2014 Competition Prizewinning poems

Prizewinners with Pascale Petit at the prizegiving on April 15th:

Daisy Behagg; Pascale Petit; Grevel Lindop; Lindsay Fursland; Andrew Soye

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First Prize

Andrew Soye – Kigali
Hope and despair? Let me show you
the Anglican cathedral where they are
celebrating the wedding; the concrete floor
the burnt-brick walls decorated with flowers
guests in their places, dressed in their best
clothes, fanning themselves with their hymnals
mopping their brows, beneath the rough-sawn
rafters of a rusted corrugated iron roof.

And the sparrowhawk that flew in through
one of the unglazed windows as the couple
were making their vows, now perched
with its prey directly above the altar
feathers falling through sunlight like blessing
like slow-motion confetti, like snow

Second Prize

 Grevel Lindop - CIGAR
It would have, unrolled, a small book’s
surface area. My first was the gift
of a man at the next table
of the pavement café at the Hotel Inglaterra.
He worked, he said,

at the Partagas factory, where they read
the newspaper aloud all morning,
and in the afternoon novels and poetry
while, adept as conjurers’,
the workers’ hands rip, stuff and wrap. More words
went into it than I shall ever draw out.

The tobacco-god is a bird with scarlet plumage
and mother-of-pearl eyes. His four
attendants are the green
spirit of the fresh leaf, the brown of the dried,
the red spirit of fire and the blue of smoke.

The red visits only for flaring instants;
is fickle, demands nurture. The green
is memory and imagination. The blue
is a girl dressed in feathers: lapis, lavender, sky.
When she kisses

her tongue is sharp as seabrine, chocolate, chilli.
She says the word tabaco is Carib,
from a language whose last speaker
has been dead four hundred years. But the brown

lives in my hand this moment, brittle
and crisp as a chrysalis. Filtered
through his crushed spirals,
molecular poems thread themselves
into my genes, become part of the air I breathe,
the words I speak. Both of us end in ash.

Third Prize
 Jo Bell – Shibboleth

I thought of girls who doodled yours in school books,
gasped it on the back seat of your first car;
had it inked onto their wrist and then burned off
or screamed it in the labour room.

You thought of those who murmured mine
in rented rooms, or grunted it in bikers’ dens:
scrapped over it like mongrels with a bone
intoned it as they got down on one knee.

And so we called each other Rochester and Jane
or Hot and Bothered; Desperate of Huddersfield;
and the tea-cosy names which keep love only warm -
hinny, honey, darling, baby doll -

until, today, you lean into the root of me
and speak the word I wear under my tongue,
that font-and-deathbed tag, my given name:
whispering the word that for a moment

stops the river, leaves me
naked on the bank in flames.

Fourth Prizes

 Lindsay Fursland - Pinochet’s Orphan

 On my grandfather’s knee I was when he told the police
my parents’ whereabouts – he gave their lives up
to save mine.  The choice they gave him unbearably simple …
Astronomy consoled him that such things may be meant,
that stars must die so others can be born,
a sacred cycle I’d understand in time.

He becomes my parents.  Next thing I’m
in his lean shadow learning how to gawp
via smoked glass at a transit of Venus,
dragging its infinitesimal self across the sun -
a flaw in an egg-yolk – tiny, faint,
its bright spark turned now into a freckle;

and the nights so clear the cosmos seemed touchable.
Now I make my living searching space
with a hundred-inch reflecting telescope,
my nostalgia-for-the-light instrument,
raking the dark like a sniper taking aim:
whatever’s secret there I’ll make my own.

I only wish I could point the focus down,
x-ray the deep killing-fields for bones of a parent:
every day I’d go hunting, hope against hope
I’d stumble on some fragment of my loss,
a detached foot maybe, still in the wool
of his burgundy sock. I’d bag it up, go home,

lock the door behind me.  In the living room
I’d take it out. I wouldn’t be able to stop
myself.  Handling the bone I’d see his face.
I think I’d live from moment to moment,
taking this furtive, intimate communion,
knowing the calcium formed in a star is in his ankle.

 

Caroline Carver - blue whale

 

when he lived on land instead of under the sea
he dreamed apple blossom mixed with honey
his living space hung   with all the colours of the orient

*

his residual legs fade
with each step up the evolutionary ladder

*

sometimes he crashes into my world  like a burst of geese

*

I swim in the dark with only a whale for company
mantas fly below like unmarked planes

*

why tell him he’s as long as a football pitch?
his ‘fields’ reach skywards

 *

 in the last battle    harpoons will be the weapon of choice

*

 all the king’s men jumped on their horses
bending over their necks     their long whale backbones

 

no    all the king’s men jumped into their boats
flensing knives waiting on the ships behind them
the sound of his voice faded from five oceans

*

once this was a kingdom without whales
beaches were empty of them
the lamps of the world had no oil

*

his eye is a one-way mirror

*

when he lies on the surface in the arms of Morpheus
what dreams fill the half of his mind that’s asleep?

*

(humpbacks sleep like caryatids     upright as pillars of Solomon)

 *

I was a midwife when her calf was born
pulled this new world    tail-first     out of her
the head        last         nudged upwards for its first breath

*

she jets her milk out generously   enough for a small herd of cows

*

I will become a sea serpent
I want to be large enough to clasp her baby in my arms

*

when you went back    why did you keep your land-borne lungs
the wombs of your females      your milky calves?

why do you drink fresh water flavoured by sea?
swelling and pleating your throat    to filter cornucopias of krill

*

baleen is your system’s night watchman

*

 there’s no longer room for you in our world
you take too much space

*

 I lie on the seabed
whales like ocean-going ships      pass above me

*

he says he’ll teach me how to breathe again

 

 

Daisy Behagg - Night and the Song of the Light on the River

 

Picture the way – carrying the light
of the city – water becomes it,

dances lightly as word embodying
thought. How is it borne – this being

danced-through – this becoming
by water, delicious slow-down

of self – each nerve molten
while the water quickens – unbearable

kindling! Night is the lap of it –
holding, releasing, returning to listen.

 

 

 

Claudine Toutoungi – Piano Lessons for Adults

Now that I sleep well at night and know I have,

like Princess Alexandra of Bavaria before me,

a piano lodged inside my gut,

(though mine is not of glass),

swallowed whole, one late September evening, as a child,

I wear the baggy garb of the obese without a qualm,

staggering sideways along streets,

on escalators pressed flat  against the wall,

(no doubt a shambles, seemingly no doubt, crazed).

I was a pale and poxy girl.

A dog chased me in circles, yapping at my skirt.

My brothers laughed. I cried. The skirt ripped.

So the years passed. Crunch. Yap. Rip.

Nothing sonorous. Nothing spooling gorgeously like Brahms or Liszt,

until I heard both for the first time in the civic hall,

played by a Soviet soloist so immense,

I felt I’d died but been brought back.

I wanted to brush the ivories once for luck.

In the concert’s after hush, the auditorium gaped at my insouciant approach.

I mounted the stairs, close, so close, but then I tripped whilst falling up,

mouth open, like a goon, downing the Steinway, circa 1892.

I felt better almost at once. My skin improved.

Dogs stayed away, but the best came after years.

The booming hiss of the bee, the stuck needle of the sparrow’s chirp,

machinery, sirens, planes, alarms, all the cackle this world hands out for free, I absorb,

convert and am transformed by.

Nothing, inside, but resonance, tremulous and

not one string is false.

 

 

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Kent & Sussex Open Poetry Competition 2014 Judge’s Report from Pascale Petit

Pascale Petit

It’s such a pleasure to award prizes, thank you to the organisers for inviting me to judge this one and for all their hard work organising it. My process started with a treasure hunt through almost fifteen hundred entries, a trawl that lasted weeks. The general standard was very high so I read carefully, not wanting to miss a masterpiece in a style that I might not instantly recognise. Would the winner do things I don’t even know a poem can do and would I spot it? Judging competitions makes me aware of my limitations as a poet so I was extra vigilant.

A fair number of entrants seemed to have submitted multiple entries, over twenty in some cases, or at least I thought I recognised a run of styles and fonts, but the work was anonymous which made it all the more intriguing. All I had to go on was the poem. There were so many good ones that went into the long-list that the next stage of judging was hard going. I had to ask myself: is this a potential winner? If the poem remained magical for me after several readings it made the shortlist. But I only had seven prizes to give, so once I’d narrowed them down to twenty it became even harder. The poems that made the final cut now had to compete for three main prizes.

The one that rose to the top was ‘Kigali’ by Andrew Soye. This astonishing sonnet reminded me of an installation I’d seen at the Musée de la Chasse in Paris. That piece had featured a hawk and a dove, connected by a flash of neon in a dark room, symbolising the reconciliation of raptor and prey. ‘Kigali’ miraculously seems to do that – merge the predator/prey relationship of a sparrowhawk and dove. In this poem the image symbolises the horror of the Rwandan genocides, when Tutsi were rounded up in churches and massacred, but it also offers us a “blessing / like slow-motion confetti, like snow”. The poem places this devastating image at the sonnet turn, where the sparrowhawk attacks a dove above the wedding of “hope and despair”, and the final slow-motion fall of feathers is chilling but also transformative – horrific violence become revelatory art.

The second prize-winner, ‘Cigar’, by Grevel Lindop, came a very close second. This exquisitely textured poem contains ‘crushed spirals’ of pleasure. From the first reading I felt in sure hands, surprised, as each stanza unfurled, not only by the gorgeous images, but by the delicious sounds, “brittle / and crisp as a chrysalis”. The poem taught me the history of the Cuban cigar, and how to write on myths about the tobacco god. I’d encountered some myths about this god on my own travels in Latin America, but Grevel’s description of him “with scarlet plumage / and mother-of-pearl eyes” with his four attendants, conjures him lucidly. The whole poem seems made of cigar leaves, fire and coloured smoke, swirling on the page.

‘Shibboleth’, the third prize-winner, by Jo Bell, is a very different kind of poem, not so airy, much more earthy, but it too ends in fire, with its stunning ending that made me gasp each time I read it.  The whole poem works towards that incandescent finale, of a stopped river and “ me / naked on the bank in flames”. Even in the first stanza there’s a fiery edge to the sexy down-to-earth-ness, as the lovers talk about their shibboleths of secret names.

The four equal fourth prize-winning poems were close contenders for the main prizes.

I loved ‘blue whale’ by Caroline Carver, for the inventiveness of the descriptions, the fresh sonic imagery of whales erupting from the ocean “like a burst of geese”. There’s a generous, almost Les Murray-like expansiveness to the list of attributes, with an underlying sadness about the plight of these creatures, but the poem remains upbeat: “why tell him he’s as long as a football pitch? / his ‘fields’ reach skywards.”

‘Night and the Song of the Light on the River’ by Daisy Behagg is full of lyrical grace.  This lyric paints a night cityscape on a river with the barest of brushstrokes. The impressionistic light has “each nerve molten”. I felt as if I was learning a new way of looking, and of thinking – this is poetry at its most elemental and spellbinding.

‘Pinochet’s Orphan by Lindsay Fursland, like ‘Kigali’, takes on a dark theme, this time about the brutal Chilean dictator Pinochet, but it’s more personal, told in the voice of one of Pinochet’s orphans. The orphan becomes an astronomer, and it’s this juxtaposition of the search for lost parents with the search for stars, “raking the dark like a sniper taking aim”, that manages such a huge and difficult subject with consummate skill.

The surreal extravaganza of ‘Piano Lessons for Adults’ by Claudine Toutoungi is a tour-de-force. A child swallows a piano and resonates with all the sounds of the world. Claudine manages to pull off this unlikely scenario with a few realistic touches and much bravado, ending with the stunning line: “Nothing inside, but resonance, tremulous and / not one string is false”.

 

 

 

 

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Competition winners 2014

KENT AND  SUSSEX POETRY COMPETITION 2014

Prizewinners:

First Prize                              Andrew Soye             Kigali

Second                                   Grevel Lindop            Cigar

Third                                       Jo Bell                           Shibboleth

Fourth  =                                Lindsay Fursland     Pinochet’s Orphan

                                                   Caroline Carver        blue whale

                                                   Daisy Behagg              Night and the Song of the Light

                                                                                              on  the River

and                                           Claudine Toutoungi Piano Lessons for Adults

The poems will be posted on the website after the presentation of the prizes in April, and available in the society’s Poetry Folio at a cost of £3 in July.

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Moniza Alvi at the Camden Centre

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We are delighted to welcome back a favourite, Moniza Alvi, to Tunbridge Wells, at the Camden Centre, on Tuesday 18th. March at 8 o’clock.
Moniza Alvi was born in Lahore, Pakistan, and came to England when she was a few months old. She grew up in Hertfordshire and studied at the universities of York and London.The Country at My Shoulder (1993), which was shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize and the Whitbread Poetry Award, was still a new collection when we first welcomed her, and it has been a pleasure to watch her continued success. A Bowl of Warm Air (1996), was one of the Independent on Sunday’s Books of the Year; Carrying My Wife (2000), a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, and Moniza’s latest collection, At the Time of Partition (2013), is both  a Poetry Book Society Choice and shortlisted for the 2013 TS Eliot Prize.  So we have a treat in store.  We hope to see you there.

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Open Competition

The competition has now closed. A big ‘thank you’ to all who entered. The results will be announced in April, and the winning poems posted on the website and published in our annual Folio. Watch this space!

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Jon Stone

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We were delighted to welcome Jon Stone to Tunbridge Wells Camden Centre this month. Born in Derby, Jon studied in Norwich and now lives in Whitechapel.  He gave us a lively reading, with wit and humour, as well as intensely personal and vivid, sensuous writing. His poetry covers a wide range of wonderfully inventive imagery – “a ganglion of utterance” – and he concerns himself with the structure and architecture of poetry, as well as showing breadth of imagination.  Jon also explored the in-between elements of mud, dust, steam and ash, and read to us some very blue poetry, inspired by digging into the medieval Welsh tradition.

Jon’s collection “School of Forgery”  in which 10 different personae come together in a wide variety of voices, including a night watchman and a female honorologist, is published by Salt.

What a pity there was such a small audience for such an excellent young poet.

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Jon Stone

 

On Tuesday 18th February we host a reading from the prolific and highly acclaimed Jon Stone. Jon has been twice commended in the National Poetry Competition. He had three pamphlets published in the same year (2010) before Salt brought out his well deserved first full collection School of Forgery in 2011.  For a preview of Jon Stone check out Poets for Pussy Riot on Youtube.

 The reading will be preceded by our short AGM which begins 8pm at the Camden Centre in Tunbridge Wells.

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