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

2014 Poetry Competition

Comments from Sharon Black our 2014 Poetry Judge

Judging 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.


Choosing 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


He does the cleaning now

her fragile frame no longer fit

to mop and sweep and bend.

She dispenses pills each night,

three for her five for him,

knowing he would forget

and just in case it makes a difference.

He guides her through the garden,

gentle hand beneath her elbow,

proposing plants to grow this year

and next year,

and saying how fine the delphiniums are.

They share spectacles

and study photographs

of holidays, weddings, parties,

astonished that the other has not changed

though they have grown so old.

She marks his programmes in the Radio Times

and turns the volume up for him.

He lets her warm her feet on his in the night

and every morning hands reach under covers

to check for warmth in the other half

and prayers are said that when it comes

it takes them both as one.


What our judge said about Halves:


In first 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.


About Sheri:


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


At dusk, as one last glimmer of sunlight,

                drops like a golden thread through the purple sky,

he walks 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

                                of lost generations: a beachcombers’ paradise.


He remembers a tall ship, a tall ship anchored in the bay,

                its maiden voyage around the Cape of Good Hope.

But he’s long given up scanning the horizon for miracles.

                Instead, he keeps his eyes on the upper circle:

the wheel of screeching gulls: the chancers:

                                the hawks decked out in drag, now massing leeward.


And he waits for the turn of the tide, the breakers:

                the mob of luddites, already foaming at the mouth,

to reclaim their lost dominions. He watches them gather

                strength, watches them come rushing up the shore,

watches them throw themselves on the shingle, mass around

                                the beleaguered 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:


In 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


Verbal melodies flooded through my mind

when I was a girl. It was if I was a burn

for truths and music. Village elders frowned

on me claiming that I brought shame upon


the clan but I went on composing in secret.

I bent my ear to whispers of winds as they

Formed pathways through stoned fields of oats.

Each stilled evening, streamed with peat smoke,


I caught tunes out of the very air. The roar of

Lusting stags in autumn found its way into

my verse. When departing tides left their

concentric rings on shell sand, I beachcombed


poems like salt sieved driftwood. I waulked

words as my mother waulked the urine soaked

wool when she joined her voice in wave after

wave of wailing song, wrenching music out of cloth.


With a creel of seaweed on my back, chilled salt

water, dried by sunlight, crusting around my neck,

I hummed words like leaping salmon psalms

under my breath. It was as if my people


through me even I was just a woman.

I was the voice of love, exile and drowninh;

the voice of the curlew calling from bouldered

moors with the bog cotton dancing licentious jigs


around the hill lochans that wore their nexklaces

of moonlight like shy brides. My brother joined

me in this conspiracy of song. They would not teach

me to form scrawled words on paper so I sang


and he regimented my silenced words in lines

like soldiers on parade. I grew bold through time,

I stood up in ceilidhs  - they could not stop me –

and cast my words like nets around the centre


circle of glowing embers. I spun out my years

with the healing gauze of my poems until death

dumbed my voice and nw lie with my shameless

lips pressed to the earth as to a dark lover.


If you look closer – come, look at me closer –

you will see my lips still mouthing words,

striving to speak for the dead as I spoke for

the 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:


In third 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.


About James:


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.

His 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 2008.

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


along the thin line of contraries, the push

and pull of love when from your eyes

I imagined doves with flint beaks, and

transparent wings in the tiny light. But

it was a little brown sparrow that cowed

under the brow of the house as the hawk

made a shadow shaking the grass, and stars

nestled deeper into their dark vents,

leaving an emptiness, solemn with

an impression of something once said.

Like your unfolding story

                                                  I remember, about

the mythical river where you dipped your toe

to find refuge from the brutal drift of things –

the dirt under your foot-soles, the fields slippery

with gore, the little red apples with disease.

And you came to me then with eyes full

of stings, but I pretended

                                                    you came from heaven

and would show me how to keep alive

because I was perishable as the wet leaves.

When we locked hands, you said our bodies

could never be close enough. We ached,

unable to cry, and I thought of the blind man

in the road, the dog pulling him back home

in the snow. I wonder if it was still winter

when you confessed your life was a chapter

of knots, like Quipu, leading only to me –

a loose thread, a pastime in the hour before dusk –

that unearthly moment between the dog

and the wolf. And afterwards,

                                                             I watched you

Leave in the mirror – on the table

An empty glass, a scattering of small change.

And the smell of you lingered in my mind,

the duvet bundled like a cottom bale – the angle poise

dipping its head into the splash of pillow.


What our judge said about Once:


My 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 –

‘the 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


The ship leaves the bay with its precious load –

the child I loved, who was never afraid

to slip her hand into the paw of mine

and let me guide her to the brook

in the fertile grove of my isle, when I

was king, and governed the sun and stars,

the wild waves, boar and deer, and nightingales.

There we listened to the music of the wind,

of a thousand trees, leaves plucking the air

and the voice of Ariel wove a song

through coral-bone, and the pearly conch

of sea-nymphs heralded our fables and dreams.


It was then I had shape, substance, the fragrance

of earth in my veins when my cries could

lift the moon from her sphere, before the

flesh-fly laid her eggs and hatched words

loaded with shame, sin, curses, and man’s

bite tattooed my skin. And I am like water

in water, a drunkard, demi-devil, strange fish,

finned, misshapen in the twinned globes

of her abused eyes, and on land, left to crawl,

dig pig nuts in the dirt and curse the tyrant

who taught me his crimes, who made a whore

of my mother with his forked tongue, hissing

like an adder to infect my ear. I will not go

to her country to be caged, prodded into

madness as a thing of darkness, a monster

to gawp at, to writhe on my belly in filth.

Just as the spider wraps up the fly, so too

I will capture her memory for eternity curled

like the 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 Moon-Calf:


In fifth 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:


Please see above.






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