Judge’s Report 2019

It has been such a pleasure to read the rich and varied poems in this competition, like being given an up-to-the-minute anthology of contemporary poetry. As a reader I could dive into a mere 10 or 12 lines on a page and come up again for air feeling quite changed. That is the power of poetry.

This competition is unusual, perhaps unique, in asking for poems of a maximum of 14 lines. It made me reflect on the great skill needed to make something memorable in so few lines. There is no room for harrumphing or wittering on. These poets caught my attention in a turn of phrase, a startling image, or a sharp observation.

Often moving, sometimes funny, clever, wise and always generally engaging, these poems considered the world in which we live but usually viewed the political through the personal. I read of joy and of loss, of ageing and of new life beginning, some fine, detailed descriptions of landscape, some wry character studies and many good poems which defied easy categorisation.

That simple fact made it so difficult to boil down the number of very good poems to a shortlist and then further to find a ‘top’ three and commended. Some of the poems which I know I will long remember haven’t made it to the final list because the form was stronger than the content perhaps, or the content stronger than the form. I have chosen poems where there is a well-oiled machine of voice, mood and form, where the poem wants to tell me, the reader, more each time I go back to it.

The competition allows a maximum line length of 14, the length of a sonnet, it is surprising perhaps that so few sonnets seemed to come in. Most poets chose free verse but it was good too to hear from those who enjoy rhyme. I was pleased to read voices which clearly came from all walks of life, all ages and - I’d guess – several different countries. Overall, the work I read was of high quality and diverse subject matter –this made judging the competition extremely difficult but so enjoyable and deeply rewarding. Thank you!

Maura Dooley