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Judges summary for 2021

(click here for winning poems)

Jacqui Rowe

I've written quite a few fourteen line poems, some of which I've called sonnets, some not, and it's a form I love. I firmly believe constraints stimulate creativity, and few forms require so much ingenuity; fourteen lines always seems to be one line too long or too short for what I want to say. Don Paterson's inspiring short anthology, '101 Sonnets', demonstrates the huge range of variations this form encompasses, and that doesn't even begin to cover the possibilities of non-sonnet fourteen liners.

What struck me most on my first reading of the well over 600 poems I received, was the imagination and flair the poets brought to the fourteen line requirement. There were narrow poems, wide poems, lines exploded over the page; traditional forms - Shakespearean, Miltonic, Petrachan - as well as some new to me, such as the Sonnenizio devised by Kim Addonizio; some poems rhymed regularly, some sporadically, and some not at all.

This variety of approach was reflected in the range of subjects covered. Fewer poems than I expected directly addressed the pandemic, but its influence pervaded moving accounts of caring for other people, as well as of loss and mourning. On the other hand, perhaps as a result of so much time spent in isolation, many poems took me to exotic and novel settings, both geographical and historical, serious and whimsical. I was also struck by the bravery of recounting personal struggles, and the passion with which serious social and political issues were addressed.
Selecting a longlist was extremely difficult and reducing it to a shortlist almost painful. Ultimately, it was the poems I kept coming back to, and finding something new there every time, the ones I was still thinking of after I'd put them away, that stayed in my final thirteen. This might seem like a gut reaction, but the poems I chose all demonstrated unobtrusive skill and mastery of technique, in order to immerse me in the experiences and emotions at their heart.

The winning poem, 'All The Questions Float Away Beyond My Reach', haunted me from the first reading, and each time I came back to it, I discovered more. In little more than a hundred words, the poet has created, with precise, intriguing details of place and time, an enigmatic, unforgettable character. Nothing is explained. The imagery of mist and obscurity enhances the mystery. The narrator is also fascinating; what is their relationship to the other person? It is a remarkable feat for a writer to create characters the reader is drawn to so strongly when so little about them is overtly disclosed.

'Star' engaged me at the start with its examination of the colour yellow, often seen as joyful, but the imagery very quickly hints at a more tragic aspect, with references to Van Gogh and jaundice. Even so, the heart-breaking climax comes as a shock, and the poet demonstrates courage, skill and control in building to this devastating conclusion.

'Fishwharf' reminded me of tales I've heard from older people about the excitement they experienced when the herring girls arrived in east coast ports to process the catch. The poem reflects some of that exuberance, in its rhythms, rhymes and assonances, reminiscent of sea shanties. The speaker is confident in her skills, and knowledgeable in the terminology, able to hold her own at the work, but the bravura is offset by her honesty about the reality of smelling of fish and suffering cuts to her hands just to earn a few shillings, and the wistfulness of her longing to be back in Orkney with her lover.

Thanks to all who entered the competition and gave me weeks of enjoyment reading such excellent poetry.

Prize winning poems for the year 2021




Commended Carole Bromley Reclaiming
Commended Alexandra Corrin-Tachibana 写真Photos
Commended Jonathan Edwards In Mourning
Commended Paul Francis The Willow Rooms
Commended Bill Holloway Facing It
Commended Laura Jenner qu
Commended Vanessa Lampert Letter
Commended Thea Smiley Migraine
Commended Ben Verinder Consider the hippopotamuses of El Patron
Commended Olivia Walwyn The Rub
£500 Pamela Gormally All The Questions Float Away Beyond My Reach
£250 Veronica Zundel Star
£125 Mary Gilonne Fishwharf
Sonnet or Not
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