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Earlyworks Press Poetry Competition 2020 RESULTS

Judge’s Report by

Mandy Pannett

(The poems were judged anonymously but we’ve added names here, and a selection of the short listed poems below)

Congratulations to all the entrants for managing, in this terrible year, to write such well-crafted, strong poems. I feel the standard has been exceptionally high and I found it difficult to limit the short list. There were several other poems – many others – that deserved a mention. I have no doubt that the authors’ achievements will be recognized elsewhere.

The winning poems and those on the short list are incredible. Such a richness of theme and craft. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to read them.

Ist Prize

Terra, terra

by Roger Elkin

The opening of the poem is unusual. The poet begins by musing ‘Strange to think that …’ From that moment I was captured and entranced. The title itself begins the clever play on the sounds and meanings of words – terra, terra cotta, finisterre, terra firma.

There is a wealth of imagery. We are in another world, overwhelmed by the names of ancient places – Phoenicia, Sparta, Greece, the Levant, Carthage, Alexandria, Byzantium, Iberia, Gaul, Albion. There are ‘lashings of olive and grape, oil and wine’ and we are left with exotic ‘lapis lazuli seas,/and earth the colour of spilled blood.’

A superb poem and a very well-deserved winner.

Runner Up

Requiem for a Kayaker

by Clifford Liles

The structure of this outstanding poem where we have the juxtaposition of narrative with phrases from the Requiem for the Dead is perfect.

I have been thinking of the best way to describe the piece and have come to the conclusion that it is visionary. Although the theme is tragic, the death of a kayaker, there is no impression of tragedy or grief. Rather there is a sense is of reverence, of redemption, of a surrender that is willing, an acceptance of sacrifice. At the end we are led to ‘a bright encounter’.

The author of this poem has a real feeling and flair for language. Wonderful.

Short List

Museum Piece by Pat Childerhouse

This is an excellent dramatic monologue with subtle and sinister implications.  I like the naming of characters. A clever, interesting poem.

Bridge by Pat Childerhouse

There is beautiful clarity and simplicity here. The image of the bridge made with old man’s beard and honeysuckle is beautiful and just right.

Pig Succour by Alan Bush

This poem made me shiver with the image of the ‘undressed light’ photographing ‘other-thoughts amongst the hogweed’. It is sinister and nightmarish and brilliantly written.

Unseen by Alan Bush

Another poem with sinister, dark, violent undertones. Deftly written with a perfect choice of words and images to create atmosphere.

You Let the Cat Out by Ion Corcos

This was a strong contender for a winning place. I really like the surrealism of it and the insistent repetition of the title line. An excellent poem.

Supplicating God by John Moody

The way the poet creates a sense of extreme heat is brilliant. I love the sonics of the first line ‘Burning earth beneath our surly struggle.’ Great use of long and short lines.

Dragonfly Thoughts for a Dried-Up Land by Camilla Lambert

Another strong contender. Some effective and imaginative juxtapositions of imagery and a perfect choice of words throughout. An unforgettable poem.

Shadows by Camilla Lambert

A terrific opening line and a shift of tone at the end. Strong images throughout especially the one about Lavender. Lovely poem.

Winner

Terra, terra  by Roger Elkin

 Strange to think that something

as transparently aquamarine and slicked

with turquoise as the Mediterranean

should be named, in part,

after the Latin for earth

but that was when this sea-cradle

was Rome’s lifeblood, its trade-routes

stolen from Phoenicia, Sparta, Greece

and the Levant; and its imperial money-mould

swapped hands in the markets of Carthage,

Alexandria, Byzantium, Iberia and Gaul –

reason enough for this stretch of treachery  

at the centre of things to be called  

the middle of the earth – that red earth  

they fired to amphora, and pan-tile:  

Italy’s terra cotta

 

And yet, more certain, more contained,

this slippery sea than that terra incognita

where Visigoth and Hun – wolves

circling wolves – grew mean-eyed on envy

and waited patiently for erosions of will.

And not as indefinable, this sea, as that  

where Iberia gave way to landless horizons  

at the world’s end, so named it finisterre

Or as divisive as Caesar’s Albion gamble, 

that uncertain terra firma made secure  

by history’s cliché – veni, vidi, vici –  

and lashings of olive and grape, oil and wine 

shipped in for centurion and legionnaire 

skulking in draughty camps 

and getting maudlin-drunk  

on memories of warmer shores, 

lipped by lapis lazuli seas, 

and earth the colour of spilt blood. 

~~~

Runner Up

Requiem for a Kayaker

by Clifford Liles

                                     Dies Irae

Behold, this loud altar, a cataract

all draped in thunder; this throng of hushed ferns

and rushes. In the shallows, a kayak.

Did strength leave him? What left his boat upturned?

                                     Offertorio

This man, who but for neoprene is naked,

Drifts by beeches hewn from time as soaring pillars.

A nave of Nature, still as roots and mud,

where man’s survival turns on strength and skill.

                                     Libera Me

Past timeless trees, flowing ever downwards;

his paddle’s gone, surrendered to the rapids.

Torrents crash. This surge slicks darkly seawards.

It passes empty scrubland, wild and arid.

                                     Lux Aeterna

                A clearing opens in the wilderness;

                a bright salvation, where he comes to rest.

~~~

A selection of the shortlist

Museum Piece

by Pat Childerhouse

In which the puppet-master gives a talk about his craft

Here’s Mr Punch – hook nose, hump back, crimson tunic.

Very popular. Yes Madam, I do know he’s a violent fellow,

I spent many summer days in a booth with him.

Children loved it. Some sneaked in round the back.

I let them stay, the quiet ones.

I’ll press on. These have strings and moving joints.

Here’s Bluebeard, and the sweet girl whose brothers did for him.

Yes, I made her – stitched her silk dress and lacy underthings.

We played lots of different shows, had a kind of magic,

Pulled people in.

Some characters are missing. Columbina’s gone.

What with all the travelling I don’t remember when she went.

I was fond of her. This is Mephistopheles – black velvet, scarlet trim.

You can touch the soft material. Faust’s here with him,

Always looking sad.

That’s Raven. Yes she has a piercing gaze. I’ll put her away now,

Don’t want those glossy feathers to fade. Yes, I do miss them Sir,

Miss those times. The puppets will be on show again next year.

I heard that! I suppose I am an exhibit too. Out-dated.

Things were different then.

~~~

Pig Succour

by Alan Bush

I find a dream-part

under a hedge

written

on the sleeve of a discarded box:

some pigs, freed by a Road Traffic

Incident stare

at street furniture, a concrete culvert

the tarmac beneath their feet:

‘none of the pigs were harmed

in either the crash or the capture

process’ we must be told…

as the undressed light photographs

other-thoughts amongst the hogweed

as we will forget the empty snail-shells

in the grass-dark

that are clustered bright as steel. 

~~~

Supplicating God

by J H Moody

From Paul Gauguin’s painting ‘Vision of the Sermon’

Burning earth beneath our surly struggle. 
 A cow looks on in extinction-dread

spooked

by awkward pink and angular feet scrabbling
for purchase in dry, red-orange sand.

Coughing on seventy kilograms
of methane in her bovine burps and farts,

she poisons the golden winged angel who

                straining wrestles

me for a firmer grip, throwing me
to baking terra firma.

I’m losing this desperate fight
with everything, a world, at stake.

If she grasps and then grips harder
I’m scuffled to the earth.

The cremating sun to consume us all
 was the final message from her sermon.

Supplicating an absent God.
That’s the sanctimonious plea

of the praying, watching women
not accepting they share my fate.

They shake their chalky bonnets
flapping limply in enervating heat.

No protection from the

                furnace

to follow.

I weaken in a Seraph’s clutch. 

~~~

Dragonfly Thoughts for a Dried-Up Land

by Camilla Lambert

Passing what once were ponds, all cracked

like potters’ bowls fired too hot, we follow

narrow paths where reeds struggle up from black

marsh-sludge. They whisper, brittle, hollowed.

In these edge-lands insect bodies, sucked dry

of life, pile up, compressed. Frail gauzy wings

that soared are now inert; we are denied

the glinting fly-dance of summer evenings.

Were we to cloak these remains with sheets

of green dragonflies, might memories of dash

and dart last into the arid time? Could fleets

of wayward thoughts and challenges flash

out brave new ideas to lift off in rapid flight

above darkening water, be couriers of light?

~~~

NB There are no plans for an anthology from Earlyworks Press this year but if/when we’re in a position to plan one next year, the authors listed above will be invited to place their works.

NB 2 The poets, of course, presented their poems with evenly spaced stanza breaks. If/when I can work out how to make this blog-editor thing do that, the stanza breaks here will be even. Sorry!

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