2018 'Poetic Licence' Poetry Competition
Judges Report & Results
(Full List of Award Winners can be accessed here.)
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Samuel Taylor Coleridge defined poetry as ‘the best words in the best order.’ As a benchmark for judging poetry, either free verse or traditional, it all comes down to this. Poetry is choreography composed of words and music to create a spectacle for the mind and ear of the reader. The words convey the images but it is only when read aloud, as all poetry should be, that the real power of each piece becomes clear.
Being trusted with others’ work to decide whose is best and in what order requires many readings, interspersed with periods for thinking and evaluating and simply letting the poems settle in the mind. With over 100 entries spread between the two categories, it was a daunting task to give each poem the time and consideration necessary within the different parameters. Many consultations between the judges finally led to a long list of 20 contenders, from which the final 12 were chosen and their places allotted
Traditional verse covers many different styles – ode, sonnet, quatrain, blank, villanelle, to name a few – each requiring its own particular structure, so it is vitally important for the poet to check those requirements before setting off on the journey. A failure to meet the rhyme, rhythm and repetition standards of each means falling short of success. It is like watching a ballet only to see the prima ballerina stumble and trip, or listening to music, only to hear someone strike a flat note. A perfectly written traditional verse, whatever its chosen form, is a delight to read.
First Prize – Predator/Prey by David Campbell.
(Can be viewed here)
An old subject but a very different approach brings a freshness that intrigues. This silent conversation is crafted in two different fonts and rhythms to set apart the protagonists’ voices. But it is the words and phrases used that chill:
‘..brutal, careless fingers idly teach/betrayal with another pretty speech..’
‘…wilful ignorance has many friends…’
A flawlessly crafted handling of a subject difficult to both read and hear but masterful in its execution. Well done.
Second Prize – The Collector by Susan Sommerlad.
(Can be viewed here)
This delightful picture of an older lady in the fading years of her life leaves the reader enchanted. Surrounded by her treasures, her colourful life is cleverly drawn by a recounting of these items and their origins, all set to a lilting meter –
‘the rope from the yacht that she sailed single-
A joy to read.
An ordinary tale of selling insurance, told in plodding rhythm that so beautifully suits this recounting, reminiscent of Gray’s Elegy, the imagery used rescues the reading from boredom by startling the reader with its aptness –
‘…his briefcase drooping lonely from his hand/as though it could no longer bear to meet/ another victim of life’s shifting sand.’
Highly Commended – Family Traits by Susan Sommerlad.
A gently told tale of a grandfather raising his granddaughter alone, encouraging her -
Once a star athlete himself, he now rejoices in this child who follows her dream. Beautifully done.
A rollicking tale, in true bush verse form, of a wild younger son, rescued by the local Trooper from joining a bushrangers’ gang. Well told, with all the usual images of life in the bush back then but with phrases that work extremely well to set the scene –
‘It was close beside a cutting when he heard the click of locks/and saw several muzzles that were trained on him from rocks.’
Full of atmosphere, it reads well and is highly entertaining.
Commended – Busted Flat by Tom McIlveen.
Irreverent and amusing, written in the vernacular of today’s youth with their sense of entitlement and irresponsibility, it recounts the sorry tale of a shiftless young man doing his best to dodge paying the rent, hiding out from the landlord, stark naked , locked out on his balcony. Filled with entertaining imagery –
‘I could see his face reflected through a hazy window pane/as he growled and cussed and threw my things about.’
A twist at the nd completes the saga in unexpected fashion.
Free verse has its own strictures, requiring close attention if it is to succeed. To not craft the line breaks to perfection is to risk straying dangerously close to chopped-
Originality of subject matter, freshness of approach, clarity of purpose; all are important in making the final cut. Going on too long on the subject weakens the power of the work so audition each word carefully so it earns its place. Less is definitely more, making for tighter writing, carrying more punch.
First Prize – Old Goods Shed by Janeen Samuel.
(Can be viewed here)
This beautifully crafted lament sets the voice and mood in the first lines –
‘I am old, leave me alone/ a century has passed over me…’
The grumbling tone holds true throughout, the tremulous voice of an old man but it is the imagery which startles the reader with its freshness –
‘…I am haunted by voices;/they rumble in my belly,/linger like cobwebs in my rafters..’
All the senses are called into play – sight, sound, smell, touch -
Second Prize – The Cursed Ones by Damen O'Brien.
(Can be viewed here)
The cadence of this unusual poem rises and falls like the shrieks of the plovers which are its subject. A different approach by the poet asks the question why they sound like tormented souls, goes on to ponder their odd nesting habits –
‘edging the football fields, and playgrounds/
…witness to the shrieking games of children.’
Are they, the poet wonders, the lost souls –
‘..whose tongue has been taken away..’
Excellent use of imagery startles the reader with questions that call exactly to mind the sound of these disturbing birds. Beautifully crafted, a delight to read.
Highly Commended – The Man on the Bus by Judith Green.
A delightful poem, a highly detailed description of a gentleman wearing a turban, loose top and baggy trousers, toting a walking stick and riding on a bus. The writing is rich with imagery –
‘a face carved by life experiences/ I only know as atlas page places..’
We are given an amazingly clear picture of this man, his effect of the writer transmitting easily to the reader. A surprising ending completes this most excellent account of a chance encounter, a pleasure to read.
Highly Commended – Moments by David Campbell.
A beautifully expressed, thoughtful poem, speaking of those moments that change our lives –
‘between breathing out and breathing in’
The moment the tide turns, when conception occurs, a child is born, a daughter leaves home, and finally when age bears down and we face our own mortality. A lengthy poem, a lot to take in, it leaves the reader with much to ponder. Well-
Commended – Harbingers by John Egan.
A poem detailing a visit by black cockatoos, those extraordinary birds of the bushland. Large, rapacious, imperious in their presence, the writer has captured them well. Full of rich imagery –
‘Messengers of approaching night…’
it is a fascinating depiction of these creatures, but perhaps a bit too structured in its presentation. A little too much enjambment for free verse, perhaps some tweaking here and there would make a more powerful work. Still, a pleasure to read.
Commended — A Poem is a Bird by Agi Dobson.
A beautifully constructed poem, with such short lines, like the shape of a bird in flight or poised on a branch, some lines with only a word or two each. Visually pleasing on the page, it exactly mimics its subject which compares a poem to a bird which encourages us to capture its intent and take flight –
‘It may peck/peck, peck/disturb/with screech/or caw..’
It’s brevity packs a punch, challenging us to take a second look. Well done.
With such a rich offering of poems on so widely differing subjects and approaches, choosing the order of winning poems is always difficult and finally comes down to the judges’ opinions, so if you were unsuccessful, don’t despair. Revisit your work, consider some adjustments and submit it elsewhere for a hopefully better result.