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Judges summary for 2012

(click here for winning poems)

Julie Boden

Happy Christmas to you all.

As I'm writing this I'm wishing there could have been four, or possibly five, equal prizes for first place and I'm sorry I couldn't have placed twelve, or even fifteen, poems into the runner up category which only allows ten places.

It must sound like a worn out cliche when judges comment about the high quality of entries and the difficulty they have had in deciding on the final few but, in this case - cliche or not - it is absolutely true. The quality of the sixty poems gifted to me to read, from more than five hundred entries, made the whole judging process both a pleasure and a pain because so many poems I had taken great pleasure in reading had to be left unrewarded in the commendation or the winning poem lists. Many of these poems were wonderful in different ways and I would happily publish them in a different context. It was humbling and a privilege to read poems I would have been pleased to have written myself. I can envisage a few of the poems that were not chosen going on to successfully sit in a range of books, pamphlets and concert programmes. Good luck to each of the poems in their future journeys and I hope I can help some of them to find places in appropriate publications.

Two poems I'd like to mention before discussing the selected poems are Small Rodents, Dead and Season's Greetings. I mention these because they were two of the poems that were regulars in the 'In. Out. In. Out. Okey-Cokey Dance' that had them knee-bending and arm-stretching with poems in the final commended list. Also the title Season's Greetings gives me the opportunity to wish you all, once again, a very Happy Christmas.

What makes a good poem? A poem, you will have no doubt read many times, is a machine that works. Defining the machine is difficult but, for me, it needs to say something - to have a voice of its own; to have a tingle factor that - being a tingle factor- is difficult to define and it also needs to be well crafted in whatever form it chooses to dance itself out on the page. The fourteen-liners in my thirty poem selection were all beautifully crafted and a pleasure to read. Other poems in the top sixty were often wonderfully crafted too apart from one or two particular lines or sometimes one word that either didn't sit correctly musically within the poem or resonated extra meanings that seemed unhelpful to the working of the machine. If the critic of my head started to suggest edits to the poem I was reading and pulled me out of the magic it was working to create on the page then I also had to set the poem aside because there was something in this machine that wasn't quite working.

When sending poems for a competition each poem has to stand alone and every letter and space on the page needs to justify its existence to those who are judging it. Sadly, it can't be seen within a choreographed collection, it is a solo dance in a certain style. As to the winner, there were times in the last few weeks when each of the three winning poems along with one other poem, which has had to be relegated to the commended category, were all stepping into first position. I don't think it is a weakness on a judge's part to admit this. When all of the final poems are excellent and satisfy all those necessary technical and tingly prerequisites of a winning poem, then the particular style of each poem and each of the different moments you read it informs the ebb and flow of a judge's final decision.

I could write in great detail of the many technical and aesthetic qualities attracting me to Old as Hills, Freedom from Torture and Brothers but each stands on its own feet and needs no justification from me. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did and savour the commended poems too - from tender observations set in the gritty reality of, One for the Wire Mill Men to the E.O. Parrott-like skill and humour of Owed to Petrarch - there are treats in store for you here this Christmas.

Prize winning poems for the year 2012




First Kathryn Alderman Old as Hills
Second David Attwooll Freedom from Torture
Third Jonathan Edwards Brothers
Commended Chris Hardy Red
Commended C. J. Allen Lately he had started to make a note of the things she said
Commended Jane Arthur Thelma at the Dougie Mac
Commended David Jones Washing Day
Commended Janet Lees God's ironing board
Commended Maeve Henry Late
Commended Robert Ensor Cows Are Curious Creatures
Commended Julie Mellor One For The Wire Mill Men
Commended Pamela Hodge Owed to Petrarch
Commended Jane Cooper A Murmuration
Sonnet or Not
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