Tag Archives: Anthony Watts

Anthony Watts to judge Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (May 2017)

Anthony Watts

Anthony Watts

We are pleased to announce that Anthony Watts will judge the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (May 2017). The competition which is open to all poets living in any part of the world will open on 6th March and close on the 31st of May.

Watts has been writing ‘seriously’ for over 40 years and has had poems published in magazines and anthologies in addition to four published collections: Strange Gold (KQBX Press, 1991), The Talking Horses of Dreams (Iron Press, 1999), Steart Point (John Garland, 2009) and The Shell Gatherer (Oversteps, 2011).   He has won prizes in poetry competitions and his poems have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and Somerset Sound.  Rural Somerset has been his home for most of his life and he has no plans to leave it.  His main interests in life are poetry, music, thinking and messing about outdoors.

ENTER COMPETITION HERE

Review by Nick Cooke of ‘Convergence: the meeting place of eight poets’

Convergence: the meeting place of eight poets (Circaidy Gregory Press 2015)
ISBN 978-1-901841-23-5     pp 76    £8.99

Review by Nick Cooke

Convergence is an anthology of poems by the finalists in the 2014 Earlyworks Press Poetry Collection Competition, with the exception of the winner Caron Freeborn, whose subsequent book, Georges Perec is my hero, I have reviewed separately for SLQ.

The work selected by editors Catherine Edmunds and Mandy Pannett, who were among the competition judges, explores a wide range of subjects and styles, making for a consistently stimulating read. Diverse as the contributions are, though, the anthology’s subtitle points to plentiful common ground between the poets, and this is reflected in the occurrence of certain prominent themes. Among the topics chosen by several writers, for instance, is childhood, seen in a particularly poignant light in the  opening piece, ‘The House of Bread’ by Andie Lewenstein. Here, a man’s cruel attempts to isolate his young step-daughter from her mother, by refusing to open their door to her and telling his wife ‘it is just a fox or a deer’, runs alongside the story of a ‘Kindertransport boy’, called ‘Kraut-Jew and Jesus-murderer’ by ‘legion’ enemies, who suffers treatment that’s on the surface far worse:

 …………His heart has been under the knife and weathered
 …………rage that we can only imagine by looking at the sea
………… as it devours and disgorges.

But the poem’s skill lies in the way it shows the parallels rather than the gaps between the two characters, and the repeated images of devouring and being swallowed up are later transmuted into the vision of footprints lost in the snow, as Lewenstein ends by touching on the sub-theme of identity erosion through linguistic loss, in the enforced migration experienced by the boy:

……….. I walk from your door
…………backwards, tracing my steps.
…………The snow will cover them.

…………How will you find me?
…………Who will bring them back to you –
…………songs from the house of bread.

…………Der Wind, der Wind,
…………das himmlische Kind.

The repeated use of German, and in particular the word ‘Wind’ recalls the lines from Tristan and Isolde, quoted in ‘The Waste Land’, themselves redolent of uprooted childhood:

…………Frisch weht der Wind
 …………Der Heimat zu,
…………Mein Irisch Kind,
…………Wo weilest du?

Embattled loneliness turns to borderline psychosis in John Wilks’ ‘For the Boy With Seven Hearts’, where the increasingly isolated addressee’s impotent self-harming is juxtaposed with a girl’s sexual precocity that dumbfounds and paralyses him:

………………..You cut
…………your palm with a razor blade
…………and nothing comes out.
………………..She lures
 …………you into her father’s shed
 …………and pulls her knickers down: all
 …………you can do is stare.

In a brilliantly realised blueprint of dysfunctionality, the poem outlines the development of what might be a form of autism or possibly, in its more extreme moments, schizophrenia, with the boy undergoing a dislocation from reality that is skilfully enacted through enjambments (‘Your life is a jump-/cut between unconnected/scenes’), and eventually releasing the frozen erotic energy from the shed incident in an act that would usually be considered worrying, at the very least:

………………..Undress your sister’s
 …………Barbie and caress untipped
 …………breasts, fondle the featureless
 …………mound.

This is immediately followed by a tersely significant pointer that the boy is singularly devoid of empathy, in a haunting indicator of psychopathic tendencies: ‘You hear your father fall,/but take no heed.’

A less disturbing but equally engaging approach to childhood is to be found in Anthony Watts’ ‘Rewind’, which looks back to ‘the grey-flannel monochrome of the nineteen-shorties’ and develops the humorous tone by summoning the names of classic comics through which the speaker tried to define his burgeoning identity and personality. There’s a delightful account of learning to walk in terms of the ‘Big Fight/against Gravity, the world champion’ from which the toddler emerges exhausted but triumphant: ‘I stagger to the edge of the ring and fall/into the arms of my cheering fans.’ The poem’s conclusion confirms the effectiveness of the child’s-view approach as a way of intimating how the infant’s whole world consists of his immediate surroundings, and how in his way he is master of all he surveys – or rather all he touches:

 …………Rewind: This planet is called High Chair. It has a ring of moons.
 …………You can see them low on the horizons, pink
 …………and blue and yellow. I can reach out like God
 …………and move them, with a finger, along their orbit.

…………Rewind. Stop. Click. Reverse.

In New Zealand poet Rata Gordon’s ‘Stone’, the direct style takes us right into the child speaker’s head and leaves us to work out her mother’s motives in weaving a yarn around a mysterious stone. The mini-story recalls the stork tales traditionally told to children to explain the arrival of babies, albeit here with an inanimate object. Is the mother weaving a a charming fantasy or practising a less valid form of deception? The ambiguity evokes the parent’s unique power over her child’s imagination.

…………it landed

…………in my mother’s underwear drawer
…………in a rima box with a fitted lid
…………the one she keeps my teeth

…………she tells me a moa traipsed it
…………around the lip
  ……….of the Hokianga harbour

 …………it was in the moa’s gut
 …………grinding fern roots and becoming
 …………smoother and smaller

 ………….at the Tasman sea
 …………she opened her beak
……….. .her eyelids closed upwards

——————————————–

In a second section whose teasing quality reinforces the poem’s main concerns, Gordon remains equivocal on the issue of parental intentions, as the ambiguous wording half-suggests the mother is deliberately scaring (or is she merely warning?) her daughter, by making out that a stone might some day crash into her  life, like an asteroid, when least expected:

………….I ask mum if one day
  ………..the stone might smash
 …………through the bedroom window

…………to start a new life
 ………..as a tooth in a statue
…………of an open-mouthed queen

 …………but she says
 …………the stone knows better than to leap
 …………while we are watching
(Moa: a large flightless bird [hence the ‘traipsing’] endemic to New Zealand, now extinct.
Hokianga harbour: the mouth of a long estuarine drowned valley/river on the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand.)

*

Another notable theme in the book relates to nature, in particular the relationship of people and animals. Two poets invoke an apparent early Ted Hughes influence, recalling ‘My manners are tearing off heads’ from ‘Hawk Roosting’, with the twist that in their cases the lethal power is seen as humanity’s, rather than existing within the animal world itself.  Although Eilidh Thomas’ ‘Flight Path’ does suggest a more direct link with Hughes – ‘In the last light/the hawk/who took the sparrow/has nothing left to mourn’ – that concept of a hawk having human feelings constitutes a shift from Hughes’ amoral killing machine, and her poem ‘Gamekeeper’s Law’ takes the evolution a step further. The first lines are both an admission of vanquishment and an accusation of murder:

 ………..I flew once

…………but now I lie
 ……….dead at your feet

Our fallen protagonist was indeed a bird of prey, but has now become prey. Again, the wild creature is humanised, this time by the reminder that its violent lifestyle has been based not on being programmed to kill for killing’s sake, but the fact that there was a family to care for:

………… My raptor talons
………… will no longer
 …………seek the deep glint
 …………of wild salmon
 …………in the river’s run

………… or the rip of flesh
 ……….. for young to feed

There’s the subtle sense of a final bow, a little like the song ‘My Way’, in the dignified last lines:

 ………… In a heart’s breath
…………  I catch the clean snap
 ………… of lead shot

 ………..  and take my last flight

Similarly, Mick Evans’ ‘Shooting Crows’ may owe something to Hughes, but both context and treatment differ substantially from The Hawk In The Rain. Again the reader’s emotions are stirred by a focus on the helpless young, as the newborn crows are left ‘gargling blood, voiceless’ and ‘threads of crimson coil and blur/pumping from the tiny heart’. And again the critique is in a way even-handed, as the speaker acknowledges that the crows are themselves, so to speak, no angels: they are imagined remorselessly picking clean the corpses of Great War soldiers: ‘We search the eye sockets but see no humanity there./We search until the bones are bare.’ Later, in a seamless and memorable coup, the poem takes on a political angle by widening its scope to include less obvious forms of human predatoriness,  as homeless people are added to the roster of the vulnerable, and society’s hypocrisy is nicely captured in a reference to crucifixion that implies Christian charity can be viewed in terms of empty promises:

 ………..We have seen your streets
……….. the homeless laid out on pavements picked clean of hope
……….. crucified by cold.
……….. Words scatter and fall around them
 ………..like spent shot
 ………..traffic circulates like blood pumped from ruptured veins.

Evans might have done well to end on that devastating note, but he chooses to expatiate further, spelling out what could have been left for the reader to infer, and drawing a conclusion that, as well as being syntactically suspect, tends to dissipate the earlier impact that had been so skilfully created by images rather than arguments:

 ………..Our crime is to be less dishonest than you.
 ………..In your world love sustains but hate is more true. (…)

………..The fixed relations of circling crows’
 ………..ordained distances, the diminishing are
 ………..over crying lambs, are constants;

………………………………………………………………stark
  ………..as the simple formula of what dies, what survives
 ……….. that is distant, fading, following the dark.

Yet whatever the faults of the second half, the first part certainly sticks in the mind, as do several of Evans’ other poems, including his two delightful pieces on ancient thinkers, ‘Plato at St Pancras’ and ‘Weighing Archimedes’, which particularly suit his more ruminative bent.

Also somewhat abstract in her approach is June Wentland, whose ‘Crows’ is typically philosophical in tone. Here, crows are conceived by an unnamed male subject as having ‘no individual existence of their own/they are other birds transformed by sadness/….waiting to be charmed back into a happier form -/sparrow, song thrush, nightingale or lark.’  Such thoughts prompt the man to enter his garden and start hanging Chinese lanterns from the apple trees, playing ‘music about love and loss’, and reading poems by Muir and Frost. Later when a female character arrives, presumably the man’s wife or partner, the poem effects an unexpected change of direction, towards a questioning of his mental balance that might have been in the reader’s consciousness from the off:

 ………..She finds him seated on the bench when she comes home
……….. singing to them, sharing biscuits and the contents of the TV listings.

She promptly urges him to come inside, by way of countering his wayward behaviour, and it’s as if while the garden stands for the potential pitfalls, if not actual dangers of speculative thought, their house represents safety and definability, symbolised by the comforting sound of the ‘theme tune from Corrie’. The ending is ambivalent, implying on one hand an arguably anticlimactic suspicion that intellectual flights of fancy are likely to be sterile, while preserving the notion that they just might not be:

 ………..balance restored between them they listen for birdsong
……….. which probably isn’t, but could be, the sound of crows transformed
 ………..back into nightingales or larks.

The selections from the eighth poet, Angela Arnold, have themes and a style of their own, with a gentler touch than certain others, but one which hints at underlying tension. I found her most striking piece to be ‘Before We Were Lovers’, where the onetime harmony between a seasoned couple has been undermined by a creeping disengagement and low-level but telling alcohol abuse:

………..You were a country, softly
………..webbed in roads for me:

………..magic routes – now I notice
………..too often the glass in your hand,

………..signposting retreat…

The military connotations of that last word typify Arnold’s skill at suggestive understatement, which is glimpsed again at the poem’s end:

………..Your whole Sundayish sparkle
 ………..is now reserved for guests.

 ………..Is it me: too
 ………. sprawled into your life?

‘Reserved’ has a double meaning, describing both the coldness now being shown towards the speaker, and, through the unexpected addition of ‘for guests’, the opposed warmth that her husband/partner demonstrates in his sparkling demeanour with others. We sense a real betrayal in the apparently unthreatening wordplay. In comparable fashion, ‘sprawled’ conveys a sensual abandon, making us picture the speaker sprawled invitingly on a bed, but also brings to mind a graceless fall, thus neatly encapsulating her confused self-image: do I still turn you on or don’t I? Am I really in your life or simply sprawled, smotheringly, over it?

*

I hope these snapshots of  high points give a flavour of the breadth and quality of the contents. As was the case with Caron Freeborn’s winning book Georges Perec is my hero, Circaidy Gregory Press is to be congratulated on an anthology of lasting interest and appeal.

Results of the SLQ Poetry & Short Story Competitions, January 2011

I would like to thank the judges, Amanda Sington-Williams and Mandy Pannett for jobs well done in adjudicating the January 2011 Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry and Short Story Competitions and for their detailed reports.

Now, to match the titles of the winning and highly-commended works with their writers.

Short Stories (Winners)
Third Prize: ‘Run Boy Run’ by ALISON LOCK
Second Prize: ‘Between Men’ by MARY BYRNE
First Prize: ‘Edgar Doily at the Point’ by DOUGLAS BRUTON

Short Stories (Highly Commended, in no particular order)
No Thing Called Goodbyeby COLIN GALLANT
The Remains of the Dayby VAIJU JOSHI
Last Yearby CESCA MARTIN 

Poems (Winners)
Third Prize: ‘A Space’ by E.K. WALL
Second Prize: ‘Johnny, Be Good’ by A L McCLIMENS
First Prize: ‘The Over-abundant Woman’ by CASS ISKANDR

Poems (Highly Commended, in no particular order)

Penwithby ANTHONY WATTS
A Bicycle Wheelby RICHARD W. HALPERIN
Partingby JO BELL
 

These winners and highly commended writers, together with the authors of the 9 other commended poems in Mandy Pannett’s report will have their work published in Sentinel Champions #7, in August 2011.

Congratulations all.

Sandra Felix
Competitions Secretary

POETRY COMPETITION JUDGE’S REPORT >>
SHORT STORY COMPETITION JUDGE’S REPORT>>

Judge’s Report – SLQ Poetry Competition January 2011

by MANDY PANNETT

mandypannettphotoThere were many interesting, thought provoking poems among the entries but about 30 stood out for me as exceptional. It was hard to limit my final choices and some of the runners up would have been highly commended if there had been space. When it came to the three prize winners however, I was in no doubt. They are outstanding.

Here is my response to the poems:

First prize: The over-abundant woman

There was never any doubt in my mind that this was going to be my winner. The writer has such control over the subtleties and variations of language. The rhythm is fabulous, line and stanza breaks are spot on, the poet’s voice is strong and assured. I have nothing but ‘abundant’ praise for this winning poem.

Second prize: Johnny, Be Good

I selected this poem, as I did for the winner, for the strength of its voice. There is such vigour here, starting with the wonderful first line ‘The elephants must have been surprised to say the least’ and continuing with a potted history of Rome through to its list of what to do and not to do, its instructions to ‘Johnny’ and all the clues whereby the reader guesses this is John Keats. An imaginative, clever, original poem that sparkles with energy.

Third prize: A space

This poem needs to be read in full to appreciate its beauty and skill. It is a remarkable poem that handles a painful and controversial subject without sentimentality or bias but with sensitivity and compassion and – I’ll have to use the word again – beauty. Here are a few lines but they are all outstanding: the foetus ‘rests now in my curved words/which have created a sunlit space for him/to be everything that he was./And everything he wasn’t.’

Highly Commended:

Penwith

This poem caught my imagination from its opening lines: ‘We have come where England dips a toe/in the Atlantic and decides/not to go in’ and there are other strong images and phrases – the dry stone wall that ‘puts out its tongue to give me a leg up’ ‘a restless protoplasm that stalks/the land’ Most of all I love the description of stone: ‘Stone knows exactly where it’s going – nowhere…its shallow pan a dazzle of weathers’ This is a fine and original landscape poem.

A Bicycle Wheel

This poem struck me immediately with its energy and vigour. I find the language irresistible : ‘Where’s the rest of it? The mecury dash/of the once sight speed of it? The – oh, God! – /wheel mate of it? The chain that doesn’t chain/ of it? There is humour too: Miss Marple comes into it and Beethoven who ‘never saw a bicycle’ and there are neat details leading to a great last line: ‘inside the shop, cereal/cigarettes, lottery tickets, some chat maybe,/shade and sun on all our molecules.’ This is a vivid poem. Exceptional.

Parting

I selected this for its originality, energy and vivid language. It caught my attention from the opening line: ‘Hustler, your business is to always shift’ and I was won over by the description of the river ‘busting’ the ice in ‘toffee-broken planes,/brailled panes and nearly-triangles’ The way the river is addressed directly as ‘You’ ‘Hustler’ and ‘Thief’ adds strength and immediacy which contrasts with the vague, impersonal ‘two forms in the river mist’ who are waiting, directionless, for life to carry them ‘elsewhere’ I like the way that in the last line these two bodies are revealed as the narrator and companion. This hints, subtly, at the situation suggested by the title ‘Parting’

Commended:

The victims have been named

This is another poem that almost hurts; it is so painful and poignant to read. The rough, exuberant and carefree boys on the block who have squashed into the narrator’s car many times after matches now ‘lie under a sheet on a petrol station forecourt,/ like two kicked-up divots of earth’ This last stanza is shocking in its suddenness, its brevity and its use of understatement. An amazing, powerful poem.

Drinking Games

Here is a brilliantly crafted relationship poem beneath an overlay of meticulously described, commonplace details. I love this writer’s use of syntax. I wish there had been space to give it a higher position.

Sweat

This poem is rich in its sensory images. We feel the heat of the ‘plastic compartment,’ see and feel the ‘perfect beads’ of sweat on the young girl, taste courgettes, tomatoes and salt. A very fine poem.

The Wrong Children

This is quite a painful poem to read, about disappointment and the gap between hope and reality. The woman has ‘done her best’ but her ideal children are elsewhere, belong to other people or don’t exist. Certainly they are nothing like the brutal, sneering boys she has produced.

Europa

A beautifully written, assured poem which handles the myth with skill and originality. It is hard to select my favourite lines; they are all good: ‘his white flanks blinding in the sun’ ‘his luscious pelt, that velvet nose’ ‘your fingers trace the arcs/ of his horns and you’re lost’ ‘tears and sea mingling as strange juice’

Balinese Driver

An apparently simple poem where the guests relax with ‘coffee and cochineal-pink cakes’ and browse through family photo albums, but with a skilful twist in the last stanza which alters our perceptions of the situation as subtly as ‘a glance in the rear-view mirror’

Vincent

Every word, every image counts here. The street artist is uncertain, full of self-doubt but the language used to describe his dilemma is as strong and vibrant as the light that ‘crackles off tall buildings.’ I think this is an amazing poem.

Hibernation

Here we have the situation of a woman who, discontented with her family life, makes and carries out plans to hide herself in the loft ‘amid the lagging and the gurgling water tank’ at the same time making sure she has plenty of home comforts – ‘necessities’ she calls them. I was intrigued by the narrative, especially the idea of the woman scurrying down to use the bathroom when her husband was asleep or in the garden, but I enjoyed it most for the extended metaphor of a squirrel hoarding provisions, making a comfortable nest and sleeping the winter away.

SENTINEL POETRY COMPETITON JANUARY 2011

WINNERS

1st – The Over-abundant Woman

2nd – Johnny, Be Good

3rd – A Space

HIGHLY COMMENDED:

· Penwith

· A Bicycle Wheel

· Parting

COMMENDED (in no particular order):

· The victims have been named

· Drinking Games

· Sweat

· The Wrong Children

· Europa

· Balinese Driver

· Vincent

· Hibernation

Mandy Pannett