Winning Poems from Poetry Space Competition 2013

[i.m. Sgt John Lansdell, shot down in his Hurricane on 17th September 1940]
Somewhere, some distant relative
is nurturing her family tree
with ‘information’ (‘photos would be brilliant!’)
and so we get the box out of the loft
and I am volunteered to scan
the contents of this dusty envelope.

Here’s the Loughborough College Group (John Lansdell
second row, end, right) and here
College Sunday 1936:
a casual group of friends taking the air
in mortar boards and gowns (I wonder
if they’re worn with pride, or does he think
he looks a twerp?  The faint smile tells us nothing.)

Bunny, Self & Norman on the promenade…
and here’s another - three men in a boat,
oars stowed, swigging from the bottle: lads…
and these the chaps in ‘D’ Flight: Freddie Poulter,
Johnny White, Self, Sticky Glew…

I’m focussing on ‘Self’ (that’s my name too),
stroking the touchpad, dragging him centre stage
(exit Sticky Glew screen right) and now
the cursor has him in its sights and…Zoom!

Enlargement fails to show me who he was:
it only amplifies the blur of years
that steals away his image – shows instead
the pixelated abstract of a man - then
nothing recognisable as human.

© Anthony Watts

1st Prize

Epic Fail

The pelicans in St James’ Park are preening
on their artificial rock, presenting pieces
of themselves for inspection – for instance, their wings
like clattering plates of armour. They rattle their sabre
bills against their chests, thereby sprinkling
a confetti of white and grey feathers
onto the island’s setting of luminous algae.
This could be the point to introduce
the peculiar legend of how they feed their young
on their own blood – which is another way
of saying that there is a rage in beauty, and,
indeed, a beauty in rage. But all of this
is as nothing when I consider the young men
who cross this park and arrive, it appears, in only
three types – the ones strolling hand-in-hand
with young women, knitting their fingers together
in a fidgety sort of cat’s cradle; then the ones
wearing suits with slightly loosened ties and an air
of fevered purpose; finally the ones in sportswear
who bounce from foot to foot like huffing gazelles;
all of them sheened in fine perspiration,
but only some with more or less convincing
beards. I’d like, you understand, to somehow
bring this back to the pelicans, sitting
on their haunches now in a post-preening
stupor. Occasional tourists trot to the shin-high
railing that circles the lake, holding up their cameras.
I see that the tourists are capturing the moment,
such as they can.

© David Clarke

2nd Prize

So No Longer will the Words it Speaks Inhibit
makes a way with the mouth  Sappho

Oh to forget this mouth – find another  – leave this mouth dribbling on the kerb on Saturday morning, go where the stall sellers sell anything and everything at the end near Lambeth Junction where the woman in the red sari strings up her elastic and silks, all very good prices for the discerning. She’s never without a mouth, competing with chicken legs, spinach and cheap cauliflowers. Her mouths, as good as any, priceless, all shapes and sizes, words spilling everywhere in the damp air. Forget the anorexic mouth that refuses cake, eats a bus ticket, forget the foul language mouth that breaks loose on the street corner, lurks for a bus near the man handing out brochures for the Brixton Academy, forget the candy floss mouth that sticks to children. Buy strawberry lips that hover round the bright red sari.

© Wendy French

3rd Prize

Highly Commended:

Heatwave Near Wisbech – Robin Muers
Crossing with the Ferryman – David Mark Williams
Toadsong – Rachael Clyne
In Place – Rachael Clyne
I is not always me – Afric McGinchey
Bread and Wine – Ama Bolton
In Black and White – Margaret Eddershaw

Plus ten more to be included in the anthology:

The Breathing Space  - Eileen Carney Hulme
The Work of Rain – Wendy French
Waiting for Insulin – Susan Latimer
Invigilation – Gwen Seabourne
Exchange – Margaret Eddershaw
Don’t Let Me Linger – David C. Johnson
A Glint of Childhood – Dorothy Baird
The White Shadow of death – Kaye Lee
The Gardener- Janice Windle
Pearl and Rogue go for a Ride – Pat Borthwick

Judges's Report from Marytn Crucefix

Perhaps one reason why the question ‘what is poetry?’ is difficult to answer is because poetry is an art of the negative, of avoidance. The Tao Te Ching says what is rigid and inflexible is a companion of death; what is flexible is a companion of life. I’d guess there would be general agreement that poetry is an art on the side of life. So poetry must eschew the inflexible; we must avoid the posture. And that’s very hard.

In judging a competition one comes across the Wordsworth-posture, the Ginsberg-posture, alongside those of Betjeman, Hughes, Plath, Duffy . . . But we also posture like mad in ‘real life’. We may take up the pose of grief, melancholy, love, liberalism, environmentalism . . . The mark of the absence of posturing is an instability, an openness, an awareness of time (which posture tries to deny) and this is something I look for in a good poem. If a poem strikes an attitude my attention diminishes; when the poem unearths a pulsing, shifting, live relationship between the self and the other, then I am captivated, recognising something that is both commonly human and uniquely personal.

Of the poems that made it through to the final stages of the judging process, I was haunted by the precise yet enigmatic bewilderment expressed in ‘Heatwave near Wisbech’.   I was strongly moved by the delicately mythic freighting developed in ‘Crossing with the ferryman’. I enjoyed the bold metaphorical range and compass of ‘Toadsong’ and the precisely fluent descriptions of a beautiful, charged landscape in ‘In Place’.

The final three poems offer an unintentional lesson on the sheer variety of poetry being written now. The prose poem can often be a good way to elude the posturing traps of more conventional verse writing. Although third-placed poem ‘So No Longer Will the Words it Speaks Inhibit’ is in part about the act of making poetry, it also fizzes with the energies of the market stalls and voices it evokes. Its pushy imperatives are inspiring rather than bullying and serve to elate the reader, urging us to engage with the thrills, the unpredictability of the world about us. In second place, ‘Epic Fail’ achieves something of the same effect with less passion but more knowing irony. It manages to propel the reader into an enjoyment of the occasion in St James’ Park while we simultaneously over-hear the narrator reflect, order and re-order his perceptions in ways which put us in touch with a living mind, engaged in the same struggle as the tourists who are more simplistically intent on “capturing the moment” with their time-freezing cameras.

The poem, ‘Zoom’, is perhaps the most conventional of the top three. Simon Armitage’s poem of the same name travels out through “city, nation, hemisphere, universe”, but the winning poem moves inward, exploring both the past and the narrator’s self through memory. I enjoyed the shifting perspectives and variety of voices in the photographic titles and the parenthetical reflections, but what takes this relatively conventional subject to a profound level is the use of the photographic zoom image. Here it is refreshingly and explicitly performed on a modern touchpad device and becomes a process of self-analysis which opens gradually into the mysteries and anxieties of identity itself.

Martyn Crucefix
August 2013

Martyn Crucefix has won numerous prizes including a major Eric Gregory award and a    Hawthornden Fellowship. He has published 5 collections, including An English Nazareth (Enitharmon, 2004) and Hurt (Enitharmon, 2010). His translation of Rilke’s Duino Elegies was shortlisted for the 2007 Popescu Prize for European Poetry Translation and hailed as “unlikely  to be bettered for verymany years” (Magma). His translation of  Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus will be published in October 2012.

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