We are pleased to publish the results of the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry and Short Story competitions judged by Will Daunt and Rosemary Dun respectively. In all we received 215 poems and 106 short stories this quarter. The judges’ reports follow the results below.
The Party – Clifford Forde
Djebel Marra, Western Dafur – Rosie Garland
Inappropriate Urges at the Aquarium – Caroline Otterson
Every Last Bell – Mandy Pannett
Half-Dreaming When Storm Breaks – Wendy Pratt
Swans at Evening – Clifford Forde
Suspicious Benches – Declan Kolakowski
I Remember Little Portugal After All: A Noh Poem – Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé
Serendipity – Clifford Forde
Bedsit Vulture – Dominic James
The Dog Chewing the Dictionary – Terry Jones
Stone – Mark Totterdell
Sunburn – Noel Williams
Task Work – Roger Elkin
Falling for Charlie – Stephen Atkinson
Loudmouth – Kimberly Clair
Princess of the Brave – Amanda Bannon
Size Tens – Yvonne Crossley
Poetic Licence – Alison Lock
Spiders – Sarah Evans
Sentinel Literary Quarterly Short Story Competition July 2012
An adjudication report
by Rosemary Dun
The quality of entries for this competition was so high that my initial long list covered about a third! The ones which didn’t make it onto my short list had similar problems.
What I was looking for, were stories which grabbed my attention, had a good shape – a beginning/ middle and end – and a point. Too often stories didn’t abide by the short story “rule” of: Come in late; get out early. The majority of those which didn’t make the short list had far too much preamble and warm-up at the start. Similarly, those which began with the protagonist waking up or staring in the mirror, didn’t cut the mustard. Start in the middle of the action, i.e. media res.
In others – nothing much happened. They were anecdotal rather than having the dramatic arc of a story with an inciting incident, rising action, climax and resolution. Some could not be winners as the author displayed lack of control over viewpoint and/ or tense – basics which are important to master.
Others were over-written: here the adage more is less is a good one to bear in mind.
The First Prize went to ‘Spiders’. The opening line was fantastic - “We met beneath the giant spider, back when the millennium was new.” I could easily see that on one of those top 100 first line lists! More importantly, this story delivered; employing an often risky second person narrative – which added a downbeat/ sorrowful dimension. This tale skilfully told a story framed by art works; a tale of a relationship crumbling under the weight of miscarriage. The denouement took place at an art installation of “a hundred million” porcelain sunflower seeds, “Like grains of sand, or sugar, or sperm”. The author then deftly returned to the image of a spider weaving “its web in a corner of the window, endlessly persistent”. The ending was expertly left open, leaving us - the reader - free to wonder what happened next. The author’s control and use of language and metaphor was excellent, understated, and just right for the story. A worthy winner.
Second Prize was ‘Poetic Licence. Again, with a cracking first line: “Like most things in life there are always exceptions.” I loved this story. I enjoyed its boldness, its premise, and the snippets of poetry as the protagonist - the postman – employed his notebook on his rounds. As a poet and fiction writer, I particularly enjoyed these punctuations of poetry: truly imaginative and adding texture to the tale. Set in a dystopian future where there is no welfare state, the postman was a marvellous character, carrying out philanthropic acts as part of his round. It also employed subtle and warm humour – always difficult to pull off. And, in common with the overall winner, this story ended with a lovely will he/ won’t he scenario. I do hope the postman gets to escape to warmer climes. He deserves it.
Third Prize went to ‘Size Tens.’ This was a harrowing story for any parent to read, and I applaud the author’s bravery in telling it. It began with a fantastic image of two pairs of footprints in the snow “like Pooh and Piglet’s tracks on their great hunt for a Woozle”. But it was soon apparent that we were not in Hundred Acre Wood, and that this tale would have no happy ending. What could be more poignant than the sight of footsteps disappearing? We soon learned that the follower was desperately seeking her daughter, who’d been snatched by her husband, because the child – another man’s child – was deemed “Kuzhippa” i.e. “intended for the burial pit”. This heart-rending tale could so easily have been over-written and/ or over-wrought, yet the author employed clarity and a clean prose style. Setting and location were used to wonderful effect, lending mood, tone, and metaphor. “When I emerge again into the alien street, the snow has stopped falling, and a weak sun is crying through the grey clouds.” The child was never found, and as a reader, my heart was broken. This story will haunt me for some time to come.
The three Highly Commended prizes were awarded to:
‘Falling For Charlie’ – a tale of an old man seeking the comfort of a young girl, ending with a suicide and a nice twist.
‘Loudmouth’ - a tale of two siblings and resentment: again, with a strong ending.
‘Princess of the Brave’ – an effective tale of the struggles endured by a migrant from war-torn country, deploying subtle and effective juxtapositions.
Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition, July 2012
An adjudication report
By Will Daunt
Unlike many of its peers, Sentinel’s poetry competition throws the net of recognition wide, allowing a proper affirmation for fifteen statements of the power of poetry to move, question and entertain. This makes the task of the adjudicator particularly rewarding.
During adjudication, poems move literally and figuratively around your desk in piles, being like a series of unconnected circles at the outset, and moving towards a ranking which feels something like a number of concentric circles, with the winner at the middle and so on.
In this case, I moved first to establish a long list of ninety poems. The thematic range of these was wide, but more striking was the quality of the writing: its conciseness, its originality, its frequent wit and its self-belief. The genre is unique in the inverse relationship that exists between its energy and its public impact: well written verse is not always seen, so many thanks to Sentinel for allowing such a rich selection of work to see the light. Incidentally, ‘Fishing on Newport Pier’, ‘The Photograph’ and ‘Geneva Rain’ came close.
This simple tale of a group entering a house, and bringing it to life, is both vivid and precise in the way that it creates a sense of warmth and humanity, set against social divides and impending loss: ‘…the bright accordion prattling,/ then the dizzying heat and glistening foreheads’.
Djebel Marra, Western Darfur
This is much more than a portrait of the devastation of conflict. The writer captures powerfully the desolation and vacancy of the landscape through their own ordinary actions - which is easier said than written: ‘…a tongue of oily smoke licking/ the horizon; a road to the caldera, paved with abandoned shoes’.
Inappropriate urges at the aquarium
This is an irreverent tease of a piece, imagining various anarchic aquatic pranks. It’s a colourful tribute to imagination, but the humour is sharply honed and shrewdly delivered: ‘Do others/ want to leapfrog turtles?/ to do rhythmic gymnastics with an/ eel ribbon?/ play chess with seahorse knights?’
Every Last Bell
This portrayal of London and the Thames from the viewpoint of nesting falcons develops a worldly grandeur as it scans the ‘grid’ of the city, focusing on an apparently random collection of its component parts, each essential to the equilibrium of the impression that is left: ‘ …River Island with cherubs and garlands and fire-/ white cracks’.
Half Dreaming When the Storm Breaks
The tension in this poem - between its careful craft and its intriguing, merging memories – ensures that the reader is left with an enlightened sense of unease: we know and feel enough to be unsettled by the penetrating grief: ‘… the clouds labour on right up to the window/ like the blue marbled sides of milling cows.’
Swans at Evening
There is an exemplary restraint about this description of the parallels between two couples; one human, one not. It is a poem about being content, and that in itself is very easy to do badly. Not here: ‘ …the river/ stretched away to a ballroom flickering with light;/ and there a cob and pen appeared.’
There are many layers to this kaleidoscope of images from a corner of London common land. The poem characterizes itself through fragments of conversation and arresting urban description: as challenging as it is fascinating: ‘And plastic ash/ Weeps across it, the ledge breathes cripple/ By cellophane ponds’.
I Remember Little Portugal After All: A Noh Poem
This piece alternates subtly between some lucid memories of travel and probing self-examination, shifting to and from the prompts of the past and the doubts of the present in assured expansiveness: ‘Do I know what my father thinks of himself, or a child’s death,/ even if it was so long ago? Does memory have the same resilience/ as history?’
There is a deliciously self-deprecating wit in this beautifully sculpted dialogue between the writer and a loved one, to whom it’s dedicated. Part-flirtation, part intimate memoir, it concludes by defining its subject through shared laughter, although it might have been via: ‘… the curling, scented smoke from your wood-fire’ or ‘…a more distant/ time, redolent of forest warmth’.
Through the presences of a vulture, this poem reveals a number of disturbing scenarios where terror insidiously distorts the narrator’s perspective. Egyptian resonances, revealed at its end, do not prevent the poem from locating graphically the homes of religious division, familial betrayal and urban isolation, where the vulture: ‘anticipates a feast of talons,/ beaky dribblings from a straw:/ lined up with cats and Billy dolls,/ cellophaned in Coptic jars’.
The Dog Chewing The Dictionary
Sometimes – as here – a poem will live up to the promise of its title. This is a controlled romp through a collision of amiable, canine gormlessness with the dissection of various words, ripped from their alphabetical order. The dog’s selection captures something of our humanity: ‘xanadu’, ‘zebras’, wolves’, ‘paradise and ‘logos’, yet it is his obliviousness which underpins this satire of how we worry about how we define ourselves.
Each word in the sixteen lines of this piece feels as if it has been hewn from the writer’s imagination, and acute aural sensibility. It begins, more or less as it ends, with a challenge:
Don’t talk to me of stone, what is as hard
as it, as cold as it. Please specify.
In the subsequent poetic definitions of various kinds of stone, the piece extracts something of the very essence, or foundation of our mortality. It moves from the precision of its description of granite (as a ‘trinity of dark mica dots’) to a wider proposal:
The earth is mill and furnace. In its churn
And bake, all rocks arise, alter, erode.
More than anything, this poem succeeds because of the acutely judged balance of narrative progression against its use of imagery, and remembered image. It is a depiction of summer farm work where nothing, and at the same everything, happens. It reminds the reader of why we are driven to write, and of the ideas that can’t be restrained, in a memory like this:
…straddling the baler behind the tractor
red as three fire engines, hauling out bale
after bale like squat logs, hefting them …
The writer then responds to the greater challenge of pinning these recollections to a wider perspective, and avoiding cliché or laboured pondering. It’s achieved through lines like these:
The summer lasted years.
there were no rules – the future like sunburn
on my shoulders, peeling new skin.
Crucially, the poem’s conclusion, in its deliberate ambiguity, leaves the reader able to choose any number of possible sequels for a young life, saturated with possibility.
This poem stood out from the beginning of the adjudication. It is rooted in a nineteenth century social outrage: the deployment of manual labourers on menial work, that was created to reduce the number of applications for genuine work schemes.
The poem’s artistic integrity is derived from several sources: first, the historical backdrop is shown through raw descriptions of tough tasks undertaken in wilderness, where the workers were to make:
fallen walls to stand tall, field to square off
and boundaries to build around acres
of grass-land walling nothing in but hares.
There is an equally compelling diction, which brings the reader closer to that dangerous land, and these futile attempts by man to shape it, for man:
… built for thrupence per day with
two splats of stirabout’s wetted maize
eaten off spades swiped twice on grass.
And a story is told, mutating through the seasons towards desperate, but inevitable tableaux:
And grimmer still as winter fingered in
under bitter winds and snow, with hungrier folk
spraunged on haunches waiting for neighbours to fall.
Ultimately, the task workers are given only ‘stone’ – reflecting the cyclical gulfs between worker and employer.
You could imagine this happening now.
WILL DAUNT, 14 JULY 2012