SENTINEL LITERARY QUARTERLY POETRY COMPETITION (APRIL 2021)
By MARY ANNE SMITH SELLEN
Judging the April 2021 SLQ Poetry Competition has been both a privilege and a pleasure, so I would like to start by thanking everyone who submitted; I very much enjoyed reading your work. It was intriguing to see what subject matters had inspired the poems: mythology, local history, biography, personal experience, humour, lockdown, loss, place and nature – trees, birds, wildlife and weather. There were more concrete poems than I had expected, and fewer formal. It was obvious that much thought and research had been invested in many of these, and I learned a lot from them. As I correctly anticipated, it proved to be a difficult task to sift down a shortlist of twelve poems from out of several hundred entries – but it had to be done. Ultimately, I chose the poems that struck me the most, by their imaginative use of language, rich imagery, the discipline and skill demonstrated in their crafting and editing (the ‘less is more’ approach), and from how they remained with me – even after just one reading. I hardly need to say that many of the submitted poems ticked all these boxes for me, so please don’t be disheartened if your work hasn’t been placed this time. These are my own individual choices, and another judge may well have chosen differently. A few things to consider, if you are a less experienced writer: I have always found that it helps to read a poem out loud, as this will straightaway flag up any issues with repetition, enjambment, punctuation and flow. Having someone else read your work (on the page and out loud) is also a useful exercise, as is taking work to be critiqued by a writing group. The first time you do this can be quite daunting, but it can also prove to be invaluable – and I speak from personal experience. Most writing groups are friendly and encouraging, and you can learn so much from other writers. So – please keep writing, keep learning – and keep submitting!
First Prize: Snowy Owl
This poem caught my attention from the first reading. Its delicate form perfectly captures the owl’s elusive nature and distinctive appearance, and in its spareness, the bleak landscape of their habitat. From the opening line ‘pale tossed blossoms / coalesced’, with its mythical hints, the succinct choice of language and imagery holds the reader spellbound and breathless throughout, as though sharing the owl’s flight. I was also impressed by how much thought had gone into the layout of the poem, and the highly effective use of spacing.
Second Prize: View from Dystopia
This captivating poem impressed me from the start. I like the way Szymborska’s style has been effortlessly referenced here, as the poet describes their own first meeting with her work. ‘I carry in my pockets a loose change of words’ is a line that particularly resonated with me, after reading the Syzmborska poem that had ‘stuck within the core’ of the poet.
Third Prize: Flattened
A wonderful dialect poem, which describes with ironic humour how a photographer takes detailed photographs of Scottish streets just before they are all swept away. It immediately brought to my mind the paintings of Glasgow streets and their children by the artist Joan Eardley, whose centenary is being celebrated this year with many exhibitions and events. There is great poignancy in the personal detail (‘the wee yin’s dress swung, flitting like she was dancing in it’), and particularly in the closing line where the narrator reflects how they still occupy those streets, albeit only in the never-seen photographs.
Hares are a perennial source of inspiration for writers, but I like the way the poet turns this on its head by delightfully suggesting that they should be allowed to exist ‘beyond the snare of your words’.
An evocative and closely observed tour through the sad ruins of a Welsh cottage, likening it in turn to a wrecked boat, a human body and a graveyard, where nature is gradually reasserting control and only different types of silence remain.
A perfectly paced and thought-provoking poem, beginning with a description of fire as something beautiful and useful. In the third stanza the poet then seamlessly turns this to suggest a more disturbing outcome, culminating in an unequivocal warning in the final line.
Written from the point of view of the dog, I was particularly struck by the precise handling of this unsentimental expression of loyalty.
This poem deftly describes a return visit to a former family home, reflecting on the different atmosphere and attitudes – and smells – to be found there now, and why it is that we only ever seem to remember the days of sun or snow from our childhood, never rain.
In this beautifully paced and acutely observed poem, an RSPB webcam at Sumburgh Head in Scotland helps to sustain the housebound narrator throughout the long days of lockdown, as does the familiar voice of the Shipping Forecast during sleepless nights.
Sundial in glorious pestilence of clover mites coming up through cracks
Intriguingly titled, this wonderful, visual poem vividly evokes memories of time spent in the garden of a former family home, as a series of flickbook images.
The Legacy of Alice Cliff Scatcherd
In the voice of suffragist Alice Cliff Scatcherd, this beautifully worded poem describes her life and legacy as a tireless campaigner for women’s rights.
We return to the garden in this poem, and the perilous task of growing flowering plants from seed in unpredictable weather, A very original take on a perennial problem, adeptly done.
Ted Gooda – Seeds
Becky Cherriman – The Legacy of Alice Cliff Scatcherd
Becky Cherriman – Sundial in glorious pestilence of clover mites coming up through cracks
Ama Bolton – Sumburgh Head
Trevor Breedon – Chatsworth Street
D A Angelo – Frankenstein’s Dog
Wendy Toole – Soch Vichar
F. Philip Holland – Bwthyn (Cottage)
Maggie Wadey – The Hare
Debbie Love – Flattened
Julie Anne Gilligan – View from Dystopia
Marilyn Donovan – Snowy Owl
Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition