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.’
‘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.
‘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
WILL DAUNT, 11 OCTOBER 2014