By Derek Adams.
Judging a poetry competition is always tough, but always a delight too, and the over two hundred entries in Sentinel’s May competition proved no exception. When I opened the weighty parcel that the postman delivered I must admit I wondered how I would choose just twelve poems from the pile in front of me. Methodically is the only way, I read through all the poems once separating them in to two piles, a longlist that made instant impressions on me and a ‘Return to’ pile that were missing something. Then the next day I read through the ‘return-to’ pile again to make sure no gems had slipped through the net. The third day, because you need to put some time between each read-through to come at the poems fresh, is when it gets tough, cutting the long list of good poems to a shortlist.
Finally choosing 12 poems from a shortlist of 27, then trying to place them in order, when there’s hardly a cigarette paper between them, is the hardest part of all, but here they are with some words about my reasons for choosing them.
First prize: Crunching on bones
This poem grabbed my attention on the first reading and wouldn’t let go. On each re-reading I liked it more, by the time I got to the first shortlist, this poem was looking like the favourite. I liked how the repetition of words and the alliteration help build a sense of claustrophobia. There is an urgency about the poem with it’s single sentence stanzas. This is a chilling story of two women who share a house with a man, a man whose presence fills this poem; ‘he filled the room / With his oilskinned back and black, wet hair’, he is a man of few words, and the narrator would do anything for him, ‘eat the crunchy ends’ of bones ‘so nothing’s wasted’ if that’s what he wants, even kill for him if that’s what he wants. This poem is compact and image-filled, it tells a story too big to be contained in its eighteen lines. It spills over and gets into your head, which is what the poet ‘wants you see and I do. I do.’ I have probably read this poem at least thirty times now and it still grabs, chills and surprises me.
Second Prize: Love, The Name
This is a touching poem about a stillborn baby whose ‘rosebud lips never uttered a single sound.’ This poem is filled with flora, from the prospective names abandoned in favour of Amy (a name derived from the French verb aimer to love), through stages of pregnancy, to the ‘teardrop sprays’ of the funeral. Again this is a poem that stood out on first reading, and continued to reveal itself on consequent readings.
Third Prize: Doctor’s Bag
I enjoyed the way the title slightly wrongfooted me when the doctor’s bag revealed its contents, the ‘heavy projector’ and the ‘tangled reels loose with life’. I like the detail of this poem: its sounds and smells, the ‘Cheezels and green cordial’ and its ‘gold floral wallpaper’. The middle of this poem conjures a vision of happy families, only to wrongfoot us again with the mother leaving, and taking us back to the beginning with the bag hidden in the back of the wardrobe, the father ominously keeping the mother’s ‘soundless memories choked / into strips of film.’
How to make a Chough: an Origami poem
This is another poem that caught my attention straight away, fabulous idea, amazing images and a satisfying last line.
I loved reading this poem out loud with its use of alliteration and wonderful words, whose sound rolls around the tongue.
No Last Line
This prose poem is a paean to New York pre 9/11: to New Yorkers through history, and to what the future would bring. The unmentioned twin towers echo through the poem: ‘freedom and comfort’, ‘splendour and wealth’, ‘pain and experience’.
A clever every-line-rhymed poem about the seismic impact upon a young women’s life, of a sexual assault that has been hushed up by those around her, ‘…they said “over-dramatic”/ when they didn’t say lie…’
A surreal poem about a different kind of traumatic event, a flood, and the resultant depersonalisation it has upon the narrator.
A Certain Kind of Death
I liked the rhythm and internal rhyming of this poem, this story of an execution of a woman has a great opening line.
This is a touching poem about the mental and physical effects of Parkinson’s and love. It is full of great lines. It hooked from beginning to end.
Great first line, and fabulous descriptions in this surreal poem about the sea, and our relationship with it.
I am not a fan of villanelles, they have to be good to work and so often fall short of the target, this one however works. I was impressed by this tale of an affair with a married man told from the point of view of the mistress, who is not completely at ease with the situation; she fears ‘this unknown me’. It also contains some lovely double play on words ‘Our conscience lies, completely overthrown’.
Jude Neale – About Light
Annest Gwilym – Something Lurks
Fiona Dye – Unknown Me
Robert Kibble – Inelastic Scattering
Amy Butler – Harbour
Anne Sheppard – A Certain Kind of Death
John Gallas – How to make a Chough: an Origami poem
Mark Stopforth – Moth
Julie Anne Gilligan – No Last Line
Lisa Reily – Doctor’s Bag
Therese Adams – Love, The Name
Robbie Frazer – Crunching on bones
The specially mentioned, commended, highly commended and prize-winning poems will be published in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Magazine on 31st July, 2018
To enter the current Sentinel Literary Quarterly Competition visit the competition page.