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Judges summary for 2019

(click here for winning poems)

Emma Purshouse

I read them all, every last one of them, out loud over two days. And I loved doing it. What an honour to have the opportunity to rootle out hidden gems from a pile of submissions.

I was looking for something that sparked, that had €˜the ring of truth€™ to use one of Simon Armitage€™s criteria for a good poem. I was looking for a poem that made me go, €œWow€™, that painted me a picture in fourteen lines that was so special I couldn€™t look away, or the poem that made me see something differently. I was looking for examples of where a traditional sonnet form was used so well that I forgot the framework was there holding it all together. There were lots of poems that did most, or indeed all of that. There are lots of poems that were well-crafted and beautifully honed. It was so bloody hard to whittle the entries down.

I aimed to halve the amount I€™d been given, and so I read them all again a couple of days later. Where there were poems on a similar theme I carried forward the ones that might have treated the theme slightly more effectively than others (that is, in part, subjective of course).

My next phase was to make my own personal anthology of favourite poems to carry around with me. I included the ones that I couldn€™t stop thinking about. From the first read through there were poems that I knew would be there or thereabouts by the end of the judging as they€™d stopped with me. I kept reading and re-reading. Sometimes with my eyes, sometimes out loud so I could hear them in the air. Sometimes I€™d realize a poem from my €˜no pile€™ was nagging away at me to be re-heard, so I€™d go back and find it and add it back amongst the €˜yes pile€™.

My task was find 10 poems to commend, and a first, second and third, so my next phase was to make notes all over the poems that had got this far. What were the positives about a poem? The negatives? Sometimes I got the urge to make edits! There were poems which were brilliant, but could have benefitted from topping and tailing. They went by the wayside. In the end it came down to very trivial and minor reasons to lose a particular poem. There was a lot more shuffling of paper.

Finally I made a decision that for my 10 commended poems I would go for a range of styles and voices that I felt represented the various €˜types€™ of poems submitted. So in my selection there is a relationship poem, a traditional sonnet which is also ekphrastic, there is one that I consider to be an amazing performance piece where the voice was so striking I couldn€™t forget it, an urban landscape poem, a rural landscape poem, issue-based poems (one pagey and one stagey). There is a funny poem, a nostalgia piece. There is a piece so beautifully stripped back it felt, in tone, like a 14 line haiku.

I did finally manage to settle on three winning poems that I truly love and can€™t do without. 3rd place went to a superbly crafted character study, like a little miniature, using a traditional sonnet form as its vehicle.

2nd place went to a poem that was deceptively simple and yet created an emotional reaction so strong in me that I couldn€™t help but keep returning to read it.

1st place went to a poem that in the first read-through had leapt out at me. I was in a moment in that poem, but there was back story and layers of narrative hinted at. It€™s like a novel in 14 lines, just gorgeous. Rhythmically it rolls off the tongue when spoken aloud too. I felt it was very much a modern sonnet, a love poem to friendship really, and with a wonderful €˜turn€™ at the end.

I€™m writing this before I submit the results, so I have no clue who the winners are yet, but I hope they€™re chuffed. And if you didn€™t win€¦I€™m sorry, but truthfully there are a lot of poems that didn€™t get anywhere that could have, and probably should have, and some of them are still with me.

Prize winning poems for the year 2019




£500 Holly Magill Best
£250 Royce Chamberlain Home is where
£125 Jeff Phelps Gambler
Commended Sarah Bryson Still Life
Commended Anthony J. Driver The Bee Garden [Anonymous albumen print, Dorset, 1854.]
Commended Roddy Williams Goldhawk Road
Commended Abi Hughes-Edwards The Romford Boy and Jules
Commended Ross Cogan Lament for dead companies
Commended Janet Loverseed Date
Commended Jane Seabourne In Lollapalooza
Commended Jane Seabourne In Lollapalooza
Commended Sharon Ashton Outback
Commended Derek Sellen Flaunting it
Commended Christine Lowes Moor and Mountain
Sonnet or Not
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