Category Archives: Competitions

ONLY 12 DAYS LEFT TO ENTER THE SENTINEL ANNUAL POETRY & SHORT STORY COMPETITIONS 2013

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These competitions are for original, previously unpublished poems and short stories in English Language, in any style, up to 50 lines long (poems) or 2000 words long (stories).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 www.sentinelpoetry.org.uk/sawc  

 

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) www.sentinelpoetry.org.uk/sawc

 

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

- a style of Sentinel Writing & Publishing Company Ltd

SLQ WRITING COMPETITIONS UPDATE

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

JUNE 2013 ENTRIES SENT TO JUDGES

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.

SEPTEMBER 2013 COMPETITIONS JUDGED BY TODD SWIFT AND ALEX KEEGAN NOW ACCEPTING ENTRIES
 
For original, previously unpublished poems in English language on any subject, in any style up to 50 lines long.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 www.sentinelquarterly.com)

 

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:

 

Poetry: http://sentinelquarterly.com/competitions/poetry/

Short Stories: http://sentinelquarterly.com/competitions/short-stories/

 

Full details of the Sentinel Literary Quarterly writing competitions can be found at www.sentinelquarterly.com/competitions

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

 

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

 

Commended

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

 

SENTINEL LITERARY QUARTERLY SHORT STORY COMPETITION (DECEMBER 2012) – JUDGE’S REPORT

There are many ways of writing a short story, but whatever its form, ideally there should be a journey and a change for your chosen protagonist.  Good writing is a given, but I like a story to have Character, Plot, Conflict and Conclusion and not be just a mood piece or an incident.  There are, of course, many excellent short stories that don’t include all these elements, but personally, I look for an opening that grabs me from the start, characters I can empathise with and a storyline that carries me through to a satisfying conclusion. I also like an unusual subject that can take me into a different world and show me something new.  There’s nothing wrong with stories about families and broken relationships, but competitions get a lot of them and a story that’s a bit different can go a long way.

 

I enjoyed reading these stories very much and deciding on winners wasn’t easy.  When judging previous competitions, I have been able to set some aside immediately as being of very poor quality, but I was pleased to find that these stories were thoughtfully-written, literate and obviously cared-for.  I hesitate to mention that they were also of a high standard of grammar and spelling, but rightly or wrongly, bad presentation can put a judge off.

 

However, there were a few errors that could have been avoided with careful vetting – it’s always good to get someone else to read it first.

 

First of all, the mood pieces.  Beautifully written, in many cases, but without incident, characterisation, conflict or conclusion.  I would get to the end and think, ‘What has this writer told me?’ Perhaps a turn in the events or a conflict would have provided the force to drive it along.

 

Next, there were the ones that wouldn’t get off the ground and spent the first page on exposition and flashback, instead of getting on with the story.  You only have a limited number of words, so use them wisely.  Short stories happen in the here and now.  Life histories are for the novel.

 

Far too many had no dialogue.  Even some of the winners didn’t.  For me, dialogue is essential.  A short story is a little drama and characters should speak to each other.  Dialogue can do so much to convey the nature of characters and the interaction between them, and speech enlivens the page.

 

Finally, although I didn’t penalise for this, I would like to have seen more writers indenting their paragraphs.  White space is important for the look of a page and denseness gives a stodgy appearance to what might otherwise be an excellent story.

 

The pieces I eventually chose were relatively ‘simple’.  They were well-written, they didn’t obfuscate with over-flowery language, they told the story, and in a couple of cases they raised a little smile.

 

All three main prize winners had strong characters, conflict and conclusion.

 

First prize went to ‘The Butcher’, a great piece of Grand Guignol, slightly reminiscent of ‘Fried Green Tomatoes At The Whistle Stop Cafe’.  The writer got straight into the story and held my attention throughout with terse and characterful language right to the grisly, yet satisfying, conclusion.

 

Second prize:  The writer of the very entertaining ‘The War of the Apricots’ chose an original subject, and followed it through with gusto.  I slightly lost sympathy for a man who, even if he was under extreme pressure, could batter squirrels, but it was strongly written with a pleasingly ironic end.

 

Third prize: ‘The Last Revolution’, a tense post-apocalypse story of betrayal.  This was a very visual, cinematic story which got straight into the situation, leaving explanations till later.

 

Highly commended. 

 

For the final three, I chose ‘The Trapper’ for its interesting subject, very real sense of being there, and an ending that took me by surprise, ‘Iceman’ for its arresting opening and sense of other-ness, and ‘A Funeral’ for its delicate surgery on a relationship and oblique finale.

 

All the writers are to be congratulated on a very high standard of work.

 

-       Clare Girvan

 

SENTINEL LITERARY QUARTERLY SHORT STORY COMPETITION (DECEMBER 2012) RESULTS

 

1st Prize – The Butcher by Daniel Knibb

2nd Prize – The War of the Apricots by Marie Gethins

3rd Prize – The Last Revolution by Daniel Knibb

 

Highly Commended -

 

The Trapper by James Collett

Iceman by Paul Saville

A Funeral by Brindley Hallam Dennis

 

Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (March 2013)

Oz HardwickClosing Date: 31-March-2013

For original, previously unpublished poems in English Language on any subject, in any style, up to 50 lines long (excluding title). Poems entered should also not be entered into another competition running at the same time. Poets of all nationalities living in any part of the world are eligible to enter.

Prizes: £150 (First), £75 (Second), £50 (Third), £10 x 3 (High Commendation).

Publication: The winners and commended poems will receive first publication in Sentinel Literary Quarterly magazine.

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

Judge: Oz Hardwick

Enter online and pay securely by PayPal or download an Entry Form for postal entry at:

http://sentinelquarterly.com/competitions/poetry/

Send Cheques/Postal orders payable to SENTINEL POETRY MOVEMENT with poems, Entry Form or Cover Note to Sentinel Poetry Movement, Unit 136, 113-115 George Lane, South Woodford, London E18 1AB, United Kingdom.

Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry & Short Story Competitions, closing date extended.

Happy New Year all.

Please note that the closing date for Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition judged by Noel Williams and Short Story Competition judged by Clare Girvan has been extended from 31st December, 2012 to 21st January, 2013. This is in response to messages from several of our supporters who believed that the closing date of 31st December was too close to our annual competitions which closed on the 30th of November, and they needed more time to enter competition-ready work. We agree, hence this three-week extension.

This means that the results will now be announced on the 28th of February 2013.

To enter the competition now, please go to www.sentinelquarterly.com/competitions

Judge’s Report, SLQ Short Story Competition (April 2012)

By

Kate Horsley

 

The standard of entries for the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Short Story Competition April 2012 was high.  I was particularly impressed by the quality of the writing.  The stories were engaging and comical, dramatic and heart-rending by turns and evoked a variety of different cultural settings.  With such a good standard of writing, it was hard to choose winners!  Those I’ve chosen all made bold choices about their subject matter as well as the perspective from which the story was narrated.

 

 The First Prize Winner, ‘Duopoly’, is narrated in the second person – a daring choice followed through with conviction.  A story of bereavement, ‘Duopoly’ begins with brief, punchy sentences used to depict the monotonous existence of a character who appears to be emotionally frozen.  The author’s stylish prose propels the reader to an unexpected conclusion in which the reason for the main character’s trauma is revealed.  In contrast to the apparent cynicism and economy of the story’s style, the ending is startlingly poignant.

 

The Second Prize-winner, ‘The Naked Fisherman’, tells of a young photographer’s formative experience in Lima.  Simply and directly written, this story also builds emotional effects by means of contrast.  In this case, the matter-of-fact tone of the first-person narrator is juxtaposed with a shocking turn of events towards the end of the story.  Intentions are lost in translation and events spin out of control, but the day is ultimately saved by a special moment of understanding between photographer and fisherman.

 

The Third Prize goes to a beautifully written story about an elderly couple on holiday in their caravan.  ‘Sand’ is lush and melancholy in style and has a dreamlike feel as the couple ponder their current relationship and remember the past. The seaside landscape is delicately evoked as the faded love between husband and wife drifts over the dunes and shore like endless white sand.

 

The three Highly Commended stories, ‘Nature or Nurture’, ‘That Split Second’ and ‘Guilt Sweets’ are all very well-written stories that use bold characterization.  ‘Nature or Nurture’ evokes the lives of children growing up on a farm in the 1940s.  ‘Guilt Sweets’ explores the various excesses of a jaded marital relationship to darkly comic effect and ‘That Split Second’ tells the story of an isolated elderly couple provoked into extremity after an unexpected accident occurs.

 

The non-winning entries were often interesting and well-written, but tended to spell the meaning of the story out too much, especially at the beginning.  Some stories were richly wrought in terms of description – perhaps too much so – but unfortunately the very complexity of the description overwhelmed the narrative and made it difficult to read.  A few writers neglected to check spelling and grammar or made peculiar word choices that detracted from their story’s appeal.  In order to improve these (often very good!) entries to make them into winning stories, writers should make sure to double check their presentation before submission and should focus some energy on creating an arresting and unexpected first paragraph that doesn’t give too much away.

 

First Prize

‘Duopoly’

Second Prize

‘The Naked Fisherman’

Third Prize

 ‘Sand’

Highly Commended

‘Nature or Nurture’, ‘That Split Second’ and ‘Guilt Sweets’

 

 


Sentinel Literary Quarterly Short Story Competition (July 2012). Closing Date: 20 June, 2012. Judge: Rosemary Dun. Enter here.

Sentinel Annual Short Story Competition 2012. Closing Date: 30 November 2012. Judge: David Caddy. Enter here.

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Judge’s Report, SLQ Poetry Competition (April 2012)

 

An adjudication report

By

Miles Cain

 

Why do we write poetry? There are lots of reasons: self-expression probably tops the list for most of us, followed by a desire to grow as people: writing is a form of exploration, of working out what is important to us. Poets are intent on the big themes: we dwell on birth, growth, love, and (very often), life’s shadow side – the themes of pain, loss, grief and the awareness of our own mortality feature in poetry frequently. Poetry is a form of consolation, but it can be witty, funny and sexy too. Every facet of human life is explored through poetry.

 

How we express these things, however, requires great care. The old adage ‘the devil is in the detail’ is especially true of writing. Writers who take care over every line and sentence are more likely to create strong work than those who don’t. In this competition, there were a number of entries that hadn’t looked closely enough at their own work. Some poems were poorly punctuated, with apostrophes used incorrectly, or contained spelling errors. Some sentences were long but had no commas. Correct use of commas and full stops is a basic requirement of decent writing.

 

Another common fault is cliché. Writers must learn to get rid of any elements of their work that may seem to be lazy. In the poems I read, there were several phrases which lacked originality, or came close to laziness. It sounds so obvious, but it’s important to think about the work. It’s when we stop thinking that we are more likely to include worn out expressions. Ezra Pound urged writers to ‘make it new’. This is not easy, but the rewards will be great lines that are fresh and enriching for the reader. In the entries I read, there were phrases such as ‘…you just ache to hold your loved one…’; ‘…sweep it under the carpet…’; ‘…the patience of a saint…’;  ‘…struck dumb…’; ‘…derring-do…’; ‘…a godforsaken place…’; ‘…a heavy price to pay…’; ‘…enemy ground…’; ‘…life hangs by a tiny thread…’; ‘…swaying in the breeze…’;  ‘…the stillness of the night…’  (etc). Such phrases come easily because we are so used to them, but good writing ignores worn out lines and replaces them with something fresh. I ruled out any poems with clichés in.

 

Another common fault, especially for less experienced writers, is to over-write a poem. Writers think they’re being smart by cramming in words of phrases that are redundant. Here’s a phrase from one of the poems in this competition: ‘…a sun blanched shaft of light gold edged warms us…’ Writing like this is confusing for the reader. Take out anything that clogs up the poem. Less is more. An example is William Carlos Williams’ great poem This is just to say – it’s simple and touching. In many of the poems I read, stricter self-editing would have helped. It’s like enjoying a good meal. A dish with four items on the plate is more enjoyable than a dish with twenty.

 

One way to improve, and to kill off the cliché, is to read widely. It’s important to investigate all the great writers of the last 50 years to get a feel for how poetry works. I can’t provide a universal list here, but names such as Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney, Philip Larkin, Carol Ann Duffy, Simon Armitage, Jean Sprackland, Clare Pollard and Matthew Sweeney spring to mind. If you’re a bit skint, pester your local library – they often have access to a range of poetry. Or get hold of an anthology of modern poetry. (I recommend Emergency Kit, edited by Matthew Sweeney and Jo Shapcott. It’s a fabulous collection).

 

There were recurring themes, including the passage of time, ageing, mortality and the changes of the seasons. Several poems focused on tragic accidents or untimely deaths. A number were inspired by paintings. Several writers expressed concerns about ecology and man-made pollution. While I was sympathetic to these concerns, I could hear the famous quote from John Keats ringing in my ears: ‘We hate poetry that has a palpable design on us…’ 

 

Many of the poems used the rhyming form, which is very hard to get right. Sophie Hannah and Wendy Cope are great poets who use rhyme, but I felt some of the poems I read fell into the trap of letting the rhyme lead the intention or meaning of the poem, something that often happens with rhyming poems.

 

A number of poems had ambition and intention but I felt they were one dimensional. I was looking for something with subtlety. Mystery and surprise are key elements of good poetry, and to overlook these is to halve the power of the form. Philip Larkin’s The Whitsun Weddings is a wonderful example – the end of the poem becomes something mysterious and elegiac.

 

I was asked to choose nine commended entries. These were as follows:

 

Commended Poems:

 

Hot Night – simple and effective, I wished more poems in the competition shared the elegant simplicity of this poem.

 

Safe Journey – this was one of the few rhyming poems that worked well. The funny punchline made me smile.

 

Dictionaries – this poem is already strong, but with some careful editing could be something very special. The image of burning dictionaries and burning language is a powerful one.

 

Justin – this is a poem that avoids cliché and uses language in a fresh and powerful way.

 

Fleet – one of several poems that dealt with tragic circumstances. The power of this poem lies in what is not expressed.

Mousetraps – another poem that is simple and elegant. The poem expresses the anxiety of its female character very well.

 

Beneath The Bridge – an intriguing poem, perhaps inspired by the three Billy Goats Gruff? I liked the air of menace present in this piece.

 

Queen – This monologue from the perspective of a mummified woman has a great line that shows the horror of her situation: ‘my hooked womb and brain flung in a bucket’. Wow!

 

Migrants – a good poem about migrating birds. A lack of sentimentality gives this poem added muscle.

  

Highly Commended Poems:

 

Feeling the wood of Father’s bequeathed desk.

 

A powerful poem focusing on the importance of intimacy, love and physical contact. (I agree with this writer. Talk to each other. Hug each other. Life is short.) However, it wasn’t only the sentiment that struck a chord with me. The details here work well: ‘my freckled hand’ and ‘the smell of your starched shirt’ lend an authority to the author’s writing.

 

Lamplight

 

This poem has some excellent images. I liked the way the gutter becomes ‘a gorgoyle, incontinent’ – a clever image that avoids cliché and gains the reader’s attention. This poem is full of atmosphere.

 

Snapshot

 

A strong poem about family and time passing. The image of Grandma’s hands ‘gritty like sandpaper’ is very effective.

 

 

First Prize Winner

 

Vinyl Junkie

 

I re-read this poem several times. Each time, its qualities appealed a little more. Its precision is terrific, and the way it uses the senses (the ‘thumbnail-slit cellophane’, ‘180 grams, black and pure’) is excellent.  Unlike many of the other poems, it never mentions ‘I’, ‘You’ etc, but confidently shares the experience of devotion to records.  This is well constructed writing and precisely expressed.

 

 

Second Prize Winner

 

The Secret Of Small Strawberries

 

This is a moving poem, focusing, as good poems often do, on a small moment with a subtle expression of emotion. Its poignancy comes from the fact that the writer has obviously experienced this moment (the same goes for the first prize winner) and, again, the details are great, especially the eyes of the woman ‘glazed cataract blue’. I loved the compassion and tenderness in this poem.

 

Third Prize Winner

 

Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait aged 63

 

This was one of the best of several strong poems in the competition. The sentence beginning ‘But he was doing…’ could do with some editing, as it is ten lines long, and should be split into smaller sentences. However, there’s no denying the power of the final lines, examining Rembrandt’s ‘bone-black suffering eyes and padlocked mouth’.

 

Miles Cain

 

 

The Border by Miles Cain is available from amazon.co.uk


Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (July 2012). Closing Date: 20 June, 2012. Judge: Will Daunt. Enter here.

Sentinel Annual Poetry Competition 2012. Closing Date: 30 November 2012. Judge: Roger Elkin. Enter here.

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SLQ Poetry and Short Story Competitions April 2012 Results

April 2012 Results

We are pleased to announce the results of the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry and Short Story Competitions for April 2012 judged by Miles Cain (poetry) and Kate Horsley (stories).

POETRY

The 9 commended poems in no particular order are:

‘Justin’ – Christian Ward

‘Fleet’ – Simon Jackson

‘Mousetraps’ – Rosemary Kirk

‘Beneath the Bridge’ – Oz Hardwick

‘Queen’ – Terry Jones

‘Dictionaries’ – Terry Jones

‘Safe Journey’ – Eilidh Thomas

‘Hot Night’ – Diana Mason

The 3 highly commended poems in no particular order are:

‘Feeling the Wood of Father’s Bequeated Desk’ – E.K. Wall

‘Lamplight’ – David Jones

‘Snapshot’ – Valley Girl

Third Prize

‘Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait aged 63′ – Lynn Roberts

Second Prize

‘The Secret of Small Strawberries’ – Claire Cox

First Prize

‘Vinyl Junkie’ – Oz Hardwick

Sentinel Champions Subscription Giveaway

The poet that receives 1 year’s free subscription to Sentinel Champions magazine prefers not to publish his name online.

SHORT STORIES

The 3 highly commended short stories are in no particular order:

‘Nature or Nurture’ – Charles Johnson

‘The Split Second’ – Fiona Barr

‘Guilt Sweets’ – Julia Lacey Brooke

Third Prize

‘Sand’ – Brindley Hallam Dennis

Second Prize

‘The Naked Fisherman’ – Leo Madigan

First Prize

‘Duopoly’ – Sarah Evans

Sentinel Champions Subscription Giveaway

The short story writer that receives 1 year’s free subscription to Sentinel Champions magazine is Christina Fulford

All the winning and commended poems and short stories above will be published in Sentinel Champions in November 2012.

Congratulations to all the winners.