Category Archives: Competitions

Julian Dobson and Tom Serengeti win SLQ Poetry & Short Story Competitions April/May 2015

Julian Dobson has won the First Prize in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition with ‘Winnats Pass’. Second Prize has been won by Peter Wallis with ‘A2 96 33 12′ and the third prize won by France-based poet Richard Halperin with ‘Rainbow Girl’.

South African storyteller Tom Serengeti, First Prize winner, Sentinel Literary Quarterly Short Story competition (August 2014) returns to win the top prize in fiction this quarter with ‘Rosettenville Kid & The Bookseller’. Second and third prizes have been won by Beau Rikefe and Jasmine Louise Fisher respectively with ‘Hazel Eyes from Beyond the Veil’ and ‘The Adventure’.

See the full results and adjudication reports here:

Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry & Short Story Competitions Results Page.


Administrator’s Note

Please note that this competition was judged blind and the adjudication report was sent in by the Judge with only the titles of the winning and commended poems. I have matched the winners and their poems to make for easier reading.

-      Nnorom Azuonye (14/10/2014)


An adjudication report by Brindley Hallam Dennis


There were 73 entries, and I knew I was in trouble when my shortlist reached twenty.

        Adding one more to the list would have brought another nineteen in with it, and that didn’t help either. What I’m saying is that I enjoyed an awful lot of these stories. In fact, there were only a few – two or three – that I didn’t think had something good going for them; and two of those read like well-written articles, but they weren’t really short stories. For all you glass half full types out there, you could say, I found a lot of the stories to be lacking that little something that would make them winners!

        It’s only in competitions that you have to make these sort of judgements. Otherwise you take your shorts like an espresso, and enjoy them for what they are, in the moment, for you, as you are, at that moment. What’s it about? Do you care? How’s it written? Does the voice beguile you?

        As I sifted through I began to realise that the stories I wanted to celebrate most were somewhat oblique in form or content; forceful in their tellings, with voices that made me stop and listen; with subjects that caught my interest. The whole range was there: life death; love; comic; tragic; absurd; serious, and the rest. A few took what are becoming contemporary standards, and anything that everyone is talking about is hard to write about without becoming part of the undistinguishable murmur, or cacophony. Two, in my ‘Commended’ list were, I guessed, by the same author, having the same characters. I’d like to see those as part of a longer fiction – a novel perhaps?


Here’s my list, in traditionally reversed order:


Commended (in no particular order):


Till Death Us Do Part by Gareth Shore (Sale)

Fifty-Second Birthday in Bed by Christie Cluett (Bristol)

Odd Boy by Sharon Boyle (East Linton)

It’s Seven Letters You Need by Maxine Backus (Grueningen, Switzerland.)

Abide With Me by Maxine Backus (Grueningen, Switzerland.)


Highly Commended (in no particular order):


For Mike by Geoff Aird (Edinburgh)

Swan Sculpting in Leighton Buzzard by Katie Martin (Cambridge)

Oh How We Danced by Tony Crafter (Knockholt)


3rd Prize

The Eternal Knot by John Robinson (Newbury) – Complex, convoluted, philosophical. A conversation between an Old Man and a snake, on the huge subject of sentience – of being alive and knowing it; of being mortal, and knowing that too.


2nd Prize

Coffee-Coloured Eyes by Olga Vakruchev (Toronto, Canada) -Slipping into the surreal, but I never doubted this woman’s voice, nor her belief in her own story.


1st Prize

Killers at Fat Joe’s by Tom Serengeti (BERTSHAM , South Africa) – I think I liked the ambition of this most of all: daring to echo Hemingway’s title, and story, and do a riff on it. But I liked the spare descriptions and the dialogue too, and the unfolding events, and the characters, and their names, and the ending. I guess I would have liked the pizza too!    





Administrator’s Note

Please note that this competition was judged blind and the adjudication report was sent in by the Judge with only the titles of the winning and commended poems. I have matched the winners and their poems to make for easier reading.

-      Nnorom Azuonye (14/10/2014)


An adjudication report by WILL DAUNT


Adjudicating reminds me of how it feels to go through your wardrobe, looking for good companions to donate to the latest charity collection: you don’t want to say goodbye to any particular item, but as you do, the qualities of each garment/ poem stir a mixture of affection and regret. And you hope that your farewell will not be a final airing.


The great thing about adjudicating for Sentinel is that you can – as it were – leave so much good material in the wardrobe, convinced that, when it sees the light of day again, it will be genuinely worthy of public view.


Thanks to all those writers who contributed to a large number of entries, many of which made the long list. Of these, ‘The Sapphire’ by Dominic James and ‘Sibling Rivalries’ by Andy Hickmott came closest to inclusion, in the final analysis.




‘Adlestrop Unwound’ by John Whitworth (Canterbury)

The irreverent humour of this exploration of (mainly) English place names begins with one of the most famous – poetically – happily mutating into a more surreal journey through unlikely locations: ‘Upper Slaughter, Lower Slaughter,/ Foggy Bottom, Devil’s Drop’,/ ‘Faintley-Furtive-in-the-Water’. The diction is as sharp and sure as the wordplay, the momentum well judged.


‘East’ by Terence Jones (New Barnet)

This evocative picture of a few hours spent at the eastern edge of England leads the narrator to a point of distilled isolation, which, while full of chilling imagery, condenses a compelling creative energy: ‘…It suits me now/ to look away from all my beautiful/ sunsets, and toward the dark quarter’.


‘Edwin’s Candle’ by Terence Brick (Newbury)

Referring to Bede’s History of the English people, this poem vividly reawakens the ways of life of the time. The imagery stirs the senses, while the language sings: ‘But that day the raven ǀ harkened to the dove./ And such was the debate ǀ swift as the sparrow,/ in at the window ǀ to the hourly chatter.’


Gravity’ by Oz Hardwick (York)

Here’s an example of a sonnet which easily could have been overlooked. There is great skill in the understated precision with which a budget airline flight is recreated. Subtly controlled (like the use of rhyme), a sense of longing emerges from the ordinariness: ‘But through the misting window I see nowhere,/ nothing: just turbulence, close as recycled air’.


‘Homecoming’ by Oz Hardwick (York)

The beauty of this piece lies simply in the degree to which the narrator recreates what was seen, heard and felt from within a home-bound car. No word has been lost, or misplaced: ‘Chains tick, wheels whisper,/ a smooth descent between trees/ whose fingers click to the rhythm of breathing’.


‘Ice Fisher’ by Jude Neale (Bowen Island, Canada)

‘I miss/ your clutch of amazement/ that untethered me here//to become a finger point/ a sky full of oranges’. From the poem’s conclusion, these lines capture its insistent yet restrained progression through stages of loss. The hints of the underlying tale are deftly spread throughout the piece.


‘Judging a Gap’ by Kieron Tufft (Ripon)

There’s a compelling originality about this piece: its form and its purpose tantalise and entice equally, with the ‘gap’ of the title implied through a succession of ambiguous but engaging images, such as: ‘…And we ponder what anything/ is worth these days// if pale, freckled faces still hold sway’.


‘The shipwrecked naturalist’ by Robert Archer (Valencia, Spain)

The love behind this sonnet is a scientist’s loss of a life’s work in a shipwreck. More telling, his possessions will survive him as he drifts into the open ocean: ‘ …his own crates,/ sealed and tarred, packed tight with journals, gorgeous moths,/ strange reptiles, seeds and bulbs for English soil..?’ The futile ironies of mortality are portrayed with a lucid assurance in these accomplished, imaginary snapshots of a death.


We’re all in the Book by Tessa Foley (Southsea)

The intrigues within this poem draw you in, repeatedly. Who is ‘My baby’? Why did she leave ‘shortly’ to ‘begin a new life’ and why could she ‘not take pills/ her throat was too narrow’?  How do the numbers spread through the poem, thread together? It’s a powerful invitation to explore familial fragmentation.




‘Juggling’ by Angela Arnold (Oswestry)

This poem is rich in irony, beginning with a call to ‘turn down’ a media report on unemployment. Instead, the narrator’s focus shifts to the equally unfamiliar activity of distant ‘labouring manikins’ who ‘secure the land’ as they bring in the harvest. Seen, but not heard ‘from beyond double-glaze’, the workers are depicted adeptly. They fascinate as much as they alienate the writer, turning them back to the frustrations of their own, very different graft.


#OCCUPYNIGERIA by Aminu Abdullahi (Kano, Nigeria)

The wide-ranging collage of imagery in this striking piece draws the reader compellingly to a moment in time: the Occupy Nigeria protests. Its impact is built around the well-judged balancing of a strong evocation of place, against only a suggestion of partisanship: ‘as the lavender lies burning/ the smell is no estacode’. Change stands within ‘…liberty’s promised light// Gay until the colours/ Washed the labyrinth’.


‘Viewpoint’ by Mark Totterdell (Exeter)

The evocation of place is so often done well, so rarely done remarkably. Here, the combined panoramas of landscape and memory envelope the reader: ‘it’s like being given a decade of eyesight back’. No one and nowhere is named, and rightly so. Like a painter, the writer communicates through skill alone; no pretension or polemic: ‘warped squares of agriculture, fuzzy/ February-coloured woods, even the airport/ undeniably, all topped by a cut of sea.’


THIRD PRIZE:                 


‘The Thimble’ by Daniel Davies (London)

Here’s a poet who can construct a narrative. The implied horror of a rail suicide is set behind a failed attempt to make a day out memorable. There’s a carefully veiled sense of disappointment and ennui: ‘Snow on Good Friday’ when the ‘ridged earth looked white up ahead, black from behind,/two-toned by the angled blast’.

As the day fades during a forgettable return journey, the fatal collision happens without, at first, being understood. You can believe the scene, in the marooned train: ‘Those were bones we heard, you said. Not rocks’. The numbness of the travellers’ sensibilities is captured finally with the trivially tactile, as the narrator fiddles with a thimble ‘plucked from the One Pound Bucket’.  As if nothing had happened.




orange brain. flowered brain by Jen Campbell (London)

This poem innovates in form, thematic progression and in its accomplished use of dialect. ‘Abigail’s mind is aal ablaze’ from the outset, and the kaleidoscope of images which develops this theme leaves the reader able to imagine a number of traumas that might explain why ‘Abigail cups her brain like soft-shell crab’, or why the poem’s mood darkens: ‘In toon them talk of banishment. Ain’t much time for them what split themselves’.

At each stage of its development, this effervescent piece grabs the ear and shakes the imagination; not a comfortable read, but one that roots deeply in the consciousness.


FIRST PRIZE:          


‘Flood’ by Philip Burton (Bacup)

This is a poem which coolly brings this year’s British floods swelling back into the mind’s eye. Like a calm but irrepressible tide, the depiction of that saturation point seeps down the page; that force which ‘came as a dead thing’, that leveller which delivered a ‘super-cooled molten-mirror’.

Mankind’s tenuous tenure of the earth is everywhere: ‘the rustic oak sideboard which made you/ proud, grounded and secure, can’t navigate/ the narrow stairs’.


What makes the impact of ‘Flood’ particularly telling is the absence of any first person or self-pity. The tone is slightly detached, almost factual, with the use of the second person underlining powers which, while being beyond our control, are perhaps of our making




Delivery formats

From the January – March 2015 issue, Sentinel Literary Quarterly will be primarily an electronic magazine with 50% of the content free-to-read on the website and 100% of the magazine delivered electronically as pdf and ePub on eReaders. For those who still prefer the feel of paper in their hands, we will provide hard copies of the magazines on demand.


Competition Winners

We will do everything we can to fit in all SLQ competition winners whose works have not yet been published right up to the August 2014 competitions in the issues due out between October and December 2014. From the November 2014 competitions, the winning poems and short stories will be published in the online version of SLQ in the quarter the results are announced as follows:


November 2014 competitions close 30/11/2014. Results announced 15/01/2015. Winners published in the January – March 2015 issue.

February 2015 competitions close 28/02/2015. Results announced 15/04/2015. Winners published in the April – June 2015 issue.

… and so on.


If you have specific questions about any aspect of this announcement please contact the Managing Editor, Nnorom Azuonye | | Text +44 7812 755 751


A short story by Jason Hopps

spaceship_thumbThe alien invasion came early on a Sunday morning. There was always something. He remembered it was a Sunday (and remembered it was early) because he was up well before sunrise that strange day, sweating and fretting over the big Macmillan report, which was due first thing on the Monday.  He’d been working on the presentation for weeks, months, had thought he’d finally put it to bed on the Friday, but late Friday he’d received an angry phone call from his angry boss who’d practically crucified him, who’d detailed the dozens of changes still needed and then hung up.

    So all Saturday, he was home at his desk. Early on the Sunday morning, he was there again, busily adjusting PowerPoint slides, the kettle whistling for him in the kitchen, when he was startled by screams and revving engines and barking dogs and then more screams and it went on like that for some time, louder and louder. He closed a door against it, guessed it was a domestic, or possibly a break-in down the block, and let it go, returned to the Macmillan report, mashed earplugs deep into his ears. He worked a little longer, struggling with it, until his internet connection went down, kaput. Only then did he leave his desk and step outside. Full Story >>



A short story by Rob Hawke


The morning began not unlike any other; Mr. Sloper went about waking life – poaching an egg, plunging coffee, shifting body waste.   The anxieties that came to him on the toilet were familiar: a birthday party on Saturday he would rather avoid; his mother’s hopelessness with his money; a nagging pain in his gut he’d better take to the doctor.  He thought with faint aversion about work that day.  He was on shift with Maude, a large, smothering woman who carried an unsought flame for him.  Etienne would also be there; a young Ghanaian student whose quick wittedness left him feeling slow and old.  He sighed and cleaned up.   Full story


Closing date: 30th November 2013


These competitions are for original, previously unpublished poems and short stories in English Language, in any style, up to 50 lines long (poems) or 2000 words long (stories). Writers of all nationalities living in any part of the world are eligible to enter.


Prizes in each category: £500 (First), £250 (Second), £125 (Third) and £25 x 5 (High Commendation)


Judges: Roger Elkin (Poetry), David Caddy (Fiction)


Have you written a winning poem or story that can take one of the prizes in the £2000 prize pot?  Enter it today online or download an Entry Form at  


The Sentinel Annual Poetry Competition is now in its 4th year, the short story competition in its 2nd year. For information on fees, terms and conditions visit the web pages of the Sentinel Annual Writing Competitions (SAWC)


Organised by Sentinel Poetry Movement – the international community of writers and artists…since December 2002

- a style of Sentinel Writing & Publishing Company Ltd


In this message:
1. June 2013 entries sent to judges
2. September 2013 competitions judged by Todd Swift and Alex Keegan now accepting entries


All entries in the June 2013 Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry & Short Story Competitions have now been sent to the judges Claire Askew (poetry) and Brindley Hallam Dennis (short stories). We recorded 180 poems and 95 short stories this quarter. We are pleased with this level of participation and support at this time. Although we recorded 83 poems less than we received in March, the good news is that we received 38 short stories more than we recorded in March. Thank you very much for your continued support of our competitions.

The results will be announced on the 31st of July in Sentinel Literary Quarterly magazine website, sentinel poetry movement website, and via this newsletter.

For original, previously unpublished poems in English language on any subject, in any style up to 50 lines long.
Closing Date: 30th September, 2013
Judge: Todd Swift
Prizes: £150 (1st), £75 (2nd), £50 (3rd), £10 x 3 (High Commendation)
Fees: £4/1, £7/2, £9/3, £11/4, £12/5, £16/7, £22/10

For original, previously unpublished short stories in English language on any subject, in any style up to 1500 words long.
Closing Date: 30th September, 2013
Judge: Alex Keegan
Prizes: £150 (1st), £75 (2nd), £50 (3rd), £10 x 3 (High Commendation)
Fees: £5/1, £8/2, £10/3, £12/4

Poetry & Short Story Competitions (June 2013) – Sentinel Literary Quarterly

The June 2013 poetry and short story competitions judged by Claire Askew and Brindley Hallam Dennis respectively will close on the 30th of June.


Details: These competitions are for original, previously unpublished poems up to 50 lines long and short stories up to 1,500 words long. Stories and poems may be on any subjects and in any style. Authors of all nationalities living in any part of the world are eligible to enter. The Sentinel Literary Quarterly competitions have been run successfully every 3 months since July 2009 (Poetry) and January 2010 (Short Stories).


Prize money in each category: £150 (first), £75 (2nd), £50 (3rd) and £10 x 3 (high commendation). The winning and commended poems and stories also receive first publication in Sentinel Literary Quarterly which appears in print, eBook and online. (See current issue at


Entry Fees (Poetry): 4/1 poem, £7/2 poems, £9/3 poems, £11/4 poems, £12/5 poems, £16/7 poems, £22/10 poems.


Entry Fees (Short Stories): £5/1 story, £8/2 stories, £10/3 stories, £12/4 stories.


How to enter: You may enter online or by post. Enter online, save time and save on postage costs. Pay securely by PayPal and submit your work by e-mail, or print off entry forms at these locations:



Short Stories:


Full details of the Sentinel Literary Quarterly writing competitions can be found at

If you have any questions regarding any aspect of our competitions please by all means ask Sandra Felix, the Competitions Secretary by writing to


Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (December 2012), Judges Report & Results


Judge’s Report by Noel Williams


I thought it was going to be easy. One poem jumped out at me early on, clearly making a claim as a winner. It stayed close to the top of the pile pretty much throughout the exercise. “Just two more like that”, I thought, “and my job here is done.”


No such luck.


The problem with judging poetry is that you’re comparing apples with chairs. On the one hand here is a heartfelt, confessional lyric which the poet has clearly agonised over writing but paid little attention to the music of language. On the other here is a deftly crafted villanelle, perfectly formed, exquisitely structured but pretty much lacking any real emotion. Then there’s a witty piece of absurdism that makes me smile each time I read it, though no-one’s going to claim it has any serious purpose. Whereas this delicate lyric drawn straight from natural observation is accurate, intense, particular, yet entirely descriptive.


Some things make better poetry, some worse. A surprising number of entries have small weaknesses. Let’s remove those that have clear defects: forced rhymes, unnecessary syllables introduced to pad rhythms, archaic vocabulary, clichéd expressions or ideas, images so extreme they’re merely intended to shock, even errors of grammar, punctuation, spelling – I’m quite surprised by the lack of proofreading in some cases, though I know mistakes can happen (I once submitted a poem about oranges that had the word “peal” instead of “peel” in three different lines. It didn’t win.)


By being brutally unfair to some poems I pare the total down to around 60. Each of these has something in it that works for me, something I’m attracted by. Now let me simply focus on the poems I especially like. Why do I like them? What is the particular attraction? Do they sustain it completely from beginning to end? This one starts well, but loses its way. That one has some wonderful imagery then stumbles with a vague ending. This one over here has some lovely lines within it, but the poem doesn’t seem to have any overall direction. Here’s one of the most powerful images I’ve seen in a long time, but does the rest of the poem really offer much more?

This is not easy at all. But, eventually, after nearly two weeks of going round in circles, finding different virtues, putting poems aside then reconsidering them, I’m finally, down to fifteen contenders.


Of these, the poems I’d like to commend are these:


“Night Waves” creates a soft pattern of gentle images and gentle sounds. I like the way the poem breaks a relatively conventional rhythm with unusual, even awkward, line breaks (on “the” and “at”, for example) which, for me, creates an echo of the arrhythmia of the sea.


In “The Window” we’ve a relationship very frequently found in poetry, that of patient and carer. Usually the poet’s voice is that of the carer observing the decline of their loved one. In this poem, this is inverted, with the voice of a patient contemplating her or his exit, in a voice that is tentative, barely heard and almost entirely dependent on the kindness of others.


“Singing” seems at first like another sad carer and patient poem, as it begins that way, but it makes a clever sideways move a third of the way in, using the idea of reading an alternative lifeline in the patient’s palm to imagine a happier life, with rather different seminal moments: “this time you open/the letter he sent after the argument”. I enjoy the way this poem simultaneously is upbeat, in the imagined life it relates, and yet full of regret, because that positive tale concerns the life that got away.


“Lumber Room at the Twilight Hotel” uses the sustained imagery of old furniture for people in their latter days. The sustained imagery is wonderful in its concreteness and detail, though the parallels perhaps could be more fully drawn out.


“Grandmothers in the Garden” focuses on an unusual vision of “dark-clothed grandmothers/performing tai chi” in a Beijing street. We get glimpses of a lively, happy, city, where the idea of dance seems to permeate the air. I particularly liked here “The grandmothers look up and wave/and I want wings” because of the ambiguity of “want”. It simultaneously seems to mean both “I lack” and “I desire”, at one and the same time both setting the observer apart and offering them an aspiration.


“An Exercise for a Writing Group” seems a perfectly ordinary poem – in fact,  it is almost prosaic – until an unexpected ending leaps out of nowhere: “tendrils/rise from cloud/south of the A66/and I dream/I can see the kraken.” I couldn’t shake that surprising image, so had to have this poem in my list.


“Rise and Fall” attracted me with its opening: “We listen to Debussy all afternoon/and to the yawn of saws in the shop downstairs”. The setup of a mini-story in these two lines is succinct, and the combination of Debussy’s music and the interference of the saw-noise, conveyed through the musicality of the lines themselves, was one of those openings that stayed in my mind through all the readings. The poem conveys a particular Sunday afternoon very well, and manages also to suggest something deeper in its account of balloons which eventually “drift away from each other”. I think this poem might have been even higher in my estimation if it hadn’t opted for a rough and ready rhyme scheme which seems rather oddly applied.


“Things you should be able to talk about without politics intruding” is arguably not even a poem. Can a simple list be a poem? (Poets do like to debate the most peculiar things). I like it because it is simply wonderfully absurd and, along the way, the oddity of the collisions of the items in its list prompts the occasional equally surprising thought, as in “Peanuts: dry roasted versus salted/Grief, gallstones”. Here triviality and profundity rub shoulders. One thing that poetry can do which few other art forms can match is to jostle ideas together in a way which prompts thoughts you might never otherwise have had (or perhaps wanted!)


 “Pay Attention” is also a strange little poem, a quirky love poem, I think. I’m not sure that I quite understand it, but that’s actually one of the things I like about it. A poem which somehow works on you without you quite knowing why can be something of a find. Clearly at its heart is a series of wonderfully odd and tender images: “I will set loose my memories of you/on the wind. No one will hear them pass.”


Of the Highly Commended poems, “This need of foxes” is starkly pessimistic in the way it combines closely observed fox imagery with the more apocalyptic ideas the fox-cry brings to mind: “a need, a moaning desire”, seemingly animal and human in “this need of foxes coming together”. This poem is peppered with excellent effects, such as the dynamic movement of the creatures reflected in the shifts of language and sometimes wonderful phonic effects, as in “their terracotta pelt with welted black/ on their backs”. This might have been a prizewinner, except for my feeling that it somewhat overeggs the pudding in the very last line.

“Journeys” is evocative, clever, lyrical, very well crafted, witty, with each word precisely selected for its purpose but slightly spoiled in my mind by the need for a footnote. I’d rather poems stood on their own two feet, and this one could have, I think.


 “The Rescue” offers images of struggle and survival, getting through “the month/of the hunger”. This poem is particularly good at choosing images which in themselves are ordinary but have been transformed to express struggle. For example, “ice in huddled puddles” (I enjoyed the internal rhyme here, too) or “The veins are obvious on everything”, where “veins” are at once a symbol of life, of blood, of healthy leaves, and yet, in being so “obvious” are unnaturally prominent, pronounced, as if tense, tight, fighting.


I found the hardest part of judging I found was to decide which of the poems jostling in the Highly Commended category really deserved second or third place. (First place, I realised, had been settled very early on, almost without me realising it.)


Third place eventually fell to “Scaling the Mountain” a poem in terza rima. I was partly attracted by the deft way this form is handled, particularly in rhymes such as “helter-skelter/Delta/swelter” and “upsetting’s/spaghetti/confetti”. However, it’s the overall movement of the poem that I found most compelling, as it builds detail and story to a climactic image of swallows enslaved by freedom. I’m not sure it works quite as perfectly as it might at the end, because it seems to overplay its hand a little, but the core conceit of tourists themselves being the instruments of the misery they come to witness is a powerful one, and the final ambiguities of smiles that might be forced, serene, happy, sardonic, hypercritical or much more seemed rich with undercurrents of meaning to me.


“Listen” achieved second place because it was the best example of a tight, pared-down lyrical poem among the one hundred and sixty eight poems submitted. But what particularly lodged it in my mind were the lines “place my fingers/in the memory of yours” a beautifully elegant summary of both the physical and metaphorical, which at the same time tells us something about a relationship and something about loss. The intimacy of the moment captured here is excellently conveyed through suggestion rather than statement – the poem works as much due to what is left out as what is included, which is a difficult trick to get right.


“Late May” was pretty much top of my list from first reading. It’s a sonnet, which makes it a risk in a competition – some judges hate traditional forms, and it is difficult to pull off such a well known form in a way which offers something new or is otherwise interesting. Sonnets tend towards the “safe”, the rounded sentiment, the pre-packaged idea. But this poem has sensitivity and subtlety, as well as a poet willing to take a bit of a risk (perhaps to grab the judge’s attention – if so, it worked) – how many times have you seen “wisteria” set up for a rhyme, for example (it’s rhymed here with “hysteria”) or compared with “an ex-wife’s compliment”? There’s much subtlety in this poem. This link of the wisteria, for example, as an image of middle-class contentment, with hysteria, and both together with the “ex-wife” is an instance of how several threads are wound together, yet none of them in an obvious or heavy-handed way. We get the sense of a depressed middle-aged speaker, of a failed relationship, a marriage gone sour, of a poet who, both desires and dreads to be alone, isolated, perhaps, by her or his own comforts who has perhaps even driven her or his partner way. Yet this is all done in pretty simple language, as in the final couplet:


“The ice-cream tune of someone else’s phone
chimes bleakly out, cuts off, leaves me alone.”


The ice-cream tune is at once a snide note which tells us the speaker is perhaps a little snobbish, a little “above” such things, and also a hearkening to a lost life, ice-cream being an innocent, perhaps lost, pleasure, a childhood gratification. The phonecall is necessarily someone else’s: the speaker knows it’s not for them, because the speaker knows there’s no-one who will bother to ring, suggesting people lost, one way or another. The chimes are bleak, almost oxymoronically, with their false brightness and optimism. The phone cuts off as the speaker is cut off. And then, the speaker is left alone. He wants to be left alone. He gets his wish. He seems to deserve all he gets.

The succinctness and suggestiveness of such devices is little short of brilliant. A superb piece of work and very worthy winner.


The results



Bryan Marshall -  Night Waves

Alyn Fenn – The Window

Maeve Henry – Singing

Linda Burnett – Lumber Room at the Twilight Hotel

Idore Anschell – Grandmothers in the Garden

Alan Nolan – An Exercise for a Writing Group

Victoria Kennefick – Rise and Fall

Richard Schwartz – Things you should be able to talk about without politics intruding.

Frank Dullaghan – Pay Attention


Highly Commended


Roger Elkin – This Need of Foxes

Daniel Knibb – Journeys

Victoria Kennefick – The Rescue


Third Prize:

Tim Ellis – Scaling the Mountain


Second Prize:


Celia Baines – Listen


First Prize:


Daniel Knibb – Late May