First Prize: £500.00 goes to TERRY JONES for ‘The Causation of the Virgin Mother in a Tipperary Barn’
Second Prize: £250.00 goes to LINDA BURNETT for ‘Honesty in Winter’
Third Prize: £125.00 goes to JEN CAMPBELL for ‘The Chicken, The Egg and My Sister’
High Commendation Prizes:
£25.00 to STEPHEN DEMPSEY for ‘On Balance’
£25.00 to LYNN ROBERTS for ‘Turner: Rain, Steam, and Speed’
£25.00 to HARRY BATTY for ‘Goose Green’
£25.00 to PAUL GROVES for ‘From on High’
£25.00 to GERALDINE PAINE for ‘Her Riley’
First publication: The 8 Prize-winning poems above will receive first publication in Sentinel Champions magazine #9, February 2012.
Here is the Judge’s Report
Sentinel Annual Poetry Competition 2011 –
adjudication report by Roger Elkin
It was a pleasure to adjudicate the 2011 Sentinel Annual Poetry Competition. The standard was very high and the arrival at a short-list and final positioning took several readings over several days and with an incalculable amount of agonising.
The opening lines of one entry, Parts of the Artistic Whole, provided a focus right from an initial reading,
The words I write, I want them to be poetry,
To fall into tune with the pronunciation that is yours, a rhyme that is mine
But a rhythm that we share.
These reminded me that what is important in all writing, and particularly poetry, is the balance between what is being said, and how it is said – meaning and means; content and form; message and technique – and the realisation that they are interdependent. Is this why so few poems were written is traditional forms? For, apart from a handful of sonnets and a couple of sestinas, most of the writing was in what could be loosely called “free verse”, as can be seen by the poems featuring in my final choice. However, the writing of successful “free verse” is as exacting an art as other forms – not just a matter of “wanting”, or of breaking up words into arbitrarily-divided lines; but the subtle use of cadential rhythm, anaphora and parallelism to convey and support the poem’s idea-system. I hope that this is evident in the 8 poems chosen from the 363 entries.
Here, in no particular order of excellence, are the five Highly Commended poems:
Her Riley: in six unrhymed couplets, the poem conveys the careful search in a stacked garage, and the revealing not only of a Riley car – “rare beauty … last taxed Nineteen-Sixty”, but also offers a glance into the driver of the car. This is a delightful cameo: pointed, sensitive and economical.
From on High: the poem’s structure is superbly crafted in five-lined stanzas fused by subtle use of (half) rhyme. The poet, looking down on his lover’s household via the use of Google maps, discovers that he has been deceived. This time, the vehicle – “his yellow car” – is evidence of betrayal in a foundering affair, reinforced by the symbolic use of seasonal cooling-off, “like an eternal winter”.
Goose Green: the moving account of the death of a soldier-friend in the 1982 combat in the Falklands War is conveyed by the parallel exploration of fact and fiction: the Audie Murphy of film fantasy who could “shoot one hundred Nazis … with one gun / And one magazine” is set in opposition to the death of Tom “my number one oppo who’s laid there freezing”. The writing is uncluttered; the experience, unsentimentalised.
Turner – Rain, steam and speed: the poem explores Turner’s 1844 painting of that title in four short verses, with tight imagery and precise diction: the nineteenth century “bunching its muscles for the leap / into the twentieth”, and nature depicted as having “every tantrum … crashing and whirling and erupting / like a vast chord / from an elemental orchestra / about the harp note / of man”. Very effective writing.
On Balance: a superb description of looking down from the cliff edge, and viewing not only sea and sand, but time, geology, pre-history, evolution, the past. The writing is charged with emotion and conveyed by exact diction and description; the imagery is startlingly fresh: “To ride screaming astride black sickle backs of swifts, / Looping at noonday, alien, starwards”.
Now to the Prize Winners:
Third Prize goes to the chicken, the egg and my sister. This is a surreal poem, powerful in its intensity, and disturbing in the vision it portrays. The writing unnerves via its rather matter-of-factual frankness; its exact depictions of individual acts of mutilation; and its exploration of illogical rationality. Each word is employed efficiently and effectively to convey the horror. Even though very few adjectives are used, the writing is visual; the tone almost coldly non-judgemental. The poem manages to contain the horror, the mental torture via a calculated use of technique. The poem takes risks; and brings them off!
Second Prize goes to Honesty in Winter, a sensitive depiction of the seed heads of the plant which simultaneously explores the tensions between belief and betrayal; Christianity and Moon worship. Consider the way in which the use of diction plots the thought informing the poem, building up the picture incrementally via close detail and visual and tactile imagery, and the balance of negative and positive in almost every line or grouping of reference. If you doubt this, then write out for yourself the parallel lists of adjectives, nouns and verbs!
First Prize goes to The Causation of the Virgin Mother in a Tipperary Barn. This poem caught my attention right from the start. What a riot of writing in this mixture of the actual and mythical; the real and imagined. There is a concrete realization of the “lovely girl” and all her physical attributes which are conveyed in a sensuous, sensual portrayal both of participator and event – but thankfully(!) suggested rather than too explicitly explored. Diction, image, tone and stance combine to present a rich, effusive, evasive narrative. Simultaneously, there is a real sense of the presence of the narrator – and the rhythms of his speaking voice are exquisitely conveyed with humour, an eye to detail and a sense of tongue-in-cheekness coupled with questioning credulousness that underpins the use of the title’s “causation”. What is important here is what is not said: the reader has to do some of the work. In the hands of an unskilled writer this could have proved limiting; in this instance, the poem gains from the risk-taking. Superb, enviable writing. Well done!
My congratulations go to the writers of the winning poems; and my thanks to all who entered for letting me share a space in their poetic worlds.
Thanks, too, to Nnorom Azuonye and the Sentinel Poetry Movement for their efficiency and organization, and for inviting me to adjudicate.
Long may poetry flourish!