urine soaked
/wool’, ‘I hummed words like leaping salmon psalms / under my breath’. It’s a
longish poem but every line adds something new.
James Knox Whittet was
born and brought up in the Hebridean island of Islay where his father was
head gardener at Dunlossit Castle. His paternal grandmother came from a
crofting family on the Isle of Skye. He was educated at Newbattle Abbey
College and Cambridge University.
first poetry pamphlet, A Brief History
Of Devotion was published in 2003.
His second pamphlet, Seven Poems For
Engraved Fishermen was published in 2004 and was shortlisted for an award
by the National Library of Scotland. In 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2011 he won the
George Crabbe Memorial Award.
In 2005 he edited the anthology entitled 100 Island Poems Of Great Britain And
Ireland which was nominated as one
of the Books of the Year by The
Scotsman and received a major award from the the Arts Council. The
following year, he received an award from the Society of Authors. In the same
year, he edited an anthology of poems by Islay's primary school children
entitled Voices Of Islay's Children. His prose anthology, Writers On Islands (Iron Press) was
published in 2008. His collection, Poems
From The Hebrides was published in
He won the Neil Gunn Memorial Award for poetry in
2009 and an award from Highland Arts. His translation of Sorley Maclean's Hallaig was commended in The Times/Stephen Spender Prize in
2010. His collection entitled When
Kafka Met Einstein was published in 2012. He has collaborated with a
Scottish artist and photographer on an exhibition entitled Voices And Images Of Islay which is to
be displayed during the Aldeburgh poetry festival this November. A book of
the same name is to be published this year. He is a Hawthornden Fellow and
President of the Suffolk Poetry Society.
4th Place – S. M. Davies for Once
the thin line of contraries, the push
of love when from your eyes
imagined doves with flint beaks, and
wings in the tiny light. But
it was a
little brown sparrow that cowed
the brow of the house as the hawk
shadow shaking the grass, and stars
deeper into their dark vents,
an emptiness, solemn with
impression of something once said.
your unfolding story
I remember, about
mythical river where you dipped your toe
refuge from the brutal drift of things –
under your foot-soles, the fields slippery
gore, the little red apples with disease.
came to me then with eyes full
stings, but I pretended
you came from heaven
would show me how to keep alive
I was perishable as the wet leaves.
locked hands, you said our bodies
never be close enough. We ached,
to cry, and I thought of the blind man
road, the dog pulling him back home
snow. I wonder if it was still winter
confessed your life was a chapter
knots, like Quipu, leading only to me
thread, a pastime in the hour before dusk –
unearthly moment between the dog
wolf. And afterwards,
I watched you
the mirror – on the table
glass, a scattering of small change.
smell of you lingered in my mind,
duvet bundled like a cottom bale – the angle poise
its head into the splash of pillow.
What our judge said about Once:
fourth choice, ‘Once’, caught my attention on the very first reading but took a
while to work its way into my affections. Original images abound –
stars nestled deeper into their dark vents’, which I loved; ‘…when you
confessed your life was a chapter / of knots, like Quipu, leading only to me’
which, although I enjoyed the reference to this Andean tradition, I found
awkward, especially in the context of ‘winter’; ‘the duvet bundled like a
cotton bale’ and the wonderful final line, both of which helped to create a
memorable ending. But the poem is let down by the grammar of the first sentence
which, although not technically faulty, I stumbled over several times until I
worked out the clause structure. It’s a shame, and the poem would have made it
higher into my listing if it had had a more fluid start.
About S. M. Davies:
Born in Germany, I grew up
in London. I worked for BBC Radio at Broadcasting House. I married and lived
in Oxford, and then moved with my husband to Cyprus, where he worked for the
British Council. I taught English in
the local 6th form college when we returned to the U.K. and
brought up three children.
I live in Hampshire close to
the sea. I have completed a fictional memoir, and will be having a collection
of poems published later this year.
5th Place – S. M. Davies for Miranda
and The Moon-Calf
leaves the bay with its precious load –
child I loved, who was never afraid
her hand into the paw of mine
me guide her to the brook
fertile grove of my isle, when I
king, and governed the sun and stars,
waves, boar and deer, and nightingales.
listened to the music of the wind,
thousand trees, leaves plucking the air
voice of Ariel wove a song
coral-bone, and the pearly conch
sea-nymphs heralded our fables and dreams.
then I had shape, substance, the fragrance
in my veins when my cries could
moon from her sphere, before the
laid her eggs and hatched words
with shame, sin, curses, and man’s
tattooed my skin. And I am like water
water, a drunkard, demi-devil, strange fish,
misshapen in the twinned globes
abused eyes, and on land, left to crawl,
nuts in the dirt and curse the tyrant
taught me his crimes, who made a whore
mother with his forked tongue, hissing
adder to infect my ear. I will not go
country to be caged, prodded into
madness as a thing of darkness, a monster
at, to writhe on my belly in filth.
the spider wraps up the fly, so too
capture her memory for eternity curled
secret nectar in the cowslip’s bell
for I am
a sorry thing, yet free in the windfall light.
What our judge said about Miranda and The
place, a poem by the same writer – I know this not just because the entry
reference numbers are so close together but also by the writing style. ‘Miranda
and the Moon-calf’ – a reference to The Tempest – is the story of two lost
souls, one a deformed creature. Through the speaker, we learn of the
‘moon-calf’ Caliban’s previous life as sole inhabitant of the island where the
story takes place. Again, the imagery is rich – ‘the fragrance / of earth in my
veins when my cries could / lift the moon from her sphere’ – and the narrative dense
and complex, which I enjoyed. Ultimately, however, I was left wondering what
someone unfamiliar with Shakespeare’s play would make of it and this is what I
felt let the poem: I wasn’t sure it stood on its own without knowledge of the
story on which it is based. Still, a most enjoyable read.
About S. M. Davies: