Grey Hen Competition Report

The entries were warm-hearted and sometimes humorous; as a group they were a pleasure to read. In the themes, there was a great deal of nostalgia, and those poems which rose to the top half of our pile were those which avoided the traps of sentimentality. There was a great deal of love and loss in the poems but love and loss alone, however felt, are not enough on their own; there has to be rigour in the poetics to make successful poems.

Alison particularly appreciated the many excellent poems about gardens, rich with herbs and roses, while Angela enjoyed the fresh images and concrete detail in many of the poems .

First Prize: Army Blanket. The first line of this poem hooks the reader in and the freshness of ‘like storm silt, coarse as Herdwick’ locates and grounds the poem. The blanket becomes a vehicle to explore time, loss, and family history without ever becoming sentimental. The contrast between the substantial army blanket and the ‘fluffy synthetic bed-cover’ leads us to question what we value and why, through the stunning ending of ‘that weighs nothing in the scheme of things’.

Second Prize: Number 25. A routine bus journey is transformed into adventure by this poem’s jaunty rhythms and compassionate observation. The poem’s final line expands into a shared vision:  ‘the whole huge sea / opens its plain of light in front of us’.

Third Prize: The Ticking Pulse. This poem’s short, crisp lines travel, with an antique clock, through time.  Its final brisk brevity becomes an unexpectedly moving account of human absence, when the clock ‘cannot/ be wound by me.’

Short List

Vespers: A haunting poem with unforgettable imagery.

The Psalm of those who Tend the Fields: The use of anaphora and the sure handling of musical rhythm made this a pleasure to read aloud.

Not Like This: Deeply moving and beautifully measured account of a breakfast scene with undercurrents.

Man Striding: An elegant ekphrastic poem which takes the reader beyond the original artwork.

Things Left Behind: A fast moving, initially humorous poem which turns to deeper echoes of European history.

Mountain: this poem uses concrete, visceral detail to explore life-force and continuity which is indifferent to humanity.

Australia: A witty, intense poem of distance and desire.

The Lovekin Pedigree:  A hymn to feminine history, and all it has given us, written with gentle wit.

Bat Night: A memorable dark fantasy, grounded by local and specific detail.

Natural History: Internal rhyme and attention to sound make this poem a pleasure to read and the ending unfolds layers of meaning.

There were many good poems which did not quite make the shortlist, so don’t be disheartened if yours was not chosen.