Sunday, 26 August 2012

Poetry Space Competition 2012 - The Results

Judge : Cheryl Moskowitz

First Prize: Karen Harvey
Second Prize: Julia O'Brien
Third Prize: David Mark Williams

Highly Commended:
A Voice From England - Peter Gillott
Gorilla - David C. Johnson
Encounter at the Tea Tent - Diane Jackman
Early Flowering - Julia McGuiness
Night Ride - Carolyn O'Connell
Ana's View - Margaret Eddershaw
John - in Memoriam - Susan Latimer

Also for inclusion in the anthology:
Not Gilbert's - Misha Carder
Criminal Record - George Stein
How You See - Julia O'Brien
Midnight Encounters - Mike Lee
Poker Man - Julia O'Brien
Ashes and Cries are Much the Same - Judy Dinnen
Dreams of Dead Woman's Handbags - Johanna Boal
Skin of My Skin - Julia O'Brien
Butterfly Blood - Gwen Seabourne
Narcissus at the Window - Margaret Eddershaw

The above poems will be published in Words that Signify: Poems from Poetry Space Competition 2012 edited by Susan Jane Sims. Publication date: November 2012.

The top three winning poems:



Frantically he searched their hotel
room but he couldn’t find her
even though the door was
locked on the inside.

He ran out onto the balcony peering
through the darkness at the next,
wondering if she had jumped ship.

If only he’d looked up,
he might have noticed
one small white feather
sashaying earthward.


Later, after many phone calls
and hours of pacing the floor
he slumped into a deep sleep.

Had he still been awake
as the sun rose
he would have heard the flutter
as she returned and
perched on the hand rail.

© Karen Harvey


Squatting alone on a jut in the bay,
you select the oldest,
the one whose rough crust
displays a range of blue hues
rich as the Ming in your grandmother’s cabinet.

Wrenched from its clump with a swift twist,
you grip the mussel, crab-like,
eye only for this activity,
ear full of sea waves,
scrunch of rock on shell.

How it would spit its salt juice on impact,
how there was a kind of satisfaction
in the sensation of being sprayed in this way,
you could never have thought
of putting into words

until now.
Sometimes it’s a tough business
to prize the wings apart:
the animal still bound at the tip
of its lip by a clutch of seaweed beard.

In this sunset flesh feels warmer
than the finger which strokes,
searches - each time a held breath -
for the grit of a sea pearl.
Each time a winner.

Dead shell flicked into black water,
you study your booty from this angle, that.
Much later, you’ll trek through the bracken
back up the hill to the jingle
of pearls in your pocket.

© Julia O’Brien

The Hidden Boy

In this picture, there is a hidden boy.
You will have to look closely to see him.

His ghostly outline is faded into a huddle of gorse bushes,
where he crouches, watching whatever unfolds
as though on a small screen, his eyes yellow petals,
his skin a burr of thorns.

He can remain like this for hours,
pleased to be as silent as wood or stone,
sustained on the scent of coconut.

The family eating their picnic on the grass
are unaware they are being watched.
Their eyes are fixed on the fine view,
the estuary spread below them.

The boy records everything they do,
the loud food they stuff their faces with,
their incessant, breezy chatter.

When they have gone, leaving their litter,
a vacuum of quiet, he will come out of hiding,
his see through bones showing  only a clear sky,
his mouth clamped tight on a blue tongue.

© David Mark Willams

Reactions from our top three prizewinners on their success:

"I met Sue several years ago on a writing retreat and I have enjoyed following Poetry Space from the outset, so I was absolutely over the moon to hear that I had come first in the Poetry Space competition this year." Karen Harvey

"A generous prize, publication online and in print: this is a wonderful surprise, an honour and an encouraging affirmation of my sometimes-fragile writerly self. A big thank you to Poetry Space, and to Cheryl for selecting my poem." Julia O'Brien

"That's such wonderful news. I am absolutely delighted.  It's this kind of recognition that helps to keep one going". David Mark Williams

Judging Overview and Report –

What a privilege, and pleasure, this business of judging a poetry competition! It’s impossible to resist that initial urge to tear open the package of entries and do everything in a rush. Skim the titles, gallop too fast past an extraordinary range of images, thoughts and ideas. But then there is the settling in for the long slow consideration and time taken to simply to bask in the wonder of the human mind and its capacity to find endlessly ways of crafting a few words to convey important truths and feelings, so often with a delicious sense of surprise, beauty and humour. I read and re-read each and every poem, both silently and aloud.  I paused in the process to allow each poem to penetrate in the way that it might. I set them aside to see what lingered. Navigating through the pile again it was easier to see which poems called me back, refusing to be discarded.

For this year’s Poetry Space Competition there were many wonderful poems written on time-honoured subjects: love, loss, war, animals, nature, relationships, the changing seasons, as well as poems dealing with more quintessentially modern or unusual themes: DNA, redundancy, TV chefs, Disneyland parades, the wonders of tomatoes, mangoes as the object of original sin and temptation in the form of banoffee pie. Not surprisingly, with the kind of weather that has dominated a good deal of 2012 in this part of the globe, there were also plenty of poems that featured rain.

Ultimately, the poems that impressed me the most were those that dealt with their subjects, however common or unusual, in unexpected ways. Though many of the poems dealt with difficult subject matter and highly complex themes I came to most admire poems that found ways to express meaning with the clearest and simplest of language.

Amongst the highly commended, two of the poems featured women driving cars. ‘Ana’s View’ is a beautiful portrait of a woman whose tired cancer-ridden body has come to mirror the aged rust-afflicted red Fiat car that she loves. Their final parting at a favourite seaside destination is a powerful and moving demonstration of letting go. In ‘Night Ride’ there is a different kind of vulnerability as a pregnant woman drives through a blizzard to make it home. I liked both ‘Gorilla’, a clever critique on the perils of rhyme, and ‘Encounter at the tea tent’ which pokes fun at the British tendency for caricaturizing clergy, for their wryness and wit. To write an elegy that works convincingly without gushing is one of the hardest things to do in poetry. ‘A Voice from England’ and ‘John – In Memorium’ both succeed exceedingly well in this respect. The former, written in the voice of a young WWII soldier returning home on hearing news of his mother’s death, manages to combine a conversational tone with some quite formal poetic imagery which feels absolutely right for the subject and period it is written about. ‘John – In Memorium’ written about the poet’s brother, is a tenderly drawn portrait of sibling relationships and childhood memories which uses humour to good effect. And finally, ‘Early Flowering’, is a sonnet which uses its form and language extremely well to paint a picture of hope and success that is dashed by disappointment and the pain of redundancy.     

Though quite varied in their subject matter, the three winning poems all share a ghostly quality. They are poems that leave a trace of themselves behind after reading. There was something discomforting and unnerving about all of these poems and that is what made them strong. A good poem should attach itself to the reader, get under the skin, and connect to partly known or remembered experiences.  A good poem has you nodding or sighing in such a way that says ‘Ah yes, I knew that!’ even when the poem is about something you might never even have dreamt of before.

In third place, ‘The Hidden Boy’ is a deliciously mysterious poem that somehow manages to be delightful and heartbreaking all at the same time.  On the surface it is simply a poem about a photograph, one of those pictures that, if you look closely enough at, suggest things are present that might not really be there. In this picture a family is having a picnic, that is clear, but there is some kind of trick of light perhaps, a ghostly outline that is faded into a huddle of gorse bushes that seems to be a boy watching them. Within this impressively spare and held back narrative the poet lets us know that both the boy and the group he is watching are, or should be, related but will always be at a distance.    

Second prize goes to ‘Mussel’, a visceral poem with real muscle that describes the finding and opening of this shelled sea creature, but does so much more than that. For me what makes this an expansive poem, one that is much larger than the subject matter itself, is the way that discovering and getting inside the mussel seems to work as a metaphor for childhood, loss of innocence, maturity and growth. The whole of life is contained here in the Ming in your grandmother’s cabinetscrunch of rock on shell… the jingle of pearls in your pocket.

And finally, ‘Missing’, the first prize winner, is a deceptively brief poem written in two parts. It looks wispy, even inconsequential, on the page because of its brevity perhaps, or because it is split in two or maybe something to do with the quality of the title, but reading it leaves one with a deep and inescapable sense of longing and regret. Something or someone is missing, as the title suggests, but we can’t quite decide whether it is a person, a lover or maybe just a bird that has flown.  There is a breathlessness and an urgency in the language, Frantically he searched their hotel… If only he’d looked up… Had he still been awake… he would have heard... The overall effect is one of a beautiful sadness, a feeling of having loved and lost, and the image at the end of the first part is one that, so simple and perfectly realized, will never leave me - one small white feather/sashaying earthward.

Cheryl Moskowitz, August 2012

Warmest thanks to everyone who entered this year. Poetry Space Competition 2013 will be judged by Martyn Crucefix and will open for entries on November 1st 2012.