The winners of the 2018 Poets & Players Competition judged by Pascale Petit
The Judge’s report on the competition and the winning poems:
When Poets & Players asked me to judge their competition I happily agreed. It’s an organisation I have long admired, from its earliest days with the inspiring founder Linda Chase, to today’s impressive incarnation in the splendid Whitworth Gallery. Being based in the hub of Manchester, I knew there would be a high standard and was not disappointed, though the competition drew entries from all over.
Trawling through the anonymous entries was like a treasure hunt, many adventures with words had along the way, through various and enthralling worlds. Thank you to all who entered and entrusted your work into my hands. It’s hard to define what I was looking for, as I wanted to be surprised by something unexpected. But I do know that I wanted poems full of life, with a pulse and heartbeat. I also hoped for poems that demanded to be reread, yielding deeper layers. Above all, I searched for a feeling that they had had to be written, had a sense of urgency. I wasn’t so keen on work that told me what it was about, leaving nothing to my imagination. Happily, there were many candidates on my longlist that fulfilled my expectations.
The finalists include five commended poems, and three winners, though it might be useful to consider that when I get to the final eight, this is the slowest and hardest part of the judging. Each poem in the shortlist gave me a thrill as I reread it a second time, then continued to yield more pleasure as I compared and contrasted, but had to decide on the winner. One did stand out for me and rose to the top of the pile.
First Prize: ‘Familiars’ by Sarah Westcott
Second Prize: ‘Fayum Portraits’ by James Friedman
Third Prize: ‘Alerion’ by Andrew Rudd
Commended Poets (in alphabetical order)
’The Cat’s Tail’ by Ken Evans
‘An early swim’ by Mark Fiddes
‘The Boy Who Kept Bees’ by Michael Greavy
“…you are no better than an animal; nothing but a common whore…” by Cathy Grindrod
‘Lee’ by Joanna Lowry
THE WINNING POEMS
FIRST PRIZE: SARAH WESTCOTT
I will roll into cream, harden to talon and furl to the wedged tail and he will be bent, digging the earth and I will watch sinew, fine yellow hairs, and he will know he is being watched for he is also watchful
and he will straighten and lift his eyes to the hills and something pale will catch the corner of his thoughts, a handkerchief, a school shirt, and he will glance into the scratchy light and see me there, black eyes staring through his clothes, his earth-suit, and I shall go to him
moving myself down that thought so the thought becomes a presence, carries the wave of itself, like letting go a long ravelling bolt of blue or green or blowing onto a dusty book and following a single mote, its path on the breath or updraft of a limb
and when I reach the soft boy bones, the utter heart of him, he will cradle me in his ribs
then I shall lift and glide down the hollowed lane, up into the stand of darkening oak and out again, unmade
and I will go into a hare, I will come to the fleetlands when the fields are low and brown
and I will run and run as she drives and the music will make her think of me – something
on the radio waves –
and she will glance from her window and see me running parallel, haunches sprung, un-sprung and I will remember what it is to run and my eye will hold hers long enough for her to blink and slow the car and I will go
into a daw and I will have a black apron, shining grey cap and pink maw and I will go to her door one afternoon when she is at her papers and I will peck the glass door, I will come up past her fig and tap deliberately
……………………………………………………..Just like that
until she looks up and I will hop onto her palm and we shall meet like that and she will say how brave I am and remember how frail I was, the light shining between my bones and I will preen to show comfort and she will think how much I would have loved to hold a daw like that – not knowing she is the daw herself and it is love she holds in her hand, its liberties.
Note – ‘I shall go into a hare’ forms part of a testimony from Isobel Gowdie, who is said to have confessed to witchcraft in 1662.
SECOND PRIZE: JAMES FRIEDMAN
The dead keep on surprising us,
all dressed up in the dark
like party guests waiting for their host.
From coffin-boards and mummy-cloths,
looking out to see who’s there,
they stare at us, full-face.
Their portraits show them young again,
their finery and coiffured hair,
with eyes wide-open, olive-dark;
as if they would look us up and down,
astonished to find us in their way.
Some eyes betray a tenderness
as though recalling distant violence.
A child frowns as if puzzled by death.
They seem brimful, about to spill
confidences, what their lives tasted like,
but keep their distance as they stare
like passengers, looking out of windows
on a train halted here.
I think they are pitying us
and saddened we’re still weathered by the air,
its heat and winds they have done with.
They can’t remember what it’s like
to change, although they are wrapped up
pupae-snug and already changed.
They smell of dust and interrupted dreams.
*(Mummy portraits dating from 1st century BC, found in the Fayum basin near
THIRD PRIZE: ANDREW RUDD
———————————————–A bird believed to have no feet. Obs.
How does she refuel in the sky?
Over the river, dipping into gleam,
a brief glitter in and out of branches,
the footless bird, all go, all fly.
These she knows well, the Parliament
of Impaired Fowl:
…the headless bird,
…the silent bird;
…the stumpy bird without a tail;
…the wingless bird, who pecks the ground;
…the bird with no feathers;
…the bird that sings but cannot hear its song;
…the eyeless bird migrating home in darkness;
…the bird that is invisible,
…only articulated air.
Alerion cannot slip the stream
or cling to anything solid.
What is so beautiful and sad is this verb
that can never become a noun.
But she has learned to set her course
where the skies are empty, where she can match
her speed to the rotation of the earth, creating
an illusion of rest, of blessed sleep.