Judge’s Report 2023

The poems I read for this year’s competition took me on several journeys, just as I imagined the poems themselves would be going on journeys — finding their spot on a bus through Guernsey. What, I imagined, would the poems give someone on a short journey to the sea? I liked trying to imagine that the poem would be read in a fleeting moment and yet make a lasting impact. I liked thinking about these poems turning into a journey’s real companion. For here are poems that pack a powerful emotional punch. Poems that make you want to ask questions. Poems that return you to childhood. Poems that remind of a love, of a loss. Poems that spring from a vivid source, a heightened moment, a character’s voice.

The standard for this year was incredibly high. Often, when judging a competition, you’re left frantically looking for something good. Guernsey seems to do things the opposite way around; you’re left frantically trying to find something not so good so you can eliminate. That was a stubborn process, and many of the poems that didn’t make it into the final shortlist still hovered around my kitchen for days.

And I wanted poems that you could carry around with you all day long. Perhaps a poem is ‘an echo chamber from a worn old heart,’ — a line from super talented Sarah Kate Simons from New Zealand who is not only the first young person to find themselves winning in the adult category, but also wins first prize in the young people’s category. (Incidentally, I was blown away by the supreme talent in the Young People’s category!)

Perhaps poems understand time’s vagaries better than any form. The way time flips, the way the clocks return to the past, the moment we realise we have suddenly become old. I liked the ways so many of these poems dealt with time. I loved the sense of the baton being passed On The Hospital Bed. The way we change places with our children. In these short poems, grief and loss hold love’s tight hand and remind us of what matters.

I didn’t stop marvelling at the different kind of journeys these poems took me on, the emotional, philosophical and imaginary journeys. I hope they give people as much pleasure and food for thought on the bus through life as they gave me.

Jackie Kay