Tag Archives: sentinel literary quarterly poetry competition

SLQ Poetry Competition May 2018, Judge’s Report and Results

Judge’s report
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.’

Highly commended

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’.


Inelastic Scattering
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.

Special Mentions

About Light
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.

Something Lurks
Great first line, and fabulous descriptions in this surreal poem about the sea, and our relationship with it.

Unknown Me
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’.

The Results

Special Mentions

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

Highly commended

John Gallas – How to make a Chough: an Origami poem
Mark Stopforth – Moth
Julie Anne Gilligan – No Last Line

Third Prize
Lisa Reily – Doctor’s Bag

Second Prize
Therese Adams – Love, The Name

First prize
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.


Oz Hardwick SF Presidio  Library I have, over the past couple of years or so, been involved in a number of conversations in which someone has bemoaned the dearth of political poems. My response has invariably been a bemused What? From the lone poem in a regular journal, through individual collections, to issue-based anthologies and epic projects like 100 Thousand Poets for Change, poetry – like all the arts – is articulating local and global political concern, engagement, anger, fear etc. on paper, on-line, and on walls.


It is of course legitimate to ask what use such poems are against the often overwhelming insurmountable-seeming challenges we – regardless of race, religion, or any other differences – face, both politically and environmentally. To the despairing (and I occasionally fall into that category myself), I’d suggest that poetry can give voice to the voiceless, can distil the core of human experience into engines of visceral communication at the sharpest edge of language, and in doing so can remind us of the strength of our shared humanity. It can also do a lot more, of course, but these are perhaps the most pressing calls upon the arts at present.


I was heartened by the number of poems submitted for the competition that focused on issues from the wilful decimation of the British NHS by a self-interested government, to human displacement on a global scale: and, beyond this, they were very good poems indeed. Both ‘Lethal Theory’ and ‘In transit’ are excellent examples. The former employs military acronyms and the impersonal language of medicine, perfectly balanced around the human tragedy of those caught up in events within which they are barely acknowledged. Specific, yet chillingly universal, the poem’s strength lies as much in what is avoided as what is said, culminating in the blunt negative of that unforgettable final line. The latter is a very different poem, but no less powerful, the second-person address and controlled vagueness concerning detail places the reader uncomfortably into a limbo without full stops that continually stacks the odds against the shadow of hope that is desperately introduced mid-way through the final stanza.


            Lest all this imply a single-mindedness of approach to subject in my assessment of the range of poems submitted, the ekphrastic ‘Vanitas’ stood out as a beautifully tight response to a painting that – as with all the best poems of its type – goes way beyond its descriptive surface, tapping into questions of faith and very corporeal connections and absences, resolving into that rich image of the ‘thick and wrinkled’ wax. Additionally, of course, it vividly evokes the private, domestic space and the dangerous unknown without, as – in their own ways – do the previously discussed poems. And if there was one overriding theme that arose time and time again in the submitted poems, it was this idea of the home, with all of its connotations of security and fragility. Indeed, of those dozen poems that made my short-list, more than half directly addressed the theme in one way or another: an indication, perhaps, of a shared response to uncertain times in which we are more conscious of our need for the safe and the known – and, I hope, for a place in which to welcome and be welcomed.


            The pleasure in judging this competition was the difficulty of the task, and in the reaffirmation of poetry’s – and art’s more generally – importance.


Oz Hardwick




Special Mentions:

Labile – Sharon Phillips

Surrender – Kelly Nunnerley

Your windows – L Thompson


Our Father – Michael Brown

Swinger – Kathleen Strafford

Some have entertained angels unawares – Inky

Highly Commended:

Frozen Ringtone – Maria Isakova Bennett

What does the heart mean in popular culture? – Sharon Phillips

The Softening – Diane Cook

Third Prize:

Vanitas – Gabriel Griffin

Second Prize:

In transit – Greta Ross

First Prize:

Lethal theory – Noel Williams


competitions@sentinelpoetry.org.uk  / office@sentinelwriting.com

Field Mushroom


Unexpected – this is no plant
but machinery made from flesh
discarded in the grass.
Here’s an air intake from a jet
with several soft fins crumpled.
I turn it over in my hands to see
a scabby disc, rust flakes peeling,
scorched, as if exposed to radiation
one flattened breast excised complete
with areola. I rotate it
heavy on its shaft and flick
the gills which never breathed.

Unexpected – here is life –
seething in the flesh
coggy maggots twist and turn –
little wheels inside an engine
working in their darkness
to transform flesh, recycle scrap,
digest the meat and make new growth –
unseen soaring spores pour forth
out of this rotting fruiting body –
not plant, machine, nor breast, or fish
but mushroom, which you might expect
I could have picked and eaten.

‘Field Mushroom’ was commended in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (May 2017)

Spider Times



Full grown, and shiny brown as hazelnuts

they’ve slung their skeins of silk between the bushes

and the garden chairs, the leaves and roses.

All the garden glitters with desperation.


In their skeletons they feel its coming.

Soft pads taste the ancient bitter tang.

Waking will be harder every morning

and the stone of sleep heavier to carry

as they spin and weave.


The greenfly is long gone, the last late bumblebee

blunders through their sticky traps with ease.

Dimmed diamond eyes can only watch

the inedible rose bay seeds bob

in their unwilling captor’s shrouds.


The web’s gone, and my spider isn’t hiding,

waiting to spin again. Usually we’d snuggle up together,

he/she more comfortably than me perhaps,

although the spider drew its eight legs in,

its small brown body round as a scarified seed


and then I’d think to hold it, almost kill

it with inspection, as it hung webbed up for combat

between the Victorian whorls.

We’d sat together since the start of June

on the black arbour seat


sniffing the cool white jasmine,

my nose, its waving feet, tasting

the sweet bright air. But now September’s in.

There’s just one filament of web,

fine on the ironwork like baby hair,

breathing my in/out breath until it breaks.



‘Spider Times’ was commended in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (May 2017)



Two Poems by John Lindley




Our Aunt left us a cottage.

She didn’t mean to but she did.

Slate it was. Neo-Gothic with chimneys like turrets,

gargoyles in her likeness

and a gash of gate where the fence gave out.

You couldn’t have shifted that place

for love nor money

and there was sod all of either

in its low rooms when we got it.


Everything about it was her: its mean light

and narrow views, its fittings that didn’t.

We poured nowt back into it but resentment,

shuttered it up the long winter long,

Havishamed her memory in the gloomiest room

she left us, stuck the Viewing by Appointment pitch

on a sign too big for its boots on an angled pole

in the given up ghost garden.


Empty, you’d think you saw smoke

shimmying out of the chimneys

but it’s the light round here plays tricks;

something to do with steam on slow drying slate,

weather fronts and sea air. It’s a mystery to us,

like the way it was left. To us, I mean.

The cottage, I mean. Not like her that.

Come Spring we think we hear the eaves dropping

the way she would through the bedroom floor;

open the windows wide the way her heart wouldn’t.



The God of Dogs



The God of Dogs knew a thing or two about design;

knew how to make the rolling shoulder’s plates

attractive whatever the pace,

how to fuel the head with purpose,

the Dunlop snout with scents unsniffed by us;


knew how to pattern a paw and patent it

so the copycat cat would stop dead in its tracks

and require those tracks made new

copyright of the God of Cats.


The God of Dogs flopped ears or perked them,

lathered His work in fur,

hinged the cocking leg to perfection,

metronomed tails.


To Him goes credit for the wolf cousin and fox

but most for the eyes, the blessed bright eyes

of dogs where the dog lovers melt,

where the world reflects a more finished glow.

To Him give thanks for the warm-scented saints

who walk by and amongst us.


We, dizzy with dyslexia, praise the Son of Dog

for deliverance and he has made a home for us

on the plain of his lolling tongue.

To Him we owe the music of claw tap on wood block,

the complex calligraphy of hair in the shag pile.


Dogs with their valves and varieties

pumped or puffed into being by that God of the air

who fastened those fluid flanks and haunches –

here, the one who punches above his weight;

here, the one who gentles down to size.


God of Dogs, who lies down with the lion and lamb

and outshines them both, what a clever hound you are,

drilled yet disobedient, dropping your depth charge dogs

into a sea of troubles, letting their newly-blown shapes

muscle and fawn and make sense of it all,

make sense of us all.



‘Inheritance’ and ‘The God of Dogs’ were commended and received a Special Mention respectively in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (May 2017)

Civil War – a poem by Richard Law

Richard Law

Civil War

You skitter like lizards through fallen
leaves, kick crisp clouds of red and brown
to scratch the autumn air. Quick! Duck!

A passing drone moans below the mound
that bucks with your bodies, whinnying
ghost-shells. “Once more onto the beach!”

Over the trenches, you whistle a warning
to your brothers in arms – keep your nose
out for Napalm – jumping

from the juddering machine gun.
In the fumbling ecstasy,
no harm’s done, but Harry is hit,

gutted – denies it. Offering peace,
you pick a twig to sew
in his shoulder socket. He fires

a final round of lasers – whining
like a crow dying – into the arms
crossed over your chest,

before the battery gives in.
We sit outside the war zone,
Grandad and I. We’re too grey

and stuffed with Sunday lethargy
and roast beef to be conscripted.
Our old man has survived

all the battles he can, yet barely sees
through the Sabbath without his eyelids
drooping over some tabloid. His nose –

a split-ended clover – falls silent
onto foreign surf, lies still
by a red body that you could cup

and warm in your hands.
Harry is wounded; his habitual
strategic stomp softens, and shadows

the silence as he slouches
like a prisoner toward the firing line:
something has lodged deeper

than your weightless bullets.
“All’s fair,” you say, tonguing
the air to take aim:

a red light moth-flickers
on Harry’s arse. And I don’t know
whether to raise my hand

or surrender to the smile
rising slowly like a pistol
to my childish face.

“Civil War” by Richard Law was highly commended in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (May 2016) judged by Mandy Pannett.

Still Life – a poem by John Darley

John Darley

Still Life

Remember the good one by Caravaggio? The leaves
with scars that spell their histories
on the pallid wall. It told me
do not do; not
do not. Two by two, browning fingers eke
towards the start of something new.           (Hideous).
I push myself towards the fruit at the centre
and wait for the rest.
Somewhere                                     (out of frame)
the crowd screams for peace. An apple at each mouth,
puckered with deep kisses. The fall
of I do, I do, I do: grapes in-hand, sour
and still moving, still not quite themselves. The table plots
a sweeping plane across the x axis; raw
and no sound or silence or balanced
but the joy of foot-warm granite. I am uncomfortably finite,
and, like my fist of glossed pulp, fail to distract from the fact that the fruit died weeks ago.

Between the figs and the grapes and the pale
sweet pear, a torched car like a heart. Its beat dwindles
from contracting steal and cracked plastic puddles.
The arteries were cut off
nine days ago, so someone               (still out of frame)
is boiling saltwater. Inside the apple
the crowd screams for one more song.
                                                                  (A wedding in a crater)
                                                                  (A bombshell for an eye)
                                                                  (A vacation to war)
A violin plays itself through a closed window
– the air-con turned up full – and a fruit basket
where next-door used to dry their linen, split
open, still empty.

“Still Life” by John Darley was highly commended in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (May 2016) judged by Mandy Pannett.

A Smallholding in the Fens – poem by Elisabeth Sennitt Clough

Elisabeth Sennitt Clough

A Smallholding in the Fens
We began with myths and later included actual events
– Michael Ondaatje, Handwriting

There was an attempt at a pond,
but it was never lined
and the water didn’t want to be contained
by that black earth.

I don’t like to think of the fish,
their gills silvering the soil.

There was a drought one summer.
It made my mother thirsty.

Irrigation dried up most of the dykes,
but I still dreamt of wading birds.

Once my stepfather caught a linnet:
as his hand tightened around it,

it pecked at him,
but it was the small heartbeat

he felt through the gourd of his palm,
that made him set it free.

It was a place of hooks: for fish and for game
(sometimes there was a right hook).

When he was a boy, my stepfather saw a pike:
it was so huge, it had to shunt back and forth
at the river’s mouth in order to turn.

My mother hung game-birds in the kitchen.
They looked like upside-down bouquets.

There was an otter skin on the wall.
My stepfather said he shot it by accident.
Its whisker holes were pink on the inside,
as if it had measles.
The boy we called The Milky Bar Kid
peed himself in the corner
after his dad punched his door,
his room smelt of particle board and vinegar.

Some nights his mum gave him cat-food for dinner.
After he scraped the jelly off
he said it tasted like Fray Bentos.

There are mini-twisters in the Fens.
They bustle along the headland,
chests puffed out like bossy toddlers.

Things about my eighth summer:
I cracked a toe-nail on the pavement.
I bent down and huffed the tarmac
when it started to blister in the sun.
They used a hose on the soles of my feet,
when only sand-paper would’ve done.

“A Smallholding in the Fens” by Elisabeth Sennitt Clough was highly commended in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition May 2016 judged by Mandy Pannett.

& Bless – poem by Mara Adamitz Scrupe

Mara Adamitz Scrupe

& Bless

            all the illness    people all the streaming
pilgrims’ barren scatter stripling bark             & tender
bless the bandit’s head rolling/ stalling/ staring
moth to moon             dusk to cavern            ebon nail gnawed
&           stub
               &         yes god bless          god bless this packed
plaza today’s & yesterday’s suns’ deep reserve glint &
fracture a fallen woman’s foreign veil & stoned          her kin
deny her/ prostrate for life for living being & bless
the skittered     lifeblood          under the floorboards

between plates & piers             gallanting out bold
before dawn      supine back-wriggle striped
coming                          & going & bless the rift-open aura
illumined           astral pink morning watercolor wash
along the ridge I stammer as a         child my attachments
to objects misunderstood     as linkage as hairy-stalked
kudzu climbs the boxwoods’ backs; lovers     or foes?
           & bless the bumbling bamboo           too ruinous      &
every spring’s speckless ripped blade & bucket & bless &
bless bless the kleptomaniacal          ruling class’s

Panglossian sputter     pompous lapse and unbelieving
slumber            I bless this copse this gussied-up graveside
chat     antipodal woolly muddied smear what drear
measure         what a month            to die & bless
our slave chapel moved over harrowed field &
passion smoothed over hanks            & marrow
             hees & yaws     & wept white amplitude scale & hands
that blind and feed                  some bone some splint some salt
glazed sherd      a shine plucked clean from rubble
silica & sodium vapor dure: the potter’s thumb prints

fired forever in wet smoke & rouged iron
oxide              & bless the hangers-on released
to creep & tarry matched sets paired birds all set
for the Sunday shoot      & bless the frog-of-the-field
            stacked bump-backed & clutching
one atop           another in a bucket on the feeding floor
            & bless this breeding wire this hedged             tendril &
foothold           tension rib & shore & bless the suffocate ivy
clutch & ramble cling-stem stout roof            pitch & mortared
stroke & bless & bless all these crumbling                  castes

“& Bless” by Mara Adamitz Scrupe won third prize in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (May 2016) judged by Mandy Pannett.

Les Fleurs D’Azur – poem by Jocelyn Simms

Jocelyn Simms

Les Fleurs D’Azur
6th to 8th August 1945, Hiroshima

‘You’ll miss the train,’ I say.
Dallying over a gift from her fiancé,
she laughs, collects her lunch box,
tickets for the journey. Swings
down the garden path. Draped over
her shoulder the lustrous shawl,

embroidered silk: delicate azure,
palest lilac, embellished with tones
of purple, turquoise, threaded gold,
silver, bronze. A filigree of leaves

and roses. Cameos of lovers, children,
lovebirds, wistful watery pearls, woven
into a fanciful dance of pleasure.
I open the window and call to her,

‘Will you make a fan with it?’ She’s
out of earshot. The siren sings its note.
I compose a prayer, bow to our ancestors,
arrange my daily offerings.

Then the flash – ten, or a hundred
or a thousand times
brighter than any light imaginable –

pierces my eyes. Blinded, reduced
to a blank shadow, I become a ghost.
The window shatters. Then silence.
Where is my daughter?

I push on shoes, rush to the station.
A naked girl, torso stripped of skin, cries,
‘Mother, water, I beg you.’ I scurry by.
She is not my daughter.

Bodies strewn everywhere, people
dead or groaning. The undead, open-mouthed,
gulp as globules of black rain fall.

I fasten my hood, hasten home. No word.
Next day my neighbour batters the door,
‘Your daughter. She has been sighted
on the bank of the Ota river.’

I grab a bundle of bedding and clothes.
The bridge is ablaze. So many indecipherable
faces. At last I recognise her voice.

A white liquid oozes from her. Maggots
spawn in yellow wounds. I brush
them away but they multiply.
‘What are you doing?’ she asks.

I wrap her in linen and silk. Across her chest
an imprint of roses and leaves; a blessing
of love burnt upon her peeling skin.

I talk of her childhood, of how we walked
along this same riverbank, of how she’d fish
with makeshift rod, cavort along the edge
catching cicadas.

“Les Fleurs D’Azur” by Jocelyn Simms won first prize in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition May 2016 judged by Mandy Pannett.