Thursday, 28 February 2013

Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (December 2012), Judges Report & Results


Judge’s Report by Noel Williams


I thought it was going to be easy. One poem jumped out at me early on, clearly making a claim as a winner. It stayed close to the top of the pile pretty much throughout the exercise. “Just two more like that”, I thought, “and my job here is done.”


No such luck.


The problem with judging poetry is that you’re comparing apples with chairs. On the one hand here is a heartfelt, confessional lyric which the poet has clearly agonised over writing but paid little attention to the music of language. On the other here is a deftly crafted villanelle, perfectly formed, exquisitely structured but pretty much lacking any real emotion. Then there’s a witty piece of absurdism that makes me smile each time I read it, though no-one’s going to claim it has any serious purpose. Whereas this delicate lyric drawn straight from natural observation is accurate, intense, particular, yet entirely descriptive.


Some things make better poetry, some worse. A surprising number of entries have small weaknesses. Let’s remove those that have clear defects: forced rhymes, unnecessary syllables introduced to pad rhythms, archaic vocabulary, clich├ęd expressions or ideas, images so extreme they’re merely intended to shock, even errors of grammar, punctuation, spelling - I’m quite surprised by the lack of proofreading in some cases, though I know mistakes can happen (I once submitted a poem about oranges that had the word “peal” instead of “peel” in three different lines. It didn’t win.)


By being brutally unfair to some poems I pare the total down to around 60. Each of these has something in it that works for me, something I’m attracted by. Now let me simply focus on the poems I especially like. Why do I like them? What is the particular attraction? Do they sustain it completely from beginning to end? This one starts well, but loses its way. That one has some wonderful imagery then stumbles with a vague ending. This one over here has some lovely lines within it, but the poem doesn’t seem to have any overall direction. Here’s one of the most powerful images I’ve seen in a long time, but does the rest of the poem really offer much more?

This is not easy at all. But, eventually, after nearly two weeks of going round in circles, finding different virtues, putting poems aside then reconsidering them, I’m finally, down to fifteen contenders.


Of these, the poems I’d like to commend are these:


“Night Waves” creates a soft pattern of gentle images and gentle sounds. I like the way the poem breaks a relatively conventional rhythm with unusual, even awkward, line breaks (on “the” and “at”, for example) which, for me, creates an echo of the arrhythmia of the sea.


In “The Window” we’ve a relationship very frequently found in poetry, that of patient and carer. Usually the poet’s voice is that of the carer observing the decline of their loved one. In this poem, this is inverted, with the voice of a patient contemplating her or his exit, in a voice that is tentative, barely heard and almost entirely dependent on the kindness of others.


“Singing” seems at first like another sad carer and patient poem, as it begins that way, but it makes a clever sideways move a third of the way in, using the idea of reading an alternative lifeline in the patient’s palm to imagine a happier life, with rather different seminal moments: “this time you open/the letter he sent after the argument”. I enjoy the way this poem simultaneously is upbeat, in the imagined life it relates, and yet full of regret, because that positive tale concerns the life that got away.


“Lumber Room at the Twilight Hotel” uses the sustained imagery of old furniture for people in their latter days. The sustained imagery is wonderful in its concreteness and detail, though the parallels perhaps could be more fully drawn out.


“Grandmothers in the Garden” focuses on an unusual vision of “dark-clothed grandmothers/performing tai chi” in a Beijing street. We get glimpses of a lively, happy, city, where the idea of dance seems to permeate the air. I particularly liked here “The grandmothers look up and wave/and I want wings” because of the ambiguity of “want”. It simultaneously seems to mean both “I lack” and “I desire”, at one and the same time both setting the observer apart and offering them an aspiration.


“An Exercise for a Writing Group” seems a perfectly ordinary poem - in fact,  it is almost prosaic - until an unexpected ending leaps out of nowhere: “tendrils/rise from cloud/south of the A66/and I dream/I can see the kraken.” I couldn’t shake that surprising image, so had to have this poem in my list.


“Rise and Fall” attracted me with its opening: “We listen to Debussy all afternoon/and to the yawn of saws in the shop downstairs”. The setup of a mini-story in these two lines is succinct, and the combination of Debussy’s music and the interference of the saw-noise, conveyed through the musicality of the lines themselves, was one of those openings that stayed in my mind through all the readings. The poem conveys a particular Sunday afternoon very well, and manages also to suggest something deeper in its account of balloons which eventually “drift away from each other”. I think this poem might have been even higher in my estimation if it hadn’t opted for a rough and ready rhyme scheme which seems rather oddly applied.


“Things you should be able to talk about without politics intruding” is arguably not even a poem. Can a simple list be a poem? (Poets do like to debate the most peculiar things). I like it because it is simply wonderfully absurd and, along the way, the oddity of the collisions of the items in its list prompts the occasional equally surprising thought, as in “Peanuts: dry roasted versus salted/Grief, gallstones”. Here triviality and profundity rub shoulders. One thing that poetry can do which few other art forms can match is to jostle ideas together in a way which prompts thoughts you might never otherwise have had (or perhaps wanted!)


 “Pay Attention” is also a strange little poem, a quirky love poem, I think. I’m not sure that I quite understand it, but that’s actually one of the things I like about it. A poem which somehow works on you without you quite knowing why can be something of a find. Clearly at its heart is a series of wonderfully odd and tender images: “I will set loose my memories of you/on the wind. No one will hear them pass.”


Of the Highly Commended poems, “This need of foxes” is starkly pessimistic in the way it combines closely observed fox imagery with the more apocalyptic ideas the fox-cry brings to mind: “a need, a moaning desire”, seemingly animal and human in “this need of foxes coming together”. This poem is peppered with excellent effects, such as the dynamic movement of the creatures reflected in the shifts of language and sometimes wonderful phonic effects, as in “their terracotta pelt with welted black/ on their backs”. This might have been a prizewinner, except for my feeling that it somewhat overeggs the pudding in the very last line.

“Journeys” is evocative, clever, lyrical, very well crafted, witty, with each word precisely selected for its purpose but slightly spoiled in my mind by the need for a footnote. I’d rather poems stood on their own two feet, and this one could have, I think.


 “The Rescue” offers images of struggle and survival, getting through “the month/of the hunger”. This poem is particularly good at choosing images which in themselves are ordinary but have been transformed to express struggle. For example, “ice in huddled puddles” (I enjoyed the internal rhyme here, too) or “The veins are obvious on everything”, where “veins” are at once a symbol of life, of blood, of healthy leaves, and yet, in being so “obvious” are unnaturally prominent, pronounced, as if tense, tight, fighting.


I found the hardest part of judging I found was to decide which of the poems jostling in the Highly Commended category really deserved second or third place. (First place, I realised, had been settled very early on, almost without me realising it.)


Third place eventually fell to “Scaling the Mountain” a poem in terza rima. I was partly attracted by the deft way this form is handled, particularly in rhymes such as “helter-skelter/Delta/swelter” and “upsetting’s/spaghetti/confetti”. However, it’s the overall movement of the poem that I found most compelling, as it builds detail and story to a climactic image of swallows enslaved by freedom. I’m not sure it works quite as perfectly as it might at the end, because it seems to overplay its hand a little, but the core conceit of tourists themselves being the instruments of the misery they come to witness is a powerful one, and the final ambiguities of smiles that might be forced, serene, happy, sardonic, hypercritical or much more seemed rich with undercurrents of meaning to me.


“Listen” achieved second place because it was the best example of a tight, pared-down lyrical poem among the one hundred and sixty eight poems submitted. But what particularly lodged it in my mind were the lines “place my fingers/in the memory of yours” a beautifully elegant summary of both the physical and metaphorical, which at the same time tells us something about a relationship and something about loss. The intimacy of the moment captured here is excellently conveyed through suggestion rather than statement – the poem works as much due to what is left out as what is included, which is a difficult trick to get right.


“Late May” was pretty much top of my list from first reading. It’s a sonnet, which makes it a risk in a competition – some judges hate traditional forms, and it is difficult to pull off such a well known form in a way which offers something new or is otherwise interesting. Sonnets tend towards the “safe”, the rounded sentiment, the pre-packaged idea. But this poem has sensitivity and subtlety, as well as a poet willing to take a bit of a risk (perhaps to grab the judge’s attention – if so, it worked) – how many times have you seen “wisteria” set up for a rhyme, for example (it’s rhymed here with “hysteria”) or compared with “an ex-wife’s compliment”? There’s much subtlety in this poem. This link of the wisteria, for example, as an image of middle-class contentment, with hysteria, and both together with the “ex-wife” is an instance of how several threads are wound together, yet none of them in an obvious or heavy-handed way. We get the sense of a depressed middle-aged speaker, of a failed relationship, a marriage gone sour, of a poet who, both desires and dreads to be alone, isolated, perhaps, by her or his own comforts who has perhaps even driven her or his partner way. Yet this is all done in pretty simple language, as in the final couplet:


“The ice-cream tune of someone else’s phone
chimes bleakly out, cuts off, leaves me alone.”


The ice-cream tune is at once a snide note which tells us the speaker is perhaps a little snobbish, a little “above” such things, and also a hearkening to a lost life, ice-cream being an innocent, perhaps lost, pleasure, a childhood gratification. The phonecall is necessarily someone else’s: the speaker knows it’s not for them, because the speaker knows there’s no-one who will bother to ring, suggesting people lost, one way or another. The chimes are bleak, almost oxymoronically, with their false brightness and optimism. The phone cuts off as the speaker is cut off. And then, the speaker is left alone. He wants to be left alone. He gets his wish. He seems to deserve all he gets.

The succinctness and suggestiveness of such devices is little short of brilliant. A superb piece of work and very worthy winner.


The results



Bryan Marshall -  Night Waves

Alyn Fenn – The Window

Maeve Henry – Singing

Linda Burnett – Lumber Room at the Twilight Hotel

Idore Anschell – Grandmothers in the Garden

Alan Nolan – An Exercise for a Writing Group

Victoria Kennefick – Rise and Fall

Richard Schwartz – Things you should be able to talk about without politics intruding.

Frank Dullaghan – Pay Attention


Highly Commended


Roger Elkin – This Need of Foxes

Daniel Knibb – Journeys

Victoria Kennefick – The Rescue


Third Prize:

Tim Ellis – Scaling the Mountain


Second Prize:


Celia Baines – Listen


First Prize:


Daniel Knibb – Late May



There are many ways of writing a short story, but whatever its form, ideally there should be a journey and a change for your chosen protagonist.  Good writing is a given, but I like a story to have Character, Plot, Conflict and Conclusion and not be just a mood piece or an incident.  There are, of course, many excellent short stories that don’t include all these elements, but personally, I look for an opening that grabs me from the start, characters I can empathise with and a storyline that carries me through to a satisfying conclusion. I also like an unusual subject that can take me into a different world and show me something new.  There’s nothing wrong with stories about families and broken relationships, but competitions get a lot of them and a story that’s a bit different can go a long way.


I enjoyed reading these stories very much and deciding on winners wasn’t easy.  When judging previous competitions, I have been able to set some aside immediately as being of very poor quality, but I was pleased to find that these stories were thoughtfully-written, literate and obviously cared-for.  I hesitate to mention that they were also of a high standard of grammar and spelling, but rightly or wrongly, bad presentation can put a judge off.


However, there were a few errors that could have been avoided with careful vetting – it’s always good to get someone else to read it first.


First of all, the mood pieces.  Beautifully written, in many cases, but without incident, characterisation, conflict or conclusion.  I would get to the end and think, ‘What has this writer told me?’ Perhaps a turn in the events or a conflict would have provided the force to drive it along.


Next, there were the ones that wouldn’t get off the ground and spent the first page on exposition and flashback, instead of getting on with the story.  You only have a limited number of words, so use them wisely.  Short stories happen in the here and now.  Life histories are for the novel.


Far too many had no dialogue.  Even some of the winners didn’t.  For me, dialogue is essential.  A short story is a little drama and characters should speak to each other.  Dialogue can do so much to convey the nature of characters and the interaction between them, and speech enlivens the page.


Finally, although I didn’t penalise for this, I would like to have seen more writers indenting their paragraphs.  White space is important for the look of a page and denseness gives a stodgy appearance to what might otherwise be an excellent story.


The pieces I eventually chose were relatively ‘simple’.  They were well-written, they didn’t obfuscate with over-flowery language, they told the story, and in a couple of cases they raised a little smile.


All three main prize winners had strong characters, conflict and conclusion.


First prize went to 'The Butcher', a great piece of Grand Guignol, slightly reminiscent of 'Fried Green Tomatoes At The Whistle Stop Cafe'.  The writer got straight into the story and held my attention throughout with terse and characterful language right to the grisly, yet satisfying, conclusion.


Second prize:  The writer of the very entertaining 'The War of the Apricots' chose an original subject, and followed it through with gusto.  I slightly lost sympathy for a man who, even if he was under extreme pressure, could batter squirrels, but it was strongly written with a pleasingly ironic end.


Third prize: 'The Last Revolution', a tense post-apocalypse story of betrayal.  This was a very visual, cinematic story which got straight into the situation, leaving explanations till later.


Highly commended. 


For the final three, I chose 'The Trapper' for its interesting subject, very real sense of being there, and an ending that took me by surprise, 'Iceman' for its arresting opening and sense of other-ness, and 'A Funeral' for its delicate surgery on a relationship and oblique finale.


All the writers are to be congratulated on a very high standard of work.


-       Clare Girvan




1st Prize - The Butcher by Daniel Knibb

2nd Prize - The War of the Apricots by Marie Gethins

3rd Prize - The Last Revolution by Daniel Knibb


Highly Commended -


The Trapper by James Collett

Iceman by Paul Saville

A Funeral by Brindley Hallam Dennis


Thursday, 14 February 2013

Have you registered to attend the SPM London Book Launch?



On the 9th of March, 2013 SPM Publications, the publishing division and primary imprint of Sentinel Poetry Movement will hold a presentation and launch of some books we published in 2012. The books are:

1.       Marking Time by Roger Elkin

2.       The Bridge Selection by Nnorom Azuonye

3.       Letter Home & Biafran Nights by Afam Akeh

4.       All the Invisibles by Mandy Pannett

5.       Sentinel Annual Literature Anthology 2012


The event will be held at the Waterloo Action Centre, 14 Baylis Road, London SE1 7AA. The venue is just 3 minutes’ walk from Waterloo Station. There is also ample metered parking around the venue.


Admittance is completely FREE of charge, however pre-registration is required due to the limited spaces available.



How would you like to win 1, 2, 3, 4 or all 5 books to be launched on the 9th of March? We have a raffle to be drawn on that day. It is just £2.50 per raffle ticket. By buying a raffle ticket, you not only give yourself a chance to win these books, but you also support the work of Sentinel Poetry Movement.


Please note: You may buy a raffle ticket even if you cannot attend the event. If you win, we will send you the signed books free of charge to any address in the world.


FREE event tickets and the raffle tickets are available at:




The SPM Book of the Month (February 2013) is Mandy Pannett’s ‘All the Invisibles’. This seminal poetry collection has received excellent reviews and has excited poetry lovers in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and Nigeria where those who have bought it are recommending it to their friends.


Throughout February All the Invisibles will be delivered to United Kingdom addresses without any delivery charges whatsoever. International orders will receive £1.50 off delivery charges and all buyers will receive FREE pdf versions of Sentinel Literary Quarterly magazine issues Jul-Sept 2012 and Oct-Dec. 2012 (2 issues).


To learn more and to buy All the Invisibles today visit




Closing March 31, 2013

Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition

(March 2013)

Judge: Oz Hardwick

Prizes: £150, £75, £50, and 3 x £10

Publication: In Sentinel Literary Quarterly Magazine.

Fees: £4 per poem, £7/2, £9/3, £11/4, £12/5, £16/7 £22/10

Enter Competition Here

Closing March 31, 2013

Sentinel Literary Quarterly Short Story Competition

(March 2013)

Judge: Kate Horsley

Prizes: £150, £75, £50, and 3 x £10

Publication: In Sentinel Literary Quarterly Magazine.

Fees: £5 per story, £8/2, £10/3, £12/4

Enter Competition Here

Sentinel Nigeria All-Africa Poetry Competition 2013

Closing Date: 28-Feb-2013

Theme: Open

Length: 50 lines maximum (Excluding title)

Prizes: N35,000 (1st), N20,000 (2nd), N10,000 (3rd), N4000 x 3 (High Commendation).

Fees: N450 / £2.50 per poem

Publication: Yes. In Sentinel Nigeria Magazine

Judge: Chiedu Ezeanah

Enter online or by post here.

Sentinel Nigeria All-Africa Short Story Competition 2013

Closing Date: 28-Feb-2013

Theme: Open

Length: 1500 words maximum (Excluding title)

Prizes: N35,000 (1st), N20,000 (2nd), N10,000 (3rd), N4000 x 3 (High Commendation).

Fees: N450 / £2.50 per story

Publication: Yes. In Sentinel Nigeria Magazine

Judge: Judge Dibia

Enter online or by post here.


Friday, 8 February 2013

Mandy Pannett’s All the Invisibles is SPM Book of the Month

In November 2012 SPM Publications published a brilliant poetry collection, All the Invisibles by prize-winning poet Mandy Pannett. 


All the Invisibles is the Sentinel Poetry Movement book of the month and throughout February 2013 there will be absolutely NO DELIVERY CHARGES in the UK and international buyers will receive £1.50 off delivery charges.  Every buyer will also receive FREE pdf versions of the Sentinel Literary Quarterly magazine July-September and October-December 2012 issues.


Reviews of All the Invisibles:


Light is threaded through Mandy Pannett's poems, along with a tantalising sense of individuals captured momentarily in many different landscapes, among them, the artists, Durer, Seurat, Monet and Ravilious.


Her language is visual and athletic with metaphor, she's drawn to lost traditions and phrases and brings them into the present with a playful sense of inquiry.


This book moves through a range of emotional states - all of them bittersweet: melancholy, change, curiosity - but Pannett is spare with words and her lines feel charged as a result. Expect to be startled by the images she creates, intrigued and excited by her talent for description and the insights her poems offer you, like delicious, rare fruit.

            - Jackie Wills


"Mandy Pannett's poetry is varied, original, magical and full of surprises."

          - Susan Skinner


In Pannett's All the Invisibles "The lyrical is always hovering, but if she does bring daisies she makes us work for it...Mythological and historical themes broaden the rhythms ... "

          - Paul Matthews.


"Mandy Pannett brings a host of figures from bible, myth and history to brief but vivid life. They step out of the Bayeaux tapestry, from Shakespeare's plays, classical and Norse myth,

along with beasts - hares, horses, foxes, flies - and are fleetingly illuminated, for the most part in free verse, but there are also sonnets and terza rima, before retreating once again into their shadowy worlds."

          - Gabriel Griffin


To buy a copy or more of All the Invisibles, go to

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (March 2013)

Oz HardwickClosing Date: 31-March-2013

For original, previously unpublished poems in English Language on any subject, in any style, up to 50 lines long (excluding title). Poems entered should also not be entered into another competition running at the same time. Poets of all nationalities living in any part of the world are eligible to enter.

Prizes: £150 (First), £75 (Second), £50 (Third), £10 x 3 (High Commendation).

Publication: The winners and commended poems will receive first publication in Sentinel Literary Quarterly magazine.

Fees: £4/1 poem, £7/2 poems, £9/3 poems, £11/4 poems, £12/5 poems, £16/7 poems, £22/10 poems.

Judge: Oz Hardwick

Enter online and pay securely by PayPal or download an Entry Form for postal entry at:

Send Cheques/Postal orders payable to SENTINEL POETRY MOVEMENT with poems, Entry Form or Cover Note to Sentinel Poetry Movement, Unit 136, 113-115 George Lane, South Woodford, London E18 1AB, United Kingdom.

Monday, 4 February 2013

SLQ Short Story Competition, March 2013

Dr Kate Horsley returns to judge this quarter's Sentinel Literary Quarterly Short Story Competition closing 31st March, 2013.
Prizes: £150 (1st), £75 (2nd), £50 (3rd) and 3 x £10 (high commendation) learn more and enter now at:

Sentinel Nigeria All-Africa Poetry & Short Story Competitions 2013

24 Days left to enter the Sentinel Nigeria All-Africa Poetry & Short Story Competitions 2013
Who can enter?: All African writers, professional or amateur, living anywhere in the world.
Poems and stories will be judged blind. Let your work speak for itself.
Prizes in each category:
First: N35,000.00
Second: N20,000.00
Third: N10,000.00
High Commendation: N4,000.00 x 3
Entry fees: N450 (£2.50) per poem or Story.
Closing date: 28/February/2013
Judges: Chiedu Ezeanah (Poems), Jude Dibia (Stories)

Friday, 1 February 2013



Nnorom Azuonye's The Bridge Selection - Poems for the Road (Second Edition)
Afam Akeh's Letter Home & Biafran Nights.
Roger Elkin's Marking Time.
Mandy Pannett's All the Invisibles
and the Sentinel Annual Literature Anthology 2012 edited by Nnorom Azuonye, Unoma Azuah and Amanda Sington-Williams.

Come and be a part of this event and experience reading from the books and interact with the authors.

Gate: FREE
Date: Saturday, 9th March 2013
Venue: Waterloo Action Centre, 14 Baylis Road, SE1 7AA. (across the road from the Old Vic)
Time: 3pm to 6pm

The venue is very easy to access - just 2 minutes from Waterloo Station. There is ample metered parking on The Cut and neighbouring streets.

Need help on the way, call 07812 755 751