Competition 2013

POETS AND PLAYERS OPEN PRIZE – judged by Jacob Polley

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FIRST PRIZE – Sue Kindon

Hearing Things

Any other day, I’d have said these ledger lines meant nothing,
but I’m haunted by long shadows not my own, and that’s a sign
it’s wise to pay attention to the piper of shrill tunes,
or lose them forever.

I can’t track bats now, or descant-crickets,
and chiffchaffs are receding at a rate of demisemiquavers,
so when I register a snatch of absent skylark,
I skip the crutches, follow like a snake-charmed rat.

And yes, there’s a door of reckoning on the hillside.
And no, I’m never coming back.

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Comments by Jacob Polley

The rich weirdness of this poem kept snagging me as a read and reread the diminishing pile of entries. Sound – music – is central to the poem, as is reading, and the poem itself is a dense, but delicate, network of allusion. It doesn’t seem too important to know what the poem is ‘about’, but its pungent sense of encroaching loss – of hearing, of birdlife – is framed in language whose clarity is lovely, and this clarity makes the final lines even odder and more moving.

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SECOND PRIZE – Maeve Henry

Crab Apple Tree

Warm floorboards, the piano, that blue chair
And outside dirty snow and dirty sky where
Last year we picked crab apples in October,
The afternoon so warm you wore a vest
That bloodied as you cut and crushed the fruit.
I watched you rig the noose for the jelly bag;
Such strong practical hands. Now the jars rest
In a sagging box in the boot of your frozen car
Next to the books and the music. Behind me
You button your coat, red mouth bereft
As the crab apple tree shivers with blackbirds
Stabbing their yellow beaks into what’s left.

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Comments by Jacob Polley

The simplicity, straightforwardness and plainness of this poem – the confidence, really – won me over. It’s all there in the first line, which is a kind of still-life interior into which the reader is drawn. There’s a lovely musical, syntactical movement to the poem, too – five richly illustrative lines before the first full-stop, and then a line and a half before the next, so the poem is quietly– confidently – playing with the sound-shape of each phase, each phrase and sentence. And the last line rises with great skill to the resonance of exactly what it is that’s ‘left’.

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THIRD PRIZE – Linda Goulden

Stumpwork

Love, if you needle me
I want no flimsy piece,
no child’s play, crude-trimmed,
blazonry puffed up with foam.

A little hard heart’s fastened here,
well layered and wound with years.
I’m old wood, wired to ground,
beneath your linen overlay.

Would you recover me?
Mounted, in gilt edged frame,
chain stitched, half feathered, fixed?
Embroidery’s a fool’s repair.

Sweet, heart’s ease must come
like summer rain – as when
beside a disused watercourse
a broken stump begins to green again.

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Comments by Jacob Polley

This poem plays out its extended metaphor in a way that was pretty irresistible to me, taking embroidery and heartbreak and bashing them together. The poet takes subtle joy in the deployment of richly suggestive specialist vocabulary, while paying attention to the internal music of each end-stopped stanza so that the final verse, with its surprising recourse to nature’s ‘stumpwork’, settles the poem beautifully. ‘Embroidery’s a fool’s repair’: if this isn’t proverbial already it should be…

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THE WHITWORTH PRIZE – judged by David Morris, Head of Collections at the Whitworth Art Gallery, and members of Poets & Players.

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FIRST PRIZE – Helen Tookey

Five Windows
(Beryl Korot, Text and Commentary)

I

( – words being, it seems, the one thing not required
by this elegant/eloquent translating machine,
& that being understood, proceed! – )

II

[text: woven cloth][commentary: weaver’s notations]
[text: notations][commentary: weaving process]
[text: weaving][commentary¹: film recording]/[commentary²: woven cloth]
¹[text: film][commentary: five-channel video installation]
[text: video][commentary: pictographic video score]
²[text: woven cloth][commentary: – ]

Does it begin with pencil on paper, or with the knotting of the threads?
Does composition take place at the loom, or in the editing suite?
Can there be any telling which is not also a making?

III

Five windows. No, five screens. A north German city. A cold lake and white façades. Flags flying. Tall windows fluttered by muslin. Baltic breeze. Jungfernstieg. Creak of timber. Fingers threading. Wooden ceilings. Ionic scroll. Columns of thread. Naked feet. White façades. Varnished slats. Five windows. No, five screens.

IV

The reel-to-reel in the attic room plays
‘Mr Tambourine Man’. Floorboards
under your feet and the thick taste
of plaster dust. Hollow knock
& creak of wood on wood
and the leader tape flapping
like the broken-winged bird
at the window –

V

Sign: that it is a language, full of grace
says Pinsky, quoting a student poet
from the Illinois Schools for the Deaf
who’d been asked if you could write
one great poem, what would you
want it to be about? – no, not about but
she wants to show that rhyme can be
seen, one gesture’s knock
against another, the knot & scroll
of fingers, five windows,
five screens, the telling,
the weave – .

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Comments by David Morris

This seemed to me, and I think my fellow judges, the most ambitious of the poems that were submitted for the Whitworth Prize.  It springs off from an exhibition by the American artist Beryl Korot that is still on show in the North Gallery of the Whitworth.

It seemed the poem that addressed in a most fascinating way the task of writing about the complex experience of encountering works of art in a gallery like the Whitworth.  No, not ‘like the Whitworth’ – but in this particular gallery – in the Whitworth.

Because many people have told me that they think this is a particularly special place to encounter art, to meet together and to speculate about the nature of life, the universe and everything in between, to be open to new experience.

The poem explores and weaves together different perspectives, different voices, differentmodes of expression, different locations, and different ways of using language.  It is a poem that, at least for me, succeeds in evoking the multi-layered experience of looking at art and the many associations that art can provoke in our consciousness.

The poem is quintessentially Whitworth: it is about making, it is about textiles, and it is about creatively weaving together material substance or words to create art that opens up a conversation with us.

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COMMENDED POEM – Noel Connor

Meeting Max Wall at the Whitworth

It’s good to see you again
half a lifetime later,
you wouldn’t remember me
we shared a stage of sorts,
an awkward two-hander,
South London, the spring of seventy-three.
We hardly spoke, a line apiece
if I recall correctly, on a floodlit forecourt
along the Queen’s Road, Peckham.
The gangly lad who served you petrol
that was me, just you and I
leaning either end of your classic Merc,
a black coupe distinctive as you,
both belonging to another age.
Dumbstruck, I wracked my brain
to remember who you were,
pulling clueless faces by the pump
my free hand half pointing, half pleading,
finger tapping my forehead
to dislodge some scrap of memory.
Amused by my performance,
prancing and gurning to confuse me more
you mimed my gawky gestures back at me,
beneath the unforgiving spotlights
for all the passing cars to see,
two mimics in a strange and silent double act.

Now face-to-face again, I watch you
hold this gallery to attention,
your portrait posed as ragged Vladimir
wind whipped in a maelstrom of paint.
Joyless joker, befuddled in brushstrokes,
this comedy of life and death
swirling round your wordless head.

World-weary clown, that evening
when you slid the window down to pay
I leaned in and shyly mumbled,
‘Mister, you’re famous’.
Old-stager, true pro, you took your time,
droled the answer like a Beckett punch line
‘Son I’m infamous’.

NOTE: From the painting Max as Godot’s Vladimir by Maggie Hambling,
viewed by the poet at the Whitworth Gallery, Manchester.

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Comments by David Morris

I like the wit and human warmth of this poem.  It relates to the writer viewing a painting in the Whitworth’s collection by Maggie Hambling, called Max as Godot’s Vladimir.  Seeing the painting sparks in the writer a vivid memory of an encounter he had with Max Wall at a petrol station in South London some 40 years before.  Max Wall was driving a “classic Merc” and needed to fill up his tank; the writer was the petrol station cashier.  The poem moves between the writer remembering the meeting and then viewing the painting in the Gallery and thinking about Max Wall in his role as Vladimir in Samuel Beckett’s play.  The final stanza sums up the humourous appeal of the poem:

World-weary clown, that evening
when you slid the window down to pay
I leaned in and shyly mumbled,
‘Mister, you’re famous’.
Old-stager, true pro, you took your time,
Droled the answer like a Beckett punch line
‘Son I’m infamous’.”

 The poem also sparked for me a memory of a meeting with Maggie Hambling in 2000.  This was just after her father had died and she had been painting a series of exquisite but anguished small paintings of her father’s head on the hospital pillow as he drifted gradually out of life.

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COMMENDED POEM – Frances Nagle

Capel Curig by John Piper

One might come here to die:
a dark way-station in the lap of giants,
pitiless Snowdon and its acolytes.
The sun has not (it seems) played here
for years.

On this dismal evening nothing stirs;
a village is indoors. Not a branch shakes,
not a bird calls, goalposts stand in silence
and Curig’s tiny chapel is shut. We cannot
tell if there’s anything inside.

Piper conjured this.
On a blank sheet of paper with ink, watercolour,
gouache and chalk he made it matter.
Outside the chapel a flake of moonlight hints
at the shape of the harps they made here once.

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Comments by David Morris

This poem directly responds to one of John Piper’s landscape watercolours that was shown in the Whitworth between January and April 2013.  It featured in an exhibition focussed on John Piper and the mountains of North Wales, and came on tour to the Whitworth from the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff.

As you all know, the Whitworth has always been a place for those who love art about landscape.  It is not a coincidence that Manchester, as the first industrial city in the world, has assembled at the Whitworth and Manchester Art Gallery, two of the finest collections of landscape art in the UK outside London.

Frances Nagle in her poem inspired by John Piper’s work Capel Curig evokes the dark and cloud shadowed mountain forms that loom out of his intensely worked watercolours – she describes Capel Curig’s tiny chapel on a bleak and dismal evening when the whole village is sheltering indoors.  She takes us to the heart of thinking about a particular piece of real lived landscape and how that might be re-presented in a picture and then re-presented again in words.

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Information about the competition

138 poets (44 men and 94 women) submitted a total of 356 poems for our first Competition, 54 of which were for the Whitworth prize.

This was an excellent and encouraging number and the overall standard was very pleasing. We were delighted to welcome Jacob Polley as our judge for the Open Prize and David Morris as deciding judge for the Whitworth Prize. Thank you to everyone involved in the organisation and success of the Competition.

Entries were received from all over Britain, from as far apart as the Isle of Arran and St Ives, a handful from Europe (Spain, Switzerland and Greece) and a good number but by no means the majority from all corners of the North-west of England.

All entries were clearly addressed and, without exception, appropriate payments included. Thank you to all our entrants for your help in this and for your interest in our Competition.

Please look out for future announcements about the 2014 Competition. We look forward to the Poets and Players Competition growing in stature and popularity.

Any feedback will be most welcome.

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