2012 Competition Results
Poetry Competition: 2012 Results and Judge’s Comments
Most poetry competitions I have judged can be energy-sapping because they are full of quaint attempts at verse where the poet is not in touch with contemporary poetry. The Ilkley competition was an invigorating experience because nearly all of the poems showed the hand of a skilled modern poet at work. All the poems seemed to be on some journey and some poems were more successful at taking me on their personal journey. There were several public poems about social issues, several poems about environmental damage and untypically I came across many poems about women’s biological and political issues.
I felt I was always trying to be on the side of the poem and wanted each poem to convince me of its right to win. So why were some poems ‘better’ than others? Nearly all the entries needed to be more efficient: some poems went on too long, some poems had too many stock phrases or wanted to explain to the reader what the poem was about. A good workshop group would have helped tidy most of the poems, although a good workshop group is subject to our listening skills and our confidence in making the necessary changes.
The winning poems showed formal control, emotional courage and above all they were the most aware of a reader. The winning poems showed good manners by saying just enough and saying it vividly.
Daljit Nagra October 2012
I like how this poem has a cryptic yet compelling opening which foregrounds mood and history. Each verse is a musically rich experience which handles its listing technique with deft detachment. Beautiful images are subtly crafted; ‘strolling’ ends a line and invites curiosity about the subject which is surprisingly ‘sea-lilies’. Coral is imagined as feathers, walls weep ‘moon milk’, and a mythic charge emphasises earth in the grip of technology: ‘earth…opened her dark throat for/ torc and plough, coin and narrow until/ they came with dynamite and rope ladders.’ A stunning, emotionally controlled poem!
I liked this tender poem about coming of age and disillusionment. A girl imagines the sax is bleeding. Sax is a well-chosen instrument as it is close in sound to sex; menstruation and female identity are contrasted against the phallic saxophone. This subtly personal exploration is achieved by considering the authority of the absent father and the firmness of his male style. The ending is chilling and emotionally compelling. A beautiful poem!
A moving topical poem about migration. The outsider’s perplexed gaze is caught with genuine compassion, ‘He wonders why everyone looks/ at their feet when they’re walking.’ The subtle line-break on the verb ‘looks’ functions in two ways: at first we wonder whether the locals are looking at the speaker but the following line cunningly undercuts this paranoia and reveals instead that the locals are merely withdrawn in themselves. A tragic, memorable poem.
The long, elegant unravelling lines deliberately reveal their intention without revealing the exact source of the pain. This poem about motherhood shows the self in turmoil and the fractured perspectives dramatise the self witnessing her own meltdown. A profound, evocative, disturbing poem.
A coming of age poem which captures transition through terrifying gothic imagery. It’s startling how the speaker is portrayed as being trapped in a world with its frozen tarn. The speaker is being kept back from the family who appear to be going about their daily chores. The images are musically rich and vivid, it is hard to forget, ‘the moon pulls my tide/ lighting up earthly stars of ghostly gaze.’ A shocking and poignant poem.
This is a lively musically invigorating and inventive poem. I love the vivid phrases such as ‘my nut-eyed little-bear’. And I admired how the poet created emotional depth from linguistic play, ‘little blood-eyed bear/ loss is hiding in your fur.’
Short Story Competition: 2012 Results and Judge’s Comments
This was an interesting, enjoyable and difficult competition to judge. There was a pleasing variety of style and subject matter among the 15 longlisted stories and the overall standard was strong – indeed, there was so little to separate the handful of serious contenders that the selection of winning and commended entries was especially tricky.
The elements I considered, in particular, when judging the stories were:
- writing style/quality
- plot or situation
- originality (of premise or approach)
- evocation of place
I read all the stories twice to whittle the 15 down to seven, then re-read those seven before narrowing the choice down further, to five, and deciding the order in which to place them. In terms of setting, they stretch from England to Australia via France, Germany and India and they are similarly varied in form, style and subject. As for their relative merit, it really was tough to choose between them – with a different judge, any one of the five might have won.
Martyn Bedford October 2012
A Fine Line
A wonderfully moving tale about a woman visiting her confused father in a nursing home, where he has been admitted for respite care after an unspecified “incident” with the narrator’s step-mother. The portrayal of father and step-mother and of the relationship dynamics between the three main characters is as acute as it is subtle – sometimes amusing, often deeply affecting. The dialogue is especially skilful, with what’s left unsaid carrying as much weight as the words that are spoken. What gave this story the edge, for me, was its humour, its intelligence, and the fact that its characters and their situation lingered in my mind long after I’d put the pages down. A fine piece of writing and a worthy winner.
TV footage of the fall of the Berlin Wall triggers a woman’s memories of a visit in her adolescence to that city and an amorous night with a German lad in the villa that once belonged to Goebbels. A subtle political allegory and charming coming-of-age tale, this is an assured piece of work – elegantly written, well structured and paced, deftly characterized –
which manages the dramatic turn of events at the villa with a tension that is all the more effective for being understated.
Swap for Happiness
Narrated from the viewpoint of a daughter reminiscing (not so fondly) about family holidays in France with her younger sister and their lesbian mothers. The prose is richly impressionistic and, framed around a patchwork quilt of episodes and associations, this story achieves something formally interesting in assembling a sharply observed study of a disintegrating relationship and its effect on the two girls.
A lonely, alcoholic ex-pat in India longs for the monsoon rains to lift her out of the malaise of heat and dust. As well as being visually evocative and atmospheric, the story draws a particularly sharp, affecting portrait of a lovelorn woman stranded in an exotic adventure long past its sell-by date but who cannot face conceding defeat and returning home to England.
The White Witch of Wagga Wagga.
A desperately sad story about a woman who suffers a series of bereavements, culminating in a disastrous flood; as the waters recede, her garden is transformed into a magical place wreathed in thousands of spiders’ webs. A lyrical, beautifully descriptive piece that manages to be poignant without veering into sentimentality.