SENTINEL LITERARY QUARTERLY POETRY COMPETITION (AUGUST 2015) RESULTS AND ADJUDICATION REPORT
We are pleased to announce the results of the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (August 2015) judged by Mandy Pannett as follows:
E K Wall – For lovely girl
Lesley Quayle – The Man Who Loved Pylons
Caroline Carver – mind-travel
Andrew Brush – The Love Song of Air
Mark Haworth-Booth – Portrait of a Lady
Lee Nash – Bone China
Paul Connolly – Coal Shed
Jason Lytollis – The Sea’s Return Home
E K Wall – The Unloved
3rd prize: Jason Lytollis – Fast Forward: The Poetry Museum
2nd prize: Audrey Ardern-Jones – Lion in Chingola
1st prize: Camilla Lambert – The hunger-monger
Many thanks to all the entrants to this quarter’s competition and congratulations to the poets whose poems have received special mentions, been commended or awarded the top prizes. This quarter we received 310 poems, therefore the contest was quite fierce. Thank you, Mandy Pannett, our judge, for a job well done.
– Nnorom Azuonye
By Mandy Pannett
1st ‘The hunger-monger’
The more I read and think about this poem, the more convinced I am that it is a perfect first place winner. Here we have the art of association at its best in which words like ‘drone’ and ‘asylum’ suggest emotive but dissimilar connotations while the language of music and dance juxtaposes with that of predation. Language itself is used as camouflage in this poem where a shadowy and menacing figure ‘plays at vanishing’ and ‘circles in and out of borderlands’, a ruthless opportunist, a predator lying in wait. A grim but stunning poem.
2nd ‘Lion in Chingola’
This is a deceptively simple, lyrical poem with a brutal theme that relies as much on implication as content. The corpse of the lion lies ‘in a bungalow lounge’ – an enclosed and unnatural space for him, men ‘slash’ the grass outside with the same ruthless indifference they have butchered the lion, the last word in the poem is ‘dense’ (apparently describing heat) and one is left thinking it is more than the air that is dense. There is tenderness in this poem in spite of the underlying horror: the narrator is a child who clings to his father’s hand, his brother, in innocence, posts coins through bullet holes, the dead lion with his ‘beige-gold skin’ is still beautiful.
3rd ‘Fast Forward: The Poetry Museum’
I admire this poem tremendously for its wit and the skill with which quotations from Romantic poems and the names of poets themselves are so horrendously jumbled and deconstructed in a future age where literature is dry and dead as data, Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’ is assumed to be ‘prehistoric flora’ and a concept such as imagination in the guise of an ‘inward eye’ is puzzled over as a remnant from an ‘early digitised brain’. This author’s skill in matching language and tone to the subject matter is outstanding. Each time I read the poem I find even more to appreciate and enjoy.
Highly Commended – ‘ Coal Shed’
This poem, with its matter-of-fact title begins simply enough with the lines ‘It was there long after the outside toilet/Was demolished’ and continues to detail changes in the shed’s use as well as destructions and absences in the surrounding area. A gradual and beguiling process leading the reader into what becomes an exploration of blackness – a realm of nightmare, terror and hell that culminates in a glistening, fiery annihilation of light itself. This is a perfectly crafted poem where every image, every half-rhyme, is brilliantly chosen.
Highly Commended – ‘The Sea’s Return Home’
I would love to hear this poem read aloud so I could enjoy to the full this poet’s skill with words and his/her obvious delight in language. This is no ordinary poem about the sea – this one has tales and travels to tell, has ‘tongues riffling fast as feathers’, it shimmies, swills, slicks the steps, hurls itself with flap and clatter. There are many light and witty phrases such as ‘Whisht, now it’s here’, ‘our own bonny polyglot’, ‘this is Babel on wings’, ‘joggling the sneck’ and ‘backlogged with craig’. A delightful, clever poem.
Highly Commended – ‘The Unloved’
This poem strikes me as perfect in its simplicity – quiet as the theme but with every word selected to add to the tone of bleakness and the waste of love. The woman in the poem ‘folds everything she is/into the grey handkerchief of herself’ and this motif is continued throughout in images of rags, scraps and occasional crumbs. This is such a sad poem in its depiction of rejection, longing and festering pain. Lines that I think are particularly effective are those that describe her parents’ ‘iced eyes, glazed/over with misgivings, resentments,/disappointment’s cataracts’. The ending of the poem is overwhelming and shocking in its impact.
Commended – ‘The Love Song of Air’
This is another poem that grabbed my immediate attention by its exuberant and joyful use of language. Here the wind ripples poplar leaves in a ‘silver glittering glissando’ then turns them ‘belly-up – can-canning’. The title itself establishes the tone of the poem which is full of music, light and movement but also with ‘the silence of unthinking things’. There is a marvellous use of alliteration as ‘winged wind’ stirs ‘weathervanes,windmills, washing lines’ and a clever use of bracketed asides to counterpoint the theme.
Commended – Portrait of a Lady
I was attracted to this poem from the start and googled the painting referred to (Portrait of a Lady c 1465 by Alesso Baldovinetti) and was even more impressed when I realised how much the poet had imagined from comparatively little. Many poems have been written with portraits as their subject but few, I think, as vivid and original as this one. Here, says the narrator, he helped the Lady out of her frame ‘the way I’d seen a footman hand a lady/from her coach’ A lively and amusing series of questions and answers between the two of them then ensues, culminating in a poignant ending which I won’t reveal.
Commended – Bone China
Here we have a poem which uses the making of bone china as an extended metaphor for a love story, a relationship just beginning which is both physical and fragile. The vocabulary of the process from dust to china – such as ‘crushed ossein with feldspar/powdered glass, fluxed’ is juxtaposed with erotic images as when the clay asks to be ‘in your hands, under, between your hands … caress me with wet hands … let me stay on your lips. Fill me with your pleasure – hot, steaming, fragrant’. A beautifully crafted, delicate and lyrical poem.
As always, it was a pleasurable task judging the Sentinel poems although the submission of so many outstanding entries made my stress levels rise when selecting just nine prize winners from over 300. I am sad for the ones I couldn’t include or mention but know they will soon find a well-deserved place in a competition or publication elsewhere.
Looking at the ones I have chosen, or nearly chose, I realise that in all of them it was a heightened quality of language that drew me. Sometimes it was the sheer musicality that appealed – the sounds of words and phrases that were a joy to read and speak aloud. Frequently, however, it was a quality of simplicity, of total purity, that I loved – a case of Mark Twain’s ‘the right word in the right place’, his ‘luminous flash in a single sentence’, an idea reduced to ‘one glittering paragraph’ (or stanza).
It was good to see many variations in form. There were some excellent sonnets, villanelles, sestinas and ghazals and several experiments in open field and other types of layout. Onomatopoeia, alliteration, repetition, a range of language-compressed poetic devices were used effectively – ‘thwack-crashing’ and ‘slurp-smack’ in the poem ‘Night-sky telex’ offer an example. Dialect was used well: there was the Scottish ‘a sir ficht’ and an enchanting poem ‘Moot’ with Devonshire words and phrases such as ‘my bird’ (my friend) and the lovely ‘flittermouse’ (a bat). In many cases there was a very good use of rhyme. One poem that particularly appealed was the song-like ‘Boxing Day’ where a delightful last stanza ends ‘I saw a giant cracker passing chance/a parcel do a circle dance/I saw the clock, my Lord Remembraunce’.
As well as a couple of the prize winners, several poets used themes based on literature, art, music, myth and legend – nearly always to good effect. There were some enjoyable pen-portraits, particularly the poignant and compassionate ‘A Reverend Father’ in which a very confused but well-intentioned vicar in a supermarket mistakes a water bottle for holy water and spills it over ‘tins of Felix cat food’. As always there were many poems about relationships – the sadness of love unrequited or rejected. ‘Frauenbad’ was one such in which the author made clever use of bridges as metaphor for both a physical crossing place and a relationship which has become ‘unbridgeable’. One poem that worked well on the theme of a parent separated geographically from a child but just managing to keep a grip on emotion by using Skype was ‘My Daughter’s Socks’.
Several poets used the natural world as a setting with animals, insects, birds and fish demonstrating the interconnection between man and beast. I especially liked ‘The Pheasant’ where both man and bird startle each other, share momentary terror.
The majority of poems, however, were set in bleaker places – hinterlands, waste lands, in-between areas that are ‘barbed-wire tended’ (Between Places). In these locations poets set themes that reflect so much of the downside of the twenty-first century world. There was a great deal of illness and disease as in the powerful ‘Stroke’ where ‘a comma grew and launched its blackness at my mind’. In the poem ‘Malignancy’, cells are ‘like sun-bursts, like distorted stars’ while in ‘Heart Bypass’ veins are ‘removed like razor clams’. A chilling poem was ‘Back Street Surgery’ where, in an attempt to gain cosmetic improvement and ‘lips plumped for kissing’, the narrator feels only the ‘tap tap tap of death watch beetle in my bones’.
Dementia was a key theme as in ‘Jigsaw’ where a woman is left with ‘odd gait reminiscences, half remembered colours’. There were poems about abortion, vanished children, sexual and emotional abuse, austerity, hardship in a range of forms, climate change and many ‘Extinction Dialogues’ (Life’s a Bowl of Cherries’).
Lots of poems showed tremendous concern for the plight of the homeless and for refugees whose lives are wasted in ‘a forgetting, obliterating sea’ (Bluebell Wood). Many described the ruthless anonymity and indifference of drones – ‘a no-eyes, blind automaton vulture (Ron’s Drone), and war and devastation was a persistent theme, whether depicting an earlier age, or ‘an unmarked grave in a Jewish cemetery’ (Samuel Isakovitch) or a current, world-wide situation in ‘Iraq, Gaza, Ukraine’. (Wartime). The poem ‘Empty Envelopes’ was particularly poignant and sobering in its description of a place whose ‘airways are empty’ and ‘No birds sing. Still.’
– Mandy Pannett