Grey Hen Competition Report

It has been said before that judging poetry competitions is not an exact science. Neither is it a mere lottery though given the high number of entries to many such competitions (there were well over 400 for the Grey Hen) one could be forgiven for thinking so. Poems came in all shapes and on a wide variety of themes, though themes of loss and death were perhaps more to the fore than might have been the case with younger poets. There is certainly no dearth of vigorous creativity among older women poets.

In judging poems you are not comparing like with like. Pared down poems are often strikingly effective – as the winning poem illustrates – but more flamboyant ones may be risking more and we felt poets should be recognised for taking risks. Many good poems were spoiled by lack of rigorous editing. A large number of poems were quietly competent and gave pleasure to the judges but lacked that extra dimension – impossible to define but instantly recognisable – that carries a poem beyond its confines.
We ended with eighteen poems which we reduced to a shortlist of thirteen from which we chose the winning entries. All these poems asked to be read again and again and each time a different facet was reflected. The poems at the top were very close together in quality and it was not easy to rank them. For this reason we decided to highly commend three of the shortlisted poems.

The winning poem, Wide Field, stood out for its clarity and deceptive simplicity. It is, quite simply, a poem which works at every level. Tightly controlled, it manages in sixteen short lines to combine factual, unsentimental observation of a dead animal with a tender understanding of the limits of her world – and ours – and a quiet acceptance of death which is both poignant and consolatory.

We chose the runner up, A Job To Do, for its assured use of different, authentic-sounding voices, its careful choice of detail, building up tension to a not unexpected but still powerful climax, its compellingly underwritten record of atrocity.

Topografisk, our third choice, was different again. There was a freshness about it, an unusual angle on the world, as if the strangeness of the sounds evoked by the Nordic names had worked its way into the poem itself and a kind of audacity in the suggestion that man’s eye view is now more comprehensive than God’s – an interesting contrast of perspectives with the winning poem.

A C Clarke
Eleanor Livingstone