Being the judge in a poetry competition can be very disheartening, presented with two hundred and fifty interesting and exciting poems to read through, I had to pick fifteen. This means as a judge you spend all of your time looking for reasons to discard the others. This task gets harder and harder towards the end of the process, when you are left with twenty or thirty poems that you really like and have to be extremely critical of them to try to pick the top six and put them in some sort of order.
All the short listed pieces were technically competent and well crafted, but in the end there is something that just nudges the overall winners above the rest, something that is a bit harder to put your finger on, but each time you look through the poems you find some that just keep grabbing your attention and ending up on top of the pile.
Here are the final six, with an idea of what it was that drew me to the winning poems.
First Prize: When a Sound Pretends to Kick a Bucket.
Lots of the poems entered had good images in them, but this poem is relentless in its imagery. The images tumble out one after the other as they carry us and the driver down the road to an inevitable car crash where he is left upside down ‘a floating foetus suspended in a seatbelt’, and from this point of stasis midway in the poem, we are propelled on another wave of images of a life flashing by, ‘The mind disrobing’. This poem stood out on first reading and stood up to being read again and again and again.
Second prize: Captain Nemo's Dinner
I loved the way this poem turned a domestic scene on its head. I revelled in gloomy main character of this poem, in a ‘whole deep-sunken world’ of his own making patrolled by ‘ship-sized water-beetles’, as well as the precise voice of the narrator, whose ‘the breathless laughter, / that coloured me deep-blue as a torn open clam’ was wonderful. This poem delighted me with is fantastic surreal imagery
Third prize: Sugar
This is a poem that punches above its weight, with its sustained bitter-sweet metaphor for falling in and out of love, it carries a story that is much bigger than its mere seventeen lines.
Still Life is a well observed poem in the form of a sonnet. It deals with another road death, this time a child has been run over. It ends with a haunting image of spilt ink.
Passing Over takes us to a ‘border that isn’t on the map’; instructing us how to behave as officials from this other place search through personal belongings and make awkward demands on what could be a final journey.
Why can’t you, is a very clever little poem shows you just what to do with all those clichés you’ve been avoiding. This makes me smile every time I read it.
Derek Adams, February 2012
The winning and highly commended stories from this competition will be published in Sentinel Champions magazine #11, August 2012. Subscribe to Sentinel Champions magazine.