2015 Poetry Competition Results
1st John Foggin Short back and sides
2nd Jacqueline P. Haskell Cora
3rd Ian Royce Chamberlain A Handful of Water
Sharon Black Thirty Seventh View of Mt. Fuji
Philip Dunn Reginald Joseph Mitchell
Cathy Galvin Rough Translation
Blake Morrison’s Judgement:
The poems on this year’s shortlist not only demonstrate a high level of technical skill, they range widely in time and place: to Mount Fuji, Stoke-on-Trent, the Spanish Steps; to the south America of hummingbirds and accordions, the Pampas and Frida Kahlo; to the River Mersey, and a childhood friend recalled in ballad there, Johnny Pardoe. There are some beautiful timeless moments, too, especially among the evocations of the natural world. A poem about a hare, ‘plump queen of rolling hills’; a poem called Gipsywort, about ‘the darkest of summers’ (and the muddiest), in which horehound and mushrooms flourish; and poems in which we hear birds, sometimes sinister, sometimes joyful – jackdaws, blackbirds, cormorants and kittiwakes.
Six poems stood out for me. Thirty-Seventh View of Mount Fuji describes a beautiful and mysterious young woman sitting in a café, seemingly posed there by a painter – we begin with her but end with the brushstroke of an artist. Reginald Joseph Mitchell pays tribute to the inventor of the Spitfire, in his way an artist too, the Da Vinci of aeroplane designers: ‘You’ve anthems due’, the poet tells him, and the poem is a lovely homage to his achievement. Rough Translation is also a highly adept poem: it creates a haunting foreignness or alienation effect through its use of powerful visual snapshots which it invites the reader to connect. I’d have liked to give prizes to these three poems, not merely commend them.
The winners are as follows:
Third, A Handful of Water, a seemingly simple poem with a rich metaphorical subtext, a poem whose final meaning slips away from us just as water does when you try to hold it. It’s a poem about transparency, or the lack of it; about stillness and spilledness; about elemental purity and the human interventions that pollute it.
Second, Cora, about ‘a woman alone with a half-done house and farm’, a woman who feels imprisoned by her present and who escapes it only, if at all, through the dream of a man who comes to her across the bay – a lyrical, at times rapturous poem about loss and memory, which at leaves us with the image of Cora in the ‘red sail of a dress, skirts gathered,/tucked into navy knickers as when she was a child’.
First prize goes to Short Back and Sides. I can think of poems about having a haircut (including one by Hugo Williams), but never one narrated from the barber or hairdresser’s perspective. The man in the chair is Stan, who has liver spots and shaking hands and who’s still traumatized by the war he fought in many years before. There’s a disturbing and violent story underlying this poem, as well as some beautiful physical description (the man’s earlobes like small ox-tongues, the towel shaken out at the end and the loose hair blowing from it ‘like dandelion clocks’), vivid snatches of dialogue, and immaculate command of three line stanzas, broken only, with a purpose, at the last.