Judging the entries for this competition was both a challenge and a pleasure. There were almost three hundred poems to sift through and consider and after the first full read of them all the lingering impression I was left with was that of humility. There were many poems which didn’t make the final list which I found moving and which captured the difficulties, the frustrations, the bittersweet joys and the sorrows of being alive, of coping with society, with the self and with others, and I felt the cathartic energies stirring within a lot of these poems, reminding me of the real primary benefits of writing, which isn’t to win a competition.
Having said that, I was reading them to go through a difficult process of rejection to find a shortlist of around twenty. So while the sentiments behind certain poems touched me, I was also looking for technical control, a sharpness of image, a deftness of touch in lyricism and rhythm, an awareness of and an avoidance of the hackneyed phrase or any reliance on the expected, tired clichéd image, and something else too, a reaching out to express something that is beyond the scope of ordinary language, an attempt to articulate the inexpressible, for as E.E. Cummings once said, “The poet is the priest of the invisible.”
I was surprised at how many of the poems contained mistakes and simple errors and thought, “If you take the time to enter a piece of work into a competition why wouldn’t you check it to make sure it’s exactly as you want it before sending it in?” Obviously they had to be set aside, along with the standard scattering of poems by those ever stubborn poets who haven’t read any, or enough, contemporary poetry and assume a poor (unintentional) parody of 18th Century Romantic verse could somehow slither through the net and claim the winning prize. There were other pieces which showed craftsmanship but had lost their vigour in the shaping process, others which displayed a control of technique but lacked any dynamism, or which went too far in explaining how I should feel while reading the poem whereas others subtly manoeuvred me into position of understanding, of appreciation or contemplation without obvious signposting, similarly many of the poems also expressed a playfulness in terms of vocabulary, syntax, mode of address and layout, which cast their content and their subject in a new light.
The poems I chose for the final list all show clear control of form, all show a sharp eye for subtle nuance and concrete image, and each manage to dig away at surface appearances to present us with something fresh and surprising, even disturbing, largely through implication and suggestion. The poems given first, second and third place as well as several in the highly commended and commended all, I think, invite several readings to unpeel the layers, and there is a daring audaciousness to them which is admirable and that reminded me how writing a poem is an investigation into the limits of what it is possible to say.
Well done to the winners and to all those who made it onto my final shortlist (admittedly subjective though it is), my commiserations to those who just didn’t quite get in but whose work showed much promise. And thank you to Sentinel for allowing me to peer through almost three hundred keyholes at the things that make us humans tick.
THE COMMENDED POEMS
Preparation for a feast – Michelle Tan
Girl Disappearing – Jen Campbell
Sighting Grendel – Matthew Smith
Back From Egg Island – David Higgins
Along The Saxon Shore – Mike Bannister
Centipedes – Mark Totterdell
Inmate 19880 – Tessa Foley
Operation All Saints, East Norton 2014 – John Gallas
For Ages - Angela Arnold
Bedeguar – Mark Totterdell
Above Meadowall, Night – Michael Brown
Thud – Al McClimens
THE HIGHLY COMMENDED POEMS
The Talking Cure – Angela T Carr
The Animal Trials – Penny Boxall
Harmonic Minor Ten – Mike Bannister
Someone – Michael Brown
The Well – Meghan S. Tally
Girl uncertain – Jen Campbell