Grey Hen Competition Report
How exciting to receive a fresh batch of poems to enjoy – and how unexpected to find our longlists so substantially varied! But, inevitably, the best poems appeared in both. What do we mean by ‘best’? The poem has to address some topic, emotional response, or exploration that should never be lost sight of, either a new idea or an old subject treated in a fresh way. It has to be well crafted: form, lyricism, music, poetic voice and/or language The title must add, not just be tacked on at the top. Some very fine poems lost out because they didn’t meet some of these criteria. Some poems’ endings were a problem too, usually where more exploration is wanted. In others, the power of the poems allowed a little forgiveness of the odd minor poetic quibble.
As we re-read and shared our thoughts, some poems resonated increasingly strongly. Others didn’t continue to hold their interest and, regrettably, were ‘demoted.’
First Prize: Hailstorm on Iona.
The winning poem, Anne Boileau’s Hailstorm on Iona grew stronger for both of us as we re-read and discussed it. Beauty is very hard to write well about. We found Anne’s treatment visually stunning and our emotional response to the ending was powerful. A short poem has to be ‘perfect’, and we agreed that this is. The repeat of ‘I gasp’, like the final repeat line of Robert Frost’s ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’, was the necessary key for release of the power of the poem.
Second Prize: The Beginning of June.
Our choice for second prize is Jane Monach’s The Beginning of June – a Lyric Sequence after Robert Hass. We loved the variety of approach, tone, mood and ideas. This is a thoughtful poem, visual and serene – a pleasure to spend time with.
Third Prize: The Wake.
The Wake by Denise Bennett, our third prize winner, was the cause of much discussion. Is it OK to select a narrative poem with a ‘tear-jerker’ ending? But why bow to fashion – we agreed this is a memorable poem addressing an historical event and a very human problem which will always be relevant.
All three prize-winners are poems which will stay with us for a very long time.
Our shortlist was to be ten poems, but we couldn’t bear to cut any of these twelve. A brief comment only, as poetic skill and assuredness may be taken as read…
Babushka. Time passing; timeless truth, ideals v. survival. A skilled painting of a million lives through the image of one figure.
The Scattering. Hardyesque in its timelessness and lyricism.
My Songline. Imaginatively encompasses the whole ancestry of the poet, fast-forwarding and freezing on moments in history.
Spirit of Autumn. A haunting poem of nature and parenting which lifts into the ending.
Sculptural Figures Looking Out to Sea. The conversation with the figures opens the poem out brilliantly.
Interior Design. The metre and rhyme added to the cumulative resonance of the poem.
Who? Comic, apparently light, but deeper than it might at first seem!
Reconstructing a Brother. A poem on ‘loss’ that brings home how truly ‘lost’ the (lost) person, even to their identity, is. A skilled construction; a painful truth.
Anna Pavlova. The pain in this poem was palpable. It really got under the skin of the dancer. A strong response to a painting.
Sweet Peas. Simple, it might seem, but tender and striking. Lasting.
Brooke Perdu. From its ‘plastic bag of rusty water’ to its ‘How fair the year / in that dark brown house, its garden wide and spare’ – ah, the pleasure of trespass and conspiracy for the cause of love.
Apricot. A quiet, understated poem with a universal message. Well-crafted as Shaker furniture.
We would like to thank Joy Howard at Grey Hen for giving us the opportunity to meet so many fine poems and poets. Keep reading, keep writing, and enter again next year.