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Judges summary for 2011

(click here for winning poems)

John Alcock

Brigitte Bardot, Sword Swallowing, Yak Farming in Patagonia, Damien Hurst. These are just a few of the subjects chosen by entrants in this year's Sonnet or Not competition. Alongside them are the more traditional themes: life, death and... I was going to add 'love' which, in one way tops the lot, but I feel that love is really an underlying concept in virtually all the poems submitted, such care and thought having gone into them.

This is certainly true of my choice of winners and commendations, together with an understanding of poetic form and careful control of thought and language. The choice was not easy. Judging a poetry competition, I've decided, is rather like packing a suitcase. You begin with an open wardrobe and a feeling you'd like to take everything. Item by item you select and discard until you have a neat pile beside the open case. Then they won't all fit in. So take a few out, repack and close the lid. Relieved, you go to bed, only to wake up in the night and start to wonder. Was this one right and was that? What about the one on the shelf that's started nagging for attention? So you get up, repack and go back to sleep. First thing in the morning, you tip the whole lot out and start again.

This is not strictly fair. Like those favourite garments you couldn't do without, the winners and those commended really chose themselves. I gave first place to Joan Stansbury for 'On receiving a bunch of flowers'. Her poem demonstrates a sure understanding of the sonnet form. Her well-selected words are carefully paced to progress through the poem's sequence. And her choice of theme shows that even the quietest subject can produce a well-crafted and moving poem.

In 'Apparitions', Terry Jones takes on a challenging theme, that raises a lot of questions. Exactly who or what are the apparitions? Are they lost spirits wandering the earth or phantoms of the mind? His images, on the other hand, are as sharp and concrete as his 'wraiths' are ephemeral. This ambiguity is also true for Ciaran Parkes' 'Wolves'. The poem comes across as a personal statement but one that arouses the feeling we've all been pursued by wolves of our own at one time or another.

I made my selection of commended poems on their individual merits but hoped they would come together, as a 'mini anthology', to demonstrate the depth and variety that it is possible to attain within the strictures of the traditional sonnet form or the constraints of a fourteen line guillotine. The poems variously reflect themes that produce deeply felt emotion, evocative word-paintings, playful juggling of rhymes, times of sorrow and moments of joy, with equal, well-deserved merit. Congratulations to all the poets, winners and commended, whose poems appear here, and appreciation to everyone who entered the competition.

My thanks to Dorrie Johnson, Ralph Ockendon and Cathy Whittaker for their valuable guidance as first readers; to Martin Underwood for the heroic task of receiving and collating the complete portfolio of entries; to Greg Cox for editing and producing this special Competition edition of Cannon's Mouth; and, finally, to Cannon Poets for according me the privilege of undertaking the excruciatingly difficult but hugely enjoyable task of judging their poetry competition.

Prize winning poems for the year 2011




First Joan Stansbury On Receiving a Bunch of Flowers
Second Terry Jones Apparitions
Third Ciaran Parkes Wolves
Commended Carole Angier St Nicholas, Oddington
Commended William Chapman First Date (Valerie)
Commended Ms A C Clarke First Loss
Commended Jackie Fallows Cotton Jenny
Commended David Jones Caribbean Sonnet
Commended Gill Learner Metalwork
Commended John Mason Mapping my Father
Commended Tina Negus Abbey Dore
Commended Dorothy Pope Vintage Champagne
Commended Lynn Roberts Van Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait
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