Anne-Marie Fyfe with Patricia Wooldridge and Susan Utting
On Tuesday, 19th. April, we celebrated the results of our annual Open Competition with Anne-Marie Fyfe, who has chosen this year’s winners from over 1700 entries! It was a lively and well-attended evening, as we listened to the prizewinning poems as well as Anne-Marie’s reading of her adjudication report, from which a lot can be learnt about developing our writing. The second half was devoted to an excellent reading by Anne-Marie of her own poetry.
The poems will be published on the website soon – meanwhile, here are the prizewinners:
FIRST PRIZE: LUNAR by Patricia Wooldridge
SECOND: FIRE IN THE PIANO WAREHOUSE by Owen Lewis
THIRD: ROOM ONE by Susan Utting
FOURTH: THE 22N BUS by Josh Ekroy
PLACE DAUPHINE by Sandra Galton
STURM UND DRANG by Stephen Boyce
THE INN OF THE GOOD SAMARITAN by Lydia Harris
Congratulations to all our worthy winners, and many thanks to Anne-Marie for her thorough and varied selection of the excellent poetry, whose adjudication report follows here:
Kent & Sussex Judges’ Report 2016
How wonderful to read 1731 good poems. And they were all good in the sense that they carried their makers’ mark and the poets’ desire to create something uniquely theirs, something authentic, something that relates to how they live life, perceive life, what treasures they’ve discovered in the world.
And to read them all twice actually. Before getting down to the 50 or 60 that you read many, many times, that stay with you over a number of weeks, not so much until you discard the unworthy (as none of them are that) but until you start to sense the ones that do their work that bit better, that just catch something extraordinary in each case.
One of the things that struck me was that these aren’t poems that have been sitting around for ages, as so many of them dealt with present concerns, not just Trump, for example, but Syria, refugees, the Mediterranean, even the First World War which is a current topic, and some of the poems were clearly inspired by the current wave of reflection on that period.
As for the rest: nature is there, placid or wild in equal measure, and travel, or rather holidays in many cases, and human frailty, fragility, illness, ageing – themes with which poetry has always sought to grapple. Plus the poetry of ‘things’. William Carlos Williams believed there were ‘no ideas but in things’ and many of our poets obviously take that to heart, both with everyday objects and artistic artefacts. And of course so many poems of love and loss, and longing, so many cherished – and original — memories, or familiar memories told with original flair.
The four ‘fourths’
The 22N Bus: this poem managed to create something surreal from a London night bus trip which not only details the places passed but seems to invest them with all sorts of meaning. We don’t have to know the places or even understand what’s meant, to go with the journey. Places like Parson’s Green and Edith Grove seem to have a Victorian sensibility, but who knows what Festing Road might mean (clearly there are vultures waiting)? And the poem contrasts that sedate place-naming with the world of Uber, speed bumps, no-beg zones, and Corn Flakes: all slightly scary, but fascinating.
Place Dauphine: this poem does something seemingly familiar which is to give us a Paris park, seen, in this case, through the eyes of a photographer. Not one of the classic black-&-white mid-20c famous Paris photographers, but the friend, partner maybe, to whom the poem’s addressed, and who’s ‘in the frame’, in the poet’s mind, every time they look at that shot. It’s a mirror poem, and like a good mirror poem, does the rewind with sufficient punctuation difference to change the emphasis or logic of just about every idea in the first half – giving a sense of something remembered slightly askew.
Sturm und Drang: this is a vivid, noisy poem that catches the essence of a pounding, driving storm and can’t decide whether the storm is all bluster and noise or genuinely frightening. The chestnut tree lying like a dead rhino is so extraordinary a simile as to be totally credible, and there’s an anthropomorphic sense of ‘storm’ as an evil force, using words like hisses, hurled, fists pummelling, to evoke the idea of angry forces.
The Inn of the Good Samaritan: the title suggests a biblical location, though Danny and Craigie from Westray, would seem to be far from home. And why are they setting up Portaloos with Italian tiles? You feel you’ve got to go totally with the moment, and the mint tea and the yards of parachute silk… It’s a totally experiential poem in that nothing quite adds up to form a coherent picture but each odd element is somehow credible, and conjured up vividly.
Third, second & first
Room One: this is a classic poem of isolation, the condition of someone ending up in rooms that aren’t their own: Room One certainly suggests a small hotel or b&b. There’s a certain courage needed to ignore things that might otherwise cause anxiety. But the positives that the poem offers, the poppies on the mugs and the crimson walls, still feel dated. And you mustn’t dwell on the poppies’ black hearts, a hint of Baudelairean fleurs du mal. Worse, it’s an attic room, so you can’t even see that there’s a world out there. A real evocation of a lonely, transitory moment, or just a lonely life.
Fire in the Piano Warehouse: a poem that starts with a distinctly troubling short stanza, ‘It is singing/As I always hoped/ to make it sing’. So we’re not sure whether the voice in the poem is delighting in the fact that the pianos are singing, at last, when he or she could never make them sing, or whether he or she actually started the fire. But it’s the ‘symphony’ of the fire itself that gives the poem its sheer exuberance, a kind of malevolent gleeful exuberance, though, and it ends with a kind of awe, a kind of collective sigh, and a wonderful collective noun for burning pianos.
Lunar: the poem I’ve chosen for first place is a compact, economical, sixteen-line evocation of some kind of altered state, a controlled explosion of wilful, self-knowing otherness that is oddly comfortable in itself. The full moon, which affects tides, was always thought to have odd effects on the mind. We appear to be in an alienating location – words like anteroom and glasshouse – and there are people seemingly interfering, people you hope don’t catch you ‘stealing the sea’. Apparently the person in this strange room has shut the sea in a tin, which one opens at one’s peril. Strange images, a subtle kind of surrealism, a crazily believable world.