John Glenday - Judge's Comments

 

I know, I know, there are voices out there who will say competition has no place in poetry, that the adversarial atmosphere is not conducive to creativity. I disagree. The poetry competition isn’t a battle between poets, but a battle between language and silence. It’s so difficult to describe the relationship between the world in which we live and the world which lives in us, that sometimes only poetry will suffice. This competition proved a microcosm for the many ways a writer can tackle that difficulty and tackle it successfully.

The diversity of form, language, voice and intent are not a hindrance to the judge, but a boon. What better way to enjoy the wealth and diversity of poetry? So in judging this prize I enjoyed poems based on the migrant crisis, the economy, Scottish Independence; poems of person and identity, poems of landscape and history.

Every poem, whatever it’s surface narrative, is an attempt by the poet to discover themselves, and in doing so it must employ a deceitful honesty. I say deceitful, because the writing, however closely based on events, character or experience must turn that truth to its own advantage, and in doing so remove the shadow of the poet from their own poem.

 

In the winning poem Newcastle Central Station is transformed from a mere building into a cathedral-like point of spiritual awareness using language that is both direct and illuminating. The poem is suffused with light, thanks to its form and apparent simplicity and I found myself reading and rereading it with all its initial energy and wonder preserved.

 

Gift is another poem which haunted me: it is a deceptively personal and spare piece which manages to describe so much about the way we exist and interract as human beings. Like many fine poems, it allows a general insight into humanity through the illumination of one particular episode.

 

The last woman born on the island is a poem in two parts, the one complementing, contradicting and expanding upon the other. There is a refreshing resilience in that second voice which transcends the underlying sense of loss.

 

Sculpture of Nine Verses is a poem which derives, or rather begins, from a piece of abstract art, but through its finely controlled language transforms itself into a wonderful, interconnected lyric of love, possession and survival.

 

Refuge is another ekphrastic piece which proves that art can be born out of art with astonishing results. The poem begins as an almost surreal, existential narrative, but then opens out into what might be seen as a commentary on homelessness and exile.

 

Snowdrops succeeds in pinpointing both time and landscape through a focussed scrutiny. The apparent subject matter is so small, so beautiful, but its import is so great.

 

 

 

 

Main Prize Winner

Garry MacKenzie

 

Newcastle Central Station

 

If I could come back from the dead

                                                                        I’d want to wake

in this warehouse of light,

                                                 under a sky

                      of white wood

                                                     quilted by iron.

 

It wouldn’t be, as some would have it, purgatory:

 

no, there’s life hiving all around,

                                                                        giving light

                               substance,

                                                    giving energy form.

 

If I could disembark once more,

                                                            swinging suitcase and feet                                      

                        into ticketed procession,

it would be here

                                     at the moment when the linear steps

          into possibility,                               

                                                                    or here

where time can still pretend to be

                                                                 Victorian,

                    wrought and confident.

 

I’d come to this great reading room of trains,

 

                 where pigeons usher

                                                                 unlooking travellers

      and keep as constant in their chores

                                                                               as angels;

I’d relish the texture

                                     of buffeted air,

                         the lustre

                                                     of sudden braking on the line.

 

This isn’t a destination,

    but instead a place

that we set foot in on our way,

                                                                   where light is held and life

                        is almost tangible –

                                                              like surface tension at the point

            of flowering

                                       into splash –

like fields of breath

                                              unfolding in the lungs.    

 

 

 

 

Main Prize Runner Up  

Marjorie Lotfi Gill

 

Gift

 

-- my Muslim grandmother’s words when giving a crucifix to my Methodist mother in Tehran

 

It doesn’t matter that she’s blonde,

doesn’t know a single word of Farsi,

or how to taarof, always refuse first,

before accepting a gift.

 

what you believe is your own trouble;

not one of us understands all the words

of our mother tongue. Look at the eye,

my father told me, watch it speak.

 

as long as you are here, I will be shelter.

 

believe in something: your hands pressed

together, palm to palm, are my body folded

into the namaz; each of us maps ourselves

in the mirror, measures what we already know.

 

 

 

 

 

Main Prize Highly Commended 

Sharon Black

 

The last woman born on the island

 

(i)

 

She’s soft as a cot rag.

On the palm of your hand she’s

a comma, an apostrophe, plucked

from a passage written in wool.

Tease her apart

and she’s smoke plume,

a child’s scribbled thundercloud.

She’s a snag of sheep, the kind bred for centuries

on the edge of the world.

Her stink on your fingers lasts

long after you’ve put her aside.

She’s dark as night, as the pitch

into sleep, and the dreaming that follows –

that tide of remembering

most often forgotten by light.

 

 

(ii)

 

I’m soft as basalt, a cormorant’s flight,

a wreck, a rare find. I fall straighter

than you might expect,

from hand to ground, from sound

to silence, an all-seeing pupil

under a shut lid.

Coaxed apart, you think you see

through me, but all you see’s

the other side: my heart’s

in each particle, each cell

of the bright lump in the black chest

of the island I’m from,

the one you’ll never find.

I’m nowhere, everywhere,

shedding sand like grains of light.

 

 

 

 

Main Prize Runner Up

Maria Isakova-Bennett

 

Sculpture of Nine Verses

 

                       (Inspired by Saloua Raouda Choucair) 

 

I’m drawn

            by interlocking pieces

                                                balance

 

 

grace between each line                     

how space alters          every note                  

            how                 each     limb

 

 

striking alone

                        is softened in shadow

when lying together               

           

 

I listen             cannot recall voice until

through silence           

                        you return

 

 

the rise and fall of your imperatives

come here                   

                                    listen you

           

 

            we are in shadow now

gaps between              take shape

                        open                and close

 

 

rearrange                     alter

                        features align

like verses –

 

 

                                    we elide –

hairline throat              

nose                 our mouth        clavicle 

 

 

nape                 the cages of our hearts           

the pit of us                

                                    our bald scars 

 

 

 

 

 

Main Prize Highly Commended

Marjorie Lotfi Gill

 

Refuge

 

- after a sculpture by Bruno Catalano                                                                                         

 

Take out his heart,

lungs, one arm, the whole

of his belly, and the strap

of belt that holds it all

in place. Let the lighthouse beacon

throw its false light

through him, promise 

a safe passage. Take out

his thighs, but leave

his knees to buckle

at kindness, and the lack

of it. Don’t loosen his grip

on the suitcase; it holds

all he owns. Instead, nail

his feet to the planks

of the pier and let him try

to take another step.

 

 

 

 

Main Prize Highly Commended

Ian Crockatt

 

Snowdrops

 

See how, fooled

by faint heat, snow-

drops assume

their droop-headed

posture? The way

 

they shiver under

bunched shoulders

between spent alders,

press into whip-limbed

willows’ fingers?  

 

Best wait here

they caution,

pearls nodding,

while we figure

our futures.

 

It’s the crocuses’

Tom-foolering

trumpet-trashy

blare       

that incites them

to spread their limbs,

 

point their pistils’

intricacies

at the drum-taut

ice-blue

sky-space, to dare sun’s

 

hot-head assaults.

Look how,

maddened by colour,

shy-swaggering

virgin troops

 

gone native,

tiptoeing snow-

naped delinquents,

they’ve quartered the wood

and gate-crashed spring’s

 

party. Stag-beetles

rut between

their sappy stems;

Herculean beech trees wade

spilt milk.