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Judges summary for 2017

(click here for winning poems)

Liz Berry

Autumn arrived and brought with it a promising brown envelope. Post is seldom more pleasing than when it's full of poems and the longlisted entries for the 'Sonnet or Not' 2017 competition did not disappoint. There is only one rule for the competition: each poem must be exactly fourteen lines. Some poets seized their moment and chose 'sonnet' (in all its various forms), whilst others chose 'or not' and used the brief as a chance to send their best short poems, poems which worked to conjure a single moment or idea in fine detail. The poems were a joy to read and ranged far and wide in their subject, voice and style. The three winners all share one thing, the thing all the best poems share: they carry their own very particular magic with them like a lantern in a dark room. I hope you'll enjoy them as much as I did.

First Prize - Metalbound

A wonderful sturdy earthy sonnet to a metalworking man. This skilfully-made poem is full of strong images - "fingers like scrap yard grabs and arms/like davits of a boat" - and is a celebration of the artistry and care involved in the heavy metal work which was so important to our region. The final three lines beautifully introduce a new and interesting idea, how mastering connection with the "strange machines" of humankind might prove difficult for one so used to tough approaches.

Second Prize - Blue Mole

I found this lush, sensual poem irresistible. It's dense with lyrical, rich language and imagery - the little mole is a "drill-bit rolled in suede, eyes/ squinched tight against the earth's storm". It carries great tenderness too in the way it conjures the intimacy of the burrow and its dreamy "smell of light". Lovely.

Third Prize - Lady Snowden

This poem is enchantingly strange. It has a magical quality and an ambition to take the reader somewhere new which make it shine. Here Snowden is a gorgeous, dangerous femme fatale "stepping down stairs/her head (...) veiled/ in smoke". I loved the Welsh words threaded in like pearls - hawdd, afal, cwm - and the mountain's haughty warning: "Take me, but I shan't be yours".

Prize winning poems for the year 2017




First A. F. Pollard Metalbound
Second Cheryl Pearson Blue Mole
Third Stephen Dorfil Lady Snowdon
Commended Patrick Deeley Shiners
Commended Robert Dyson The Little Scrap of Ground: Heamoor
Commended Nathan Graff Without
Commended Robin Houghton Hat for Earrings
Commended Jill Munro White Out
Commended Liz Parkes The Coffin Works Wedding
Commended Cheryl Pearson The Sword Swallower's Apprentice
Commended Rachel Plummer Catherine
Commended Gwen Sayers Dream of a Fisherman's Wife
Sonnet or Not
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