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Judges summary for 2020

(click here for winning poems)

Roy McFarlane

Jacqueline Saphra in her chapter I Will Put Chaos into Fourteen Lines and Keep Him There: On the Sonnet from The Craft calls it the discernible magic the neat little square of text with its inbuilt music. Shakespeare, Petrarchan or free verse, just one rule gives me 14 lines of magic, takes me to places I've never been, illuminate and blows my mind with voltas or not. Someone said form should only be a scaffolding for the poem to work its sorcery, a scaffolding when removed and the poem is sent into the world. The form may not be recognised at first glance until lines are counted, rhymes are hinted at or a turn can be seen after a second read. A musical iambic pattern that might reflect the heart beat of the poem but equally could have a different rhythm to mirror the emotions of love and loss, joy and pain, ecstasy and grief.

Nearly 800 poems landed on my doorstep in mid-November and I was determined to read forty poems a day over a period of twenty days. By the time I got to mid-December, I still struggled to choose my winners from fifty poems, all on any other day could equally have been shortlisted, such was the quality and depths of writing. Along with love poems, praiseto Shakespeare, humour and the odd irreverent poems, there where poems that truly reflected the time of pandemic, filled with loss, loneliness and fear of not knowing what the future brings. Nature poems where in abundance, lockdown as brought a greater appreciation of walking in the woods, valleys, along rivers and places we hadn't realised where on our doorsteps.

The winning poem cemented its place in the top three from the first time I read it, rich with beautiful phrases and word play. For Seamus Heaney is the discernible magic to be found in fourteen lines, this is more than a nod to Seamus Heaney; this is layered with Hercules and Antaeus; this took me back to the first chapter of Seamus Heaney 'Finders Keepers' to the child who 'spent time in the throat of an old willow tree'; this is where land and language is dispossessed by the invader and so much more but to equally finish on those last immortal words of Heaney, Noli temere, 'do not be afraid' is so beautiful.

'Cocktail Bag' grabbed me emotionally after my first read, A cocktail of two-, three-, and four-line verses, long lines across the page with a concoction of short punchy sentences. Odd line-end-cuts holds you momentarily in suspense for what is to come next which is unexpected: 'crystal/ Concoction', 'in a/ Champagne bottle', 'ragged/ Shadow'. And that turn after the ninth line bringing us back down to earth. And what a magical line 'Scapulae poking out like wings'.

'Fishbones' pushed its way into third place after several readings, it was a poem I couldn't put down. The deliberate enjambments that shouldn't work, words sticking out at the end of lines like fishbones in the reading of it. The epigraph sets us up for the discomfort of a mother and daughter relationship, followed by a wonderful opening line that reflects the determination of the speaker not to be like her mother and yet sounding like her. The fragments of narrative are beautifully interplayed to bring extra tension to the story. The speaker is not afraid to explore the uneasy relationships within families, the emotions that garner jealousy, favourite child, feeling like an outsider, feeling like you're not good enough.

Finally, the sonnet becomes more profound built on framing of the golden shovel* created by Terrance Hayes.

* For more about the golden shovel, Roy recommends 'The Craft: making poetry happen in the 21st century'. ed. Rishi Dastidar (Nine Arches Press).

Prize winning poems for the year 2020




£500 Theresa Sowerby For Seamus Heaney
£250 Freda Churches Cocktail Bag
£125 Alexandra Corrin-Tachibana Fishbones
Commended Ian Royce Chamberlain When's The Next Train Out of Here?
Commended Alexandra Corrin-Tachibana Lake Motosuko 本栖湖, September 2003
Commended Angus Douglas Michael Roland Richard (1963 -2001)
Commended Robert Hamberger Carried
Commended Tim Kiely It's just good manners to wait for the coffee
Commended Sue Norton Sketch of a Sleigh Accident on the Ice, circa 1620
Commended Liz Parkes Lottie and Arthur
Commended Liz Parkes Belsen Concentration Camp 1945
Commended Amaury Wonderling raver
Sonnet or Not
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