Kent & Sussex Poetry Society Competition 2013
Judge’s Report by Daljit Nagra
Judging a poetry competition offers several stages of pleasure. The first stage involves going through 1000+ poems in order to create a long-list of poems which deserve to be reread and considered as potential winners. These poems all contain elements of particular interest or surprise and their anonymity makes the process all the more intriguing. The second stage is pleasurable as it enables me to consider these entries in more depth. At this stage I discover new things about each poem and work through them again until I feel able to whittle them down to a shortlist; a good poem has its own driving thrill that animates the reader, whether it is emotional control, passion, cleverness, humour or the unexpectedness of the events. The next stage is often the hardest, and this competition was no exception; I have to choose a winner and rank the very best poems. All of the prize-winners below will offer readers a great deal of pleasure and the top three were of a particularly high standard. The final pleasure comes with notification of the winners’ names and the opportunity to meet them at the prize-giving ceremony. In addition of course is the knowledge that these poems will now be widely-read and enjoyed.
The winning poem had both technical and emotional skill in abundance, and it kept me engaged on first and subsequent readings. This Is Not a Garden is about a relationship under strain from the perspective of the woman involved. The poem hints at the repetitive style of the sestina and this repetition mirrors the trapped situation of the speaker. This is a moving yet tightly-controlled poem that gently and gradually reveals its sadness.
In a Dallas Laundry came a very close second. This witty and affecting poem set in a laundry offers a complex exploration of grief. The narrative cleverly develops a mundane scene of women observing a man neatly folding his clothes into a poignant comment on American military intervention in foreign wars and the grief of soldiers’ families. The poet skilfully controls the mood from comic to tragic without ever losing emotional control.
My third place poem was the lovely disciplines which is a pacey four-beat poem with breathless yet controlled lines about the ageing process. Precision characterisation which captures tactile moments makes the poem all the more heart-breaking as it evokes human fragility.
The first of my four runners-up is Incendio, a wonderfully dense, tight-knitted poem about a father counting grains of sand. The child is now parent to the father and helping him with his jigsaw. The achievement of the poem is the surprising final lines in the hypothetical voice of the father. Secondly, SOME VEHICLES IN SAN FRANCISCO is a lively poem about a woman who is keen to make new discoveries. She observes those who are dignified in the way they cope with the struggles of life. The poem’s moving qualities stem from the simplicity of the language. Thirdly Gardening With Deer is a quiet, elegiac lyric that creates mystery about a relationship. It suggests that only in a near-death moment do we come to appreciate those closest to us. The poem hints at various narratives through a beautifully described myth. Finally, Tiny, in all that immortal air is an energetic poem about the speaker’s daughter about to make her way into the adulthood of a bustling and scary-seeming city. The frenzied heightened language captures a parent’s elation and fear.
I trust the reader will enjoy reading all seven of these poems which show how high the standard was for the Kent & Sussex Poetry Competition.