The results of the third annual Alan Sillitoe Memorial Poetry Competition are in, and without further ado it gives us great pleasure to announce the winners:

1st Prize – White by Susan Davies

2nd Prize – Meat is Murder by Roy Marshall

3rd Prize – Mick by Laura Seymour

Comments by the adjudicator, Helen Ivory:

Judging a poetry competition is hard.  Especially if like me, you are more used to being a tutor and a mentor and offering supportive feedback on work. With a competition one has to treat the poem as a finished article and not let ‘helpful’ suggestions about the work keep leaping forward.  Once I had quelled that instinct I set about making a long-list, and then a short-list and then a short-short-list in which I was left with the poems that seemed to have taken up residency in my head.

So what do I look for?  All of the poems that reached my shortest list had elements of brilliance and originality about them.  I also look for a strong insistent voice, and it became apparent to me that seven of the twelve poems that made my shortest list were written by the three people who I eventually chose as the winners. This emphasises the fact that the shortlisted poems didn’t get there by accident; they are products of an entire writing practice – poets who are serious about writing and crafting their poetry.

The best poems don’t simply tell us what the poet thinks but explore what might be thought and felt while listening as closely as possible to language. By ‘language’ I mean the chosen words, their musicality, the tone of voice, how that voice might use silences and so on.  The best poems will engage the reader’s imagination, emotions and intellect all at once, so it is quite hard initially to articulate how the poem might be working its magic on you.

So the winners are…in first place White, by Susan DaviesI very much enjoyed the pace of this poem, and felt myself to be in the same room as the narrator watching Ai-Ling paint white very slowly and meticulously while she explains the nature of ‘white’ in Chinese culture.   Ai-Ling has such control and witchy knowledge; she ‘was born with ink in her veins’ and is part of the process of painting and this painting in particular.  It is therefore devastating when in the last three lines she declares the narrator a ‘sad, lonely, luckless woman’ after looking at her birth chart’s affinity with the moon, and thus whiteness. This matter-of-fact dagger through the heart is quickly followed with the consoling ‘But like the moon/you bring light to dark, water to drought.’  I kept coming back to this well-balanced poem as if I were the narrator and the dagger had been turned on me in such an unprovoked yet gentle way.

The second placed Meat is Murder, by Roy Marshall, is a different palate of colours altogether.  It’s a very dark story about what can happen to a person when their family trade is no longer fashionable.  This poem is packed with fantastic imagery and very precise word-choice and took me to the butcher’s shops I remembered as a child in an exact and visceral manner.  The poem releases information in a slow-drip way, so the reader is able to put together the pieces of the sad story for themselves.  This poem has also found a welcome place inside the dark architecture of my head and I’d have been very pleased if I’d have written it myself!

The third placed poem, Mick, by Laura Seymour, feels like a fragment of a much larger story, which is hinted at in the third stanza and perhaps in the tidying away of the papers when the narrator enters the office.  It reads as a vivid realization of what the narrator would really really love to do to Mick, who is part scarecrow, part piñata for the purposes of this poem.  I very much enjoyed this poem’s strangeness, imagery and energy. And it was a real treat to also read the other poems this poet had entered into the competition, which came across to me as a definite and highly distinctive voice.

Mostly what I look for in a poem is to be taken somewhere else, and to come back a little shaken up somehow.  Perhaps knowing a little bit more about myself, definitely knowing a little bit more about what poetry can do.  All of these poems did this and it was a pleasure to meet them.


Helen Ivory

December 2013

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