How many years ago did I jump on a train to Arundel to have lunch with Mandy Pannett, and talk about organising a poetry collection competition? It happened before the Corbyn movement swept me away for several years of single-minded battle; it happened before the most urgent women’s campaign of my lifetime, and before COVID, and I am looking into a long-gone world to write this.
I ask myself how to make that long-ago world come alive again, the world of river and café and castle, all ancient stonework gleaming in cloistered sunshine – and the wondering leads me into Mandy Pannett territory. It’s more real than Monday, despite being as far away as last night’s dream.
‘Tell it slant’ is a phrase of Mandy’s that evokes the necessary skill – do I have that skill? The first work of Mandy’s that I read was The Onion Stone, which took me to Shakespeare’s days, and sparked off a million diamond-flash worlds because it evoked, involved and manifested an idea, but it WOULD NOT tell the reader what it was. I was captivated, haunted, for ages. She calls it ‘telling it slant’. You can read about how that works here.
Mandy worked with Catherine Edmunds on that poetry collection competition, and two brilliant books came out of that. Firstly, one of my all-time favourite poetry collections, Georges Perec is my hero from our winner, Caron Freeborn.
Why Georges Perec?
How are we to speak of these ‘common things’, how to track them down rather, flush them out, wrest them from the dross in which they remain mired, how to give them meaning, a tongue, to let them, finally, speak of what is, of what we are.
– Georges Perec, ‘L’infre ordinaire’
The other book to come out of that poetry collection competition was Convergence – the meeting place of eight poets, edited by Catherine Edmunds and Mandy Pannett, and beautifully juxtaposing sets of poems by Andie Lewenstein, John Wilkes, Eilidh Thomas, Anthony Watts, June Wentland, Mick Evans, Rata Gordon and Angela Arnold – and of course, featuring Cathy Edmunds’ drawing of that most famous meeting place at St Pancras.
I last saw Caron when, back over Arundel way, I got lost in a visionary dream at the launch of Mandy’s The Wulf Enigma – an enigmatic evening if ever there was one, with music, poetry and plans – such plans! – alongside the River Arun.
Mandy didn’t believe me about the hyperbolic plane (if you didn’t click the link above, you don’t know what I’m talking about) but you know, I stopped tippy-tappy typing just then, and started thinking about The Wulf Enigma again, and it led me off down yet another train of thought that hadn’t occurred before, so I maintain that it contains infinite folds of story, illuminating infinite worlds, and so you will never tire of being fascinated by it.
Joycelyn Simms’ extraordinary poems about the Hibakusha – those affected (in so many terrible ways) by the nuclear detonations at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were inspired by ‘a thousand paper cranes and lanterns floating on the river Ota’, and by John Hersey’s book, Hiroshima – and then, when the poem Grapple Y was published by the erbacca journal, fellow writer Helen Aurelius told Jocelyn that her father had been on Christmas Island during the nuclear testing.
Jocelyn discovered that the number and range of the Hibakusha – those affected by nuclear bombs were greater and more terrible, and the callousness of governments’ response to them more extreme, than most of us ever realised.
With a light hand and an artist/poet’s eye, Jocelyn brought together Helen’s never-before published photographs of her father and his fellow soldiers, or the nuclear explosions themselves, with her poems and an evocative selection of letters and information about the victims and survivors.
Poet and editor Mandy Pannett comments: … and as a backcloth to the images, the notes and the poems, we have all the unwritten words, the un-heard voices of the dead and the dying, the ‘circling words’ of the Navajo chant, the insistent murmur that underpins Tickling the Dragon, saying we must remember.
Remember what you have seen, because everything forgotten returns to the circling winds
– Navajo chant
“Buy this collection,” declares fellow poet Roger Elkin, “savour and re-read it: share it, champion it, and let it help to shape for good the wider world.”
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Requiem for a Kayaker
by Clifford Liles
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?
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.
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.
A clearing opens in the wilderness;
a bright salvation, where he comes to rest.
A selection of the shortlist
by Pat Childerhouse
In which the puppet-master gives a talk about his craft
We decided to extend this year’s Earlyworks Press poetry comp because the 2020 lock down caused problems but it is now closed, and judging is in process.
The first prize is £100, the runner up prize £30 and with luck, there’ll be further runner up prizes. We’ll publish the best ones on the website if the authors wish it, and we’ll offer those authors publication in our next print anthology if/when the press is properly in action again – probably early next year.
We’re also offering a selection of poetry books to the shortlisted authors – a copy of comp judge Mandy Pannett’s Wulf Enigma for the top three, and a selection of our anthologies and/or Circaidy Gregory poetry titles for everyone shortlisted.
Our poetry judge
Mandy Pannett lives in West Sussex where she works freelance as a creative writing tutor. She is the author of four poetry collections: Bee Purple and Frost Hollow (Oversteps Books) All the Invisibles (Sentinel Poetry Movement) Jongleur in the Courtyard (Indigo Dreams Press) and Ladders of Glass ( a pamphlet of poems with English and Romanian parallel texts. (Integral Contemporary Literature Press).
She is also the author of two novellas: The Onion Stone (Pewter Rose Press) and the recent publication The Wulf Enigma (Circaidy Gregory Press). A new poetry collection Crossing the Hinge is due to be published in the autumn 2020 by KFS Press.
Mandy worked for several years as poetry editor for Sentinel Literary Quarterly and has also edited anthologies for SPM Publications including ‘Poems for a Liminal Age’ which was published in aid of Médecins Sans Frontières. She has won or been placed in many national competitions and has been the adjudicator for others.
A selection of Earlyworks Press anthologies are available from the Circaidy Gregory shop on bookshop.org
First, find a poet who’s on top of her craft, who is researching something compelling that’s been lost in time and change, where the emerging questions are serious and joy-filled, and the answers birth ever more questions…