Sunday, 15 November 2015

Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition | International Poetry Contest

Only 2 weeks left to enter this quarter's competition judged by Oz Hardwick. Enter now

Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition | International Poetry Contest

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Camilla Lambert, Audrey Ardern-Jones, Jason Lytollis win Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (August 2015)


We are pleased to announce the results of the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (August 2015) judged by Mandy Pannett as follows:

Special Mention:

E K Wall - For lovely girl

Lesley Quayle - The Man Who Loved Pylons

Caroline Carver - mind-travel


Andrew Brush - The Love Song of Air

Mark Haworth-Booth - Portrait of a Lady

Lee Nash - Bone China

Highly Commended:

Paul Connolly - Coal Shed

Jason Lytollis - The Sea’s Return Home

E K Wall - The Unloved

3rd prize: Jason Lytollis - Fast Forward: The Poetry Museum

2nd prize: Audrey Ardern-Jones - Lion in Chingola

1st prize: Camilla Lambert - The hunger-monger

Many thanks to all the entrants to this quarter’s competition and congratulations to the poets whose poems have received special mentions, been commended or awarded the top prizes. This quarter we received 310 poems, therefore the contest was quite fierce. Thank you, Mandy Pannett, our judge, for a job well done.

- Nnorom Azuonye



By Mandy Pannett

1st ‘The hunger-monger’

The more I read and think about this poem, the more convinced I am that it is a perfect first place winner. Here we have the art of association at its best in which words like ‘drone’ and ‘asylum’ suggest emotive but dissimilar connotations while the language of music and dance juxtaposes with that of predation. Language itself is used as camouflage in this poem where a shadowy and menacing figure ‘plays at vanishing’ and ‘circles in and out of borderlands’, a ruthless opportunist, a predator lying in wait. A grim but stunning poem.

2nd ‘Lion in Chingola’

This is a deceptively simple, lyrical poem with a brutal theme that relies as much on implication as content. The corpse of the lion lies ‘in a bungalow lounge’ – an enclosed and unnatural space for him, men ‘slash’ the grass outside with the same ruthless indifference they have butchered the lion, the last word in the poem is ‘dense’ (apparently describing heat) and one is left thinking it is more than the air that is dense. There is tenderness in this poem in spite of the underlying horror: the narrator is a child who clings to his father’s hand, his brother, in innocence, posts coins through bullet holes, the dead lion with his ‘beige-gold skin’ is still beautiful.

3rd ‘Fast Forward: The Poetry Museum’

I admire this poem tremendously for its wit and the skill with which quotations from Romantic poems and the names of poets themselves are so horrendously jumbled and deconstructed in a future age where literature is dry and dead as data, Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’ is assumed to be ‘prehistoric flora’ and a concept such as imagination in the guise of an ‘inward eye’ is puzzled over as a remnant from an ‘early digitised brain’. This author’s skill in matching language and tone to the subject matter is outstanding. Each time I read the poem I find even more to appreciate and enjoy.

Highly Commended – ‘ Coal Shed’

This poem, with its matter-of-fact title begins simply enough with the lines ‘It was there long after the outside toilet/Was demolished’ and continues to detail changes in the shed’s use as well as destructions and absences in the surrounding area. A gradual and beguiling process leading the reader into what becomes an exploration of blackness – a realm of nightmare, terror and hell that culminates in a glistening, fiery annihilation of light itself. This is a perfectly crafted poem where every image, every half-rhyme, is brilliantly chosen.

Highly Commended – ‘The Sea’s Return Home’

I would love to hear this poem read aloud so I could enjoy to the full this poet’s skill with words and his/her obvious delight in language. This is no ordinary poem about the sea – this one has tales and travels to tell, has ‘tongues riffling fast as feathers’, it shimmies, swills, slicks the steps, hurls itself with flap and clatter. There are many light and witty phrases such as ‘Whisht, now it’s here’, ‘our own bonny polyglot’, ‘this is Babel on wings’, ‘joggling the sneck’ and ‘backlogged with craig’. A delightful, clever poem.

Highly Commended – ‘The Unloved’

This poem strikes me as perfect in its simplicity – quiet as the theme but with every word selected to add to the tone of bleakness and the waste of love. The woman in the poem ‘folds everything she is/into the grey handkerchief of herself’ and this motif is continued throughout in images of rags, scraps and occasional crumbs. This is such a sad poem in its depiction of rejection, longing and festering pain. Lines that I think are particularly effective are those that describe her parents’ ‘iced eyes, glazed/over with misgivings, resentments,/disappointment’s cataracts’. The ending of the poem is overwhelming and shocking in its impact.

Commended – ‘The Love Song of Air’

This is another poem that grabbed my immediate attention by its exuberant and joyful use of language. Here the wind ripples poplar leaves in a ‘silver glittering glissando’ then turns them ‘belly-up – can-canning’. The title itself establishes the tone of the poem which is full of music, light and movement but also with ‘the silence of unthinking things’. There is a marvellous use of alliteration as ‘winged wind’ stirs ‘weathervanes,windmills, washing lines’ and a clever use of bracketed asides to counterpoint the theme.

Commended – Portrait of a Lady

I was attracted to this poem from the start and googled the painting referred to (Portrait of a Lady c 1465 by Alesso Baldovinetti) and was even more impressed when I realised how much the poet had imagined from comparatively little. Many poems have been written with portraits as their subject but few, I think, as vivid and original as this one. Here, says the narrator, he helped the Lady out of her frame ‘the way I’d seen a footman hand a lady/from her coach’ A lively and amusing series of questions and answers between the two of them then ensues, culminating in a poignant ending which I won’t reveal.

Commended – Bone China

Here we have a poem which uses the making of bone china as an extended metaphor for a love story, a relationship just beginning which is both physical and fragile. The vocabulary of the process from dust to china – such as ‘crushed ossein with feldspar/powdered glass, fluxed’ is juxtaposed with erotic images as when the clay asks to be ‘in your hands, under, between your hands ... caress me with wet hands ... let me stay on your lips. Fill me with your pleasure – hot, steaming, fragrant’. A beautifully crafted, delicate and lyrical poem.

As always, it was a pleasurable task judging the Sentinel poems although the submission of so many outstanding entries made my stress levels rise when selecting just nine prize winners from over 300. I am sad for the ones I couldn’t include or mention but know they will soon find a well-deserved place in a competition or publication elsewhere.

Looking at the ones I have chosen, or nearly chose, I realise that in all of them it was a heightened quality of language that drew me. Sometimes it was the sheer musicality that appealed – the sounds of words and phrases that were a joy to read and speak aloud. Frequently, however, it was a quality of simplicity, of total purity, that I loved – a case of Mark Twain’s ‘the right word in the right place’, his ‘luminous flash in a single sentence’, an idea reduced to ‘one glittering paragraph’ (or stanza).

It was good to see many variations in form. There were some excellent sonnets, villanelles, sestinas and ghazals and several experiments in open field and other types of layout. Onomatopoeia, alliteration, repetition, a range of language-compressed poetic devices were used effectively – ‘thwack-crashing’ and ‘slurp-smack’ in the poem ‘Night-sky telex’ offer an example. Dialect was used well: there was the Scottish ‘a sir ficht’ and an enchanting poem ‘Moot’ with Devonshire words and phrases such as ‘my bird’ (my friend) and the lovely ‘flittermouse’ (a bat). In many cases there was a very good use of rhyme. One poem that particularly appealed was the song-like ‘Boxing Day’ where a delightful last stanza ends ‘I saw a giant cracker passing chance/a parcel do a circle dance/I saw the clock, my Lord Remembraunce’.

As well as a couple of the prize winners, several poets used themes based on literature, art, music, myth and legend – nearly always to good effect. There were some enjoyable pen-portraits, particularly the poignant and compassionate ‘A Reverend Father’ in which a very confused but well-intentioned vicar in a supermarket mistakes a water bottle for holy water and spills it over ‘tins of Felix cat food’. As always there were many poems about relationships – the sadness of love unrequited or rejected. ‘Frauenbad’ was one such in which the author made clever use of bridges as metaphor for both a physical crossing place and a relationship which has become ‘unbridgeable’. One poem that worked well on the theme of a parent separated geographically from a child but just managing to keep a grip on emotion by using Skype was ‘My Daughter’s Socks’.

Several poets used the natural world as a setting with animals, insects, birds and fish demonstrating the interconnection between man and beast. I especially liked ‘The Pheasant’ where both man and bird startle each other, share momentary terror.

The majority of poems, however, were set in bleaker places – hinterlands, waste lands, in-between areas that are ‘barbed-wire tended’ (Between Places). In these locations poets set themes that reflect so much of the downside of the twenty-first century world. There was a great deal of illness and disease as in the powerful ‘Stroke’ where ‘a comma grew and launched its blackness at my mind’. In the poem ‘Malignancy’, cells are ‘like sun-bursts, like distorted stars’ while in ‘Heart Bypass’ veins are ‘removed like razor clams’. A chilling poem was ‘Back Street Surgery’ where, in an attempt to gain cosmetic improvement and ‘lips plumped for kissing’, the narrator feels only the ‘tap tap tap of death watch beetle in my bones’.

Dementia was a key theme as in ‘Jigsaw’ where a woman is left with ‘odd gait reminiscences, half remembered colours’. There were poems about abortion, vanished children, sexual and emotional abuse, austerity, hardship in a range of forms, climate change and many ‘Extinction Dialogues’ (Life’s a Bowl of Cherries’).

Lots of poems showed tremendous concern for the plight of the homeless and for refugees whose lives are wasted in ‘a forgetting, obliterating sea’ (Bluebell Wood). Many described the ruthless anonymity and indifference of drones – ‘a no-eyes, blind automaton vulture (Ron’s Drone), and war and devastation was a persistent theme, whether depicting an earlier age, or ‘an unmarked grave in a Jewish cemetery’ (Samuel Isakovitch) or a current, world-wide situation in ‘Iraq, Gaza, Ukraine’. (Wartime). The poem ‘Empty Envelopes’ was particularly poignant and sobering in its description of a place whose ‘airways are empty’ and ‘No birds sing. Still.’

- Mandy Pannett

Friday, 9 October 2015

Oram, Zammit, Burchell win SPM Publications Poetry Book Prizes, ‘Poems for a Liminal Age’ goes to Brighton.

  1. Peter Oram, Abigail Zammit and Graham Burchell win top prizes in the maiden SPM Publications Poetry Book Competition
  2. Poems for a Liminal Age goes to Brighton
  3. Current Sentinel Competitions

Our Special Offers on Books continue until midnight on October 12.
- Get a FREE copy of Blue Hyacinths anthology when you buy a copy of Poems for a Liminal Age. You get the books, Medecins Sans Frontieres gets £5.

- Get a FREE copy of Sentinel Poetry Quarterly #2 when you buy a copy of Marking Time by Roger Elkin.


Sentinel Writing & Publishing Newsletter

OCTOBER 9, 2015

SPM Publications Poetry Book Competition 2014/15 Results

We are pleased to announce the results of the maiden SPM Publications Poetry Book Competition 2014/15 judged by Andy Willoughby and Bob Beagrie as follows:

The two highly commended collections are A Slice of Strudel by Joan Michelson (entered under the pen name Marigold) and Dear Dancer by Angela Arnold (entered under the pen name Maddy Scott).

The Third Prize goes to Cottage Pi by Graham Burchell (entered under the pen name Kate Johns).

The Second Prize goes to Portrait of a Woman with Sea Urchin (formerly You may touch if you like) by Abigail Zammit (entered under the name Mnajdra).

The First Prize has been won by In Carvoeiro & Other Sequences by Peter Oram (entered under the pen name Maro)

The top three prize winners will have their collections published by SPM Publications in November 2015 and the three collections Cottage Pi by Graham Burchell, Portrait of a Woman with Sea Urchin by Abigail Zammit and In Carvoeiro & Other Sequences by Peter Oram will be launched in London on December 12, 2015.
It is not the end of the road for the two highly commended collections which are of very high quality. We shall be discussing with the poets to see how we can work towards a possibility of publishing them in 2016.

Sentinel Writing Competitions |


Judging any poetry competition is a difficult and delicate matter, but judging a poetry collection competition involves a broader set of considerations, a weighing up of the focus, the craft, the word play, the authenticity of voice within individual poems along with the balance of the whole collection, the accumulative and sequential impact of the poems, the recurring tropes and motifs, the sense of movement throughout the work as a coherent whole.

The five collections in our final short list all contained powerful poems and highly evolved poetic voices, poems that used various forms without becoming lost in the structural constraints. All contained poems with a vibrancy and a sense of urgency, and they don't flinch in the face of human passions nor difficult subject areas. It was a very tricky decision to make as all have their own merits and resonances, all are original in their own right making comparisons between them difficult.
In the end we chose the three that held together best for us as collections whilst maintaining a sense of pleasing variety of mind and tone or showed a greater awareness of sequential reading through the lack of any padding.

In Carvoeiro & Other Sequences has beautiful lyrical impact in its unusual and startling capacity for making language new in its arrangements and phrases. It also stood out through the sophisticated mastery of closed and open forms contained within it. The sonnet sequence is stunning. It is very difficult to write in this strict form with the naturalness of measured voice that the author achieves. This contrasts well against the looser, spacious and organic verse sequence ‘Six Premature Ejaculations’ that shows daring in both form and content. We both got the greatest pleasure from reading this collection.

Portrait of a Woman with Sea Urchin is a sensual and passionate collection, it's makes the language sing and the author shows a keen eye for focused detail that moves beyond mere picture-making into layers of symbolism and metamorphosis. The author displays a capacity for speaking through masks, shifting personae without losing a coherent sense of voice.

Cottage Pi contains a wry observational tone, finding poetry in the ordinary small detail, a sense of a located author engaged in psycho-geography. It moves through forms and the voice is convincing, shifting in tone from a dry sense of humour to visionary transcendence in key epiphanic moments.

Bob Beagrie & Andy Willoughby


Poems for a Liminal Age Goes to Brighton

Poems for a Liminal Age is an anthology published by SPM Publications in support of Médecins Sans Frontières. Edited by Mandy Pannett, this book has been well-received and is raising a handsome amount of money for the charity. After the successful launch in London on the 29th of August, the promotional road show for this wonderful project continues with the Brighton launch on the 10th of October at the Exeter Street Hall between 6:30 and 8:30pm. If you are in the Brighton area, why not register to attend? Learn more and register here:



For original, previously unpublished poems in English language on any subject, in any style up to 50 lines long.

Closing Date: 30-November-2015

Judge: Oz Hardwick

Prizes: £200 (1st), £100 (2nd), £50 (3rd), £20 x 3 (High Commendation), 3 x £10 (Commendation)

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

Click here to enter competition now


Sentinel Annual Poetry & Short Story Competition 2015 | Closing Date: 31-Dec-15

For original, previously unpublished poems and short stories in English Language, on any subject, in any style up to 60 lines long (poems) or up to 2000 words long (short stories). Judges: The judges for this year's competitions are Afam Akeh (Poetry) and Alex Keegan (Short Stories).

Prizes: Prizes in each category are £700 (1st), £350 (2nd), £175 (3rd) and 5 x £55 (High Commendation).
Entry Fee: £6/1, £11/2, £15/3, £18/4 and £20/5 poems or stories.

Contact: For more information see website:


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Sunday, 27 September 2015

Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry and Short Story Competitions - international writing contests

For original,
previously unpublished poems in English language on any subject, in
any style up to 50 lines long.
Oz Hardwick
£200 (1st), £100 (2nd), £50 (3rd), £20 x 3 (High Commendation), 3 x
£10 (Commendation)
£4/1, £7/2, £9/3, £11/4, £12/5, £16/7, £22/10

Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry and Short Story Competitions - international writing contests

Sentinel Annual Writing Competitions | International annual open poetry and short story competitions

Entries are now being accepted for the Sentinel Annual Poetry & Short Story Competitions 2015 judged by Afam Akeh (Poetry) and Alex Keegan (Fiction).

Prizes in each category:

First Prize: £700

Second Prize: £350

Third Prize: £175

High Commendation: £55 x 5

Enter now at:

Sentinel Annual Writing Competitions | International annual open poetry and short story competitions

Monday, 7 September 2015

Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (August 2015) Update

8.9.2015 | Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (August 2015) Update
We have now collated all the entries from the August 2015 competition, Judge: Mandy Pannett​
We have received and logged 309 poems from 128 poets.
Results due on 15th October.

Meanwhile the November comp is up and running and already receiving entries.

Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition | International Poetry Contest

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition | International Poetry Contest

Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (November 2015)

For original, previously unpublished poems in English language.
Poems may be on any subject, in any style, up to 50 lines long (excluding title).

Prizes: £200 (First), £100 (Second), £50 (Third), £20 x 3 (High Commendation), £10 x 3 (Commendation). All winning and commended poems to be published in Sentinel Literary Quarterly (Online)

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

Judge: Oz Hardwick

Closing Date: 30 November, 2015

Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition | Every3 months...since July 2009

Organised by Sentinel Poetry Movement - a style of Sentinel Writing & Publishing Company Ltd
Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition | International Poetry Contest

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition | International Poetry Contest

Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (August 2015)

Closing date: 31st August, 2015

For original, previously unpublished poems in English language, on any subject, in any style, up to 50 lines long.

Prizes: First: £200.00, Second: £100.00, Third: £50.00, Highly Commended: £20 x 3, Commended: £10 x 3.

Click here to enter:

Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition | International Poetry Contest

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Competitions deadline extended


The closing date for the April 2015 Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry and Short Story Competitions have been extended to 31st May 2015. This extension does not affect the date the results had been set to be announced being the 15th of July, 2015.

We will publish the winning and commended stories and poems in the online version of Sentinel Literary Quarterly on the 31 July, 2015. The works will also be available in the print version for those who prefer hard copies of the magazine.

From this quarter’s competitions, in addition to the prize money of £200, £75, £50, 3 x £20, and publication, we will also issue a certificate of achievement to all winners and commended authors.

Judges: Mark Totterdell and Brindley Hallam Dennis

Enter competitions here

Questions to

Administrator: Nnorom Azuonye

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Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Judge’s Report and Results, Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (February 2015)

As usual, I found the business of judging poetry a difficult one. There’s such a range of different kinds of poems, different styles, subjects, forms and approaches, and you want to give each of them a chance in their own terms, so you go round and round in circles trying to decide whether a comic poem about a spaniel is worth more than a heartfelt sonnet about lost love.


But, as always, I found the poems fell into three piles – exactly as they always do when editing Antiphon, in fact. Firstly, the largest pile contains those poems that I know simply won’t please me enough. Usually, whatever their virtues, they have some flaw which gets in the way of the poem: they’re too concerned with finding rhymes, so damage sense; they use too many clichés; they’re built around a sustained metaphor which leads to static comparisons without any development or progression; they deal with subjects I’ve seen many times before, in a way I’ve seen many times before. It’s a shame, because I find myself putting aside some clever ideas, some striking phrases, some original images, because the poets haven’t concerned themselves with every aspect of their work. There’s even a surprising number which make simple grammatical, spelling or punctuation errors, or use the wrong word. This may not be enough to reject a poem outright, but it doesn’t help.


The second pile is much smaller – perhaps only half a dozen poems – those which leap out at me on first reading, announcing themselves as almost certainly candidates for commendation at the very least. These are the poems that astonish me, that take me by surprise, that do something I’ve not seen before, that are full of striking images, emotional heart, precise observation, music, life. These poets have a sense of what poetry is. Their work is not simply well-formed words on a page. They offer an experience, one that I want to come back to, once I’ve found it, like the peaks around Rydal Water, the humanity of a Leonardo painting, the passion of La Boheme.

The third pile is the difficult pile. Every poem has a question mark against it. Too diffuse? Too trivial? Heartfelt, perhaps, but is it particularly poetic? Is this one too concerned with being poetic, maybe, to the detriment of clear expression? An original slant on a clichéd idea? Interesting, but is it interesting enough? Striking, but does it actually justify its length? Clear observation, but maybe too static? Fun, but perhaps too odd? Each of these I read again and again, trying to balance the contradictory impressions, and come to some final judgement about which of the other two piles it “really” belongs on.


Eventually I’ve a pile of twenty-one possible poems, each of which I feel is offering enough for a potential commendation. But I’m only allowed to identify nine of them. First to bite the dust is a poem that tags too many of its nouns with unnecessary adjectives – each of them works alone, but the overall effect is too clogged, I think. Second is one that is almost a sonnet, has some interesting internal rhymes and sustains a clever analogy between lust and gluttony, but seems to push the idea too far. Then there‘s a poem which begins strikingly but develops into pomposity and I wish the poet had cut the final stanza. There’s a sestina, admirable technically, but the poet has chosen six words which make the structure very loose, so that it actually reads like prose. Here’s a sparse lyrical moment, watching the sunset, but perhaps not quite original enough. Then there’s quite an elegant, tight narrative, but it seems to use line endings in an arbitrary way – if you read it aloud, they feel wrong. A heartfelt poem about books is probably just a little too archaic in its language. This poem is too didactic in its tone, as if the poet knows all there is to know on the subject, and this poem uses wonderfully sensuous analogies for sex, but pushes the idea for far too many verses without development. Here’s a great imagining of the fall of Icarus, but there are simply two lines which get in the way of the emotion for me. A poem about a short cut is good on detail but perhaps the subject matter isn’t strong enough. And this poet has a clever idea, linking Norse myth with a contemporary air flight but seems, in the end, to go nowhere significant with the idea.


And that leaves me my nine.



Beached: this poem made me laugh out loud, which is unusual for poetry. It’s amusingly written and conveys a very lively picture, with a great opening line: “Walruses are lolling in the lounge again”.


Reading Whitman at Stonington Island: this is a complete contrast to “Beached”, being serious, erudite and allusive. It contains some strong phrasing and strong images, if a little too dry, and perhaps is a little too keen to exhibit erudition. A quality poem which rather overdoes its approach, I feel.


The Stuffed Man: another poem crammed with detail. There’s a great deal of physical description, particularly strong where action takes place, and the poet uses some excellent language, even in the two static stanzas which perhaps slow the movement of the poem down too much. This was a real contender for me, but I felt it might benefit from being pared down a fraction more.


Highly commended:


These poems all pleased me very much, and I think many people would like them, and they might well have ended up amongst the prizes, had the remaining three poems not edged themselves forward.


Anchor: this poem is a restrained account of the penalties of aging, as the world we’ve known and built around us gradually falls apart, and death comes to those we’ve loved. Its great strength is that it avoids histrionics (except in one line) and instead conjurs images that connote suffering endured (“the hailstones/ clattering on the balcony/ like bones and teeth”), so that the impression we’re left with is one of “mild despair”, if there can be such a thing.


Cotswold rumbler ram: I particularly enjoyed the language in this poem, the way it is used to describe an encounter with a ram, and the consequent music within the lines, such as “Other sheep sleep and crop / as if on stairs” which feels apt and is made physical by the alliteration and internal rhyme. The poem may be only a snapshot, but it is an accurate one, and one which I found very pleasing to the ear.


The Colour of Nana’s Bohemian Libretto: A Noh Poem:  There’s much to admire in this poem. It is well crafted and appears driven by a strong and well-read intelligence. Its approach to its subject is quite subtle and sophisticated, though it makes several demands on the reader. Whilst it is one of the most well-made and intellectually demanding of all the poems in this competition, it didn’t quite make it into the prizes, for me, as I felt the three I’ve chosen had stronger emotional hearts.


Third prize:  At George Allen’s Sawmill


As a fourteen line poem, with some interesting almost-rhymes at its line ends, I thought this might be a sonnet, but it’s not. However, its structure is spot on for purpose, as the first two stanzas describe the activity at the mill, the next brings that activity to an end, the fourth changes perspective, and gives us the poet and a companion, watching, and the final gently rhymed couplet steps out into impersonal darkness. I enjoyed the concreteness of the observed detail in this poem, especially the way that working men are conveyed through the bustling activity of the mill. Yet it’s the changing perspective which makes it work, as the gradual movement from active mill to inactive mill to the two watchers to the impersonal night means that it does more than merely describe. It seems to evoke a particular memory, and then to suggest that all such lively, human activity no matter how vital or particular, nevertheless disappears into darkness. But it does so through its structure, not through any explicit pontification.


Second prize:  Beautility


As the poet intended, I was struck by the novelty of this title, unable to decide for a while whether it was clever or forced. Either way, it made me read the poem with special attention, and I found it rewarded that attention. I think there’s a full stop missing, which perhaps affects sense, and this made me hesitate for a long while as to whether I could include it in the prizes. However, its deft, visual and colourful writing appealed to me. The poet makes the ordinary feel extraordinary, and conveys some of the irrational sensory experience of childhood directly, without trying too hard to explain it, and also manages to convey the immediacy and, indeed, amorality of childhood without resorting to moral commentary. A child seems to be exploring the aftermath of a party, getting her or his own gratifications from the combination of debris, leftovers and magic: “The child licks candied lemon and glace cherries”.

 I like such poems, which transform what might be called everyday experiences to make them strange, and this hit the pleasure button very hard each time I read it. It’s hard for me to pin down what works for me in this poem but the fact that I keep wanting to re-read it is a good guide as to its richness. I suppose it has to be regarded as, in fact, personal taste, but I think the way the poet has given us a particular experience, quite possibly a real memory, and yet made it surreal, works very well indeed.


First prize: Larches


As with “Beautility”, I had to  think long and hard about whether this was really a prizewinner or not. It’s only ten lines, and only thirty two words, so shorter than almost every other poem submitted. I kept asking myself: “Is there enough here to justify a prize?” In the end, with both the top two poems, I decided that they were the poems I liked best, whatever my rationale, so they had to merit prizes.


This poem is a short, delicate nature lyric, a moment of observation which, in its minimalism, reminds me of Chinese poetry (specifically, the poems in the Penguin volume “Poems of the Late T’ang”). The potential problem with such poems is that they have to do a great deal of work in very few words, so they often end up being merely descriptive, or offering the reader a moment, but nothing more. When they work, they offer not merely the beauty of nature observed, but also an internal music and an evocation of something beyond the words on the page. Successful poems of this type are really aesthetic objects as much as accounts of the world.


What actually carried this poem high into the prizewinner class for me was this little stanza:


remembrance of footfall -
fragments of ragwort


I felt that couplet was the most effective pair of lines in the entire competition. It is elegant, contains some delicate internal music (between, in different ways, “membrance” and “fragment”, “footfall” and “fragment”, “fragment” and “ragwort”), presents a natural image that is clear, accurate yet succinct (ragwort often appearing torn and ragged, as the name suggests), evokes memory in a physical way (e.g. one can imagine the feet of a wanderer amongst the flowers) and, by linking these things in these ways, we also get a sense of fading memory, too, of the memory being fragmented and ragged, so a mood is subtly evoked without any direct statement.


Although this couplet is the heart of the poem, the rest of it is visually and verbally effective in a similar way. Overall, there’s not a word that’s not been carefully placed to have maximum effect, like the brush-strokes of a delicate watercolour. It’s the poem I came back to most often, so it has to be top of the pile. I want to congratulate this poet on the intuitive care with which these words have been chosen and laid out.


Noel Williams



Frances Baillie - Beached

Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé  - Reading Whitman at Stonington Island

Kathryn Smith  - The Stuffed Man


Highly Commended

Marinca Kaldewaij - Anchor

John Gallas - Cotswold rumbler ram

Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé - The Colour of Nana’s Bohemian Libretto: A Noh Poem


Third Prize

Joan Gooding - At George Allen’s Sawmill


Second Prize

Kathryn Smith  - Beautility


First Prize

Kate Gething-Smith - Larches


Sentinel Writing Competitions |

Judge’s Report and Results, Sentinel Literary Quarterly Short Story Competition (February 2015)

A story can be defined in its most simple terms as ‘what happens’. If the answer is, ‘umm... hard to say,’ then the story is likely not a story at all. It might be a vignette or an extended description, it might set the scene, but it isn’t the story. A number of entries failed to show me ‘what happens’ in any real sense, so however lyrical or powerful the writing, I had to move them to the ‘no’ pile. I was looking for pieces of writing where there is movement, a change from the start to the finish; a premise established that the story goes on to prove. Once I had removed those pieces where essentially nothing happened, I started looking at questions of basic craft: does this writer understand how to keep their tenses consistent, how to avoid other basic grammatical errors, how to handle point of view issues, and also pacing, as with a relatively low word limit it’s often better to write in real time than attempt a saga covering decades. I was also wary of stories that broke the rules as regards word-count. Half a dozen words over? Fine. Different word processing programmes have different ways of counting, so that could account for small discrepancies, but 1200 words over in one case? Absolutely not.


That left me with a long list of about forty stories, all of them decent, to take on to my next round. Certain subjects cropped up frequently – in particular, there were a lot of relatives suffering from dementia. The problem with these was that most ended up relentlessly miserable, i.e depressing rather than cathartic – though there was one exception. At the other end of the scale were the humorous stories, and one in particular was very funny indeed. It takes guts to enter funnies into literary competitions, but if the quality of writing is there, go for it. As I whittled them down further, I was looking for stories that had strong, complex characters and multi-layered textures, stories that got under my skin, that I’d go to bed thinking about and would still be thinking about the next morning. My early favourite stayed with me. I must  have read it a dozen times, but with each re-read I saw additional layers in the text.


Stories that didn’t quite make my shortlist but which I’d like to mention because they had a lot going for them and are worth the authors re-visiting included: ‘Osmund the Mason’ – a charming tale with a convincing historical setting; ‘The Clown’s Boots’ which caught its protagonist’s angst perfectly; ‘What Happened At The Christmas Party’ – lightweight but well-observed; ‘Remembering the Song’ – a powerful and distinctive story, but it took too long to get going – cut the preamble a bit, and this one could easily be a winner; ‘The Raincoat’ – a chilling dystopian tale, which was let down because the ending didn’t quite convince; ‘Hair Will Out’ another one with a great idea but it felt like the writer had run out of steam at the end; and ‘Hear No Evil’, a highly original take on telepathy, and a genuinely charming tale.




My shortlist contained many stories I agonised over, wondering whether to move them up into the top prizes, but I had to come to a decision, so here are my three commended stories, all of which were well-crafted and engaging reads.


Waiting for Pogo’ – took a little while to establish the character, but her sadness and the tragedy of the situation were very well expressed and it never became mawkish. I cared about her, and that’s what matters, that’s what made the story.


The Procession’ – this one almost fell into the vignette category, but had just enough actual story to rescue it with superb descriptions and a keen eye for character. The father-son relationship was complex and well-observed, set in a fascinating and vivid context.


‘The Insect Man’ – this one felt uneven as regards pacing, but the descriptions of the ‘insect man’ himself were agonisingly good, and Gerald’s reaction to him utterly believable. The ending in particular was beautifully written. I believed every word.


My Highly Commended stories. These ones were just pipped at the post for the top places.


Watching’ – as mentioned earlier, there was a lot of dementia about this year. This was the story that made the theme work by using dementia to say something profound about love. The point of view was unusual, a brave choice on the writer’s part. It almost felt like a poem at times, with the repetition of the refrain: ‘I watch you, my love’ – that simple line encapsulating everything about the story. Beautiful, lyrical writing.


Headliners’ This one was a bit of a sleeper. It didn’t make much of an impression the first time I read it as I was going through looking for obvious errors. There weren’t any, so it moved on up the list. And it kept on moving, up and up, until on about the sixth read I thought, ‘hang on, this is really good’. Each time I re-read it I saw something I’d missed the first time and I started looking forward to the re-reads, to re-acquainting myself with the characters. Strong and subtle writing. Completely believable.


Contagion’ If there were a separate prize for the most tense ending, I think this one would win it. The reader doesn’t know whether to shout ‘Yes!’ or ‘NO!!’ but it’s certainly nothing in between – the story has reached such a pitch by that point, the ending is going to be agonising whatever happens. The story is a powerful dystopian vision, and I know dystopian visions are often described as ‘powerful’, but this one really deserves the epithet.


And so to my top three.


Third place goes to ‘In The Rear View’. This is a high speed roller-coaster of a story with a complex construction that requires the reader to slow down and concentrate, to think. You can’t skim this one. Every single word counts. The whole was perfectly judged, authentic, exciting, and an object lesson on how to develop character by dropping in back-story without ever letting the pace drop.


Second place goes to ‘Ball Break Hotel’. I snorted with laughter when I reached the punchline, so I really need to add a caveat here. Normally, I absolutely detest twist-in-the-tail, punchline endings as they’re often the last resort of the writer who knows how to tell one joke and writes an achingly slow story just to get to it. This story was nothing of the sort. It was funny throughout, genuinely funny. X-Men meets Travelodge. Superb – and I am so happy to see a humorous story written so well.


First place goes to ‘Bunjee’. It’s not often that I judge a short story competition and the winner is clear from the very first reading, but it was in this case. This rich, multi-layered story deals with the two very different worlds; that of the wealthy foreign tourists, and of the indigenous people whose home is the tourists’ playground – and what happens when these two worlds collide. The entire story takes place in the few moments of the bungee jump, when a tourist jumps from her world on the bridge at the top of the gorge, down to the world beneath. It is symbolic, powerful, poignant, but not without humour. A superb story in every way.

Catherine Edmunds 10th April 2015


Commended Stories

Penny Dale - ‘Waiting for Pogo

Ron Jones – The Procession

C G Lister – The Insect Man


Highly Commended Stories

Amanda Zaldua – Watching

Penelope Randall – Headliners

Josie Turner – Contagion


Third Prize

Peter Burns – In the Rear View


Second Prize

Steve Startup – Ball Break Hotel


First Prize

Ron Jones


Sentinel Writing Competitions |

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Sentinel Annual Poetry Competition 2014, Adjudication Report



This is the fifth consecutive Sentinel Annual Poetry Competition Nnorom has given me the honour of adjudicating. As in previous years, the standard of entries was high, and the task of choosing very challenging, but simultaneously pleasurable. I hope folk won’t mind if I use the occasion to explore the writing of free-verse, the chosen form of over 90% of the entry.
Throughout the Competition Adjudication the definition of poetry I used as the most relevant in giving a focus for my reading and choice is by the American poet and critic, Louis Simpson:
Poetry is thought expressed in rhythm.
What I like about this definition apart from its directness, its brevity and its memorability, is its comprehensive generosity, ideal for an Open Competition. It does not proscribe the type, quantity, quality or intensity of thought. There is no limit to its subject matter, either in type, scope or area – it can be philosophical, descriptive, narrative. Similarly, there is no delineation of its form or structure; no suggestion as to its audience, or its purpose. So the resulting poem can be about nuclear physics or feeding the cat; a religious experience or a political diatribe; an epitaph, sestina, sonnet, villanelle; aimed at the pre-school child, the adolescent, the lover, the mature reader …. It can be serious, questioning, challenging, shocking, humorous, amorous – whatever … But what is important is that the poem reveals and demonstrates processes and explorations of thought. And by thought, I infer that Simpson also includes emotion and imagination: both of which are realms of and/or adjuncts to thought. Thought possesses the dynamic of creative vitality: it moves, shifts, changes, clarifies, muddies, grows, shrinks … It doesn’t stand still. And thought, when shared with others, changes again, and takes on different and subtle levels and nuances of meaning according to the sensibilities and experiences of the reader. The writing of poetry, like the process of thought, is a dynamic activity, growing from an embryonic flickering (mood, phrase, emotion, notion, insight) and developing almost organically into different shapes via the varied processes of recording those very processes of growth and change. These explorations of creativity and emotional intensity, the writing down of thought, become simultaneously both the vehicle for the poem and the vessel in which it is contained. In other words, FORM and CONTENT are interdependent. And this is true in free-verse as well as poems in traditionally-structured prosody such as sonnets and villanelles.
The most important element of both that vehicle and vessel is what Simpson identifies as rhythm. And it is significant that he chooses this single stylistic device from a whole battery of formal constraints and techniques. But let’s be clear what we’re talking about. As I understand it, rhythm is not to be confused with metre. Metre is concerned with the repetition of patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables; whereas rhythm is the tempo of the movement of the words set in conjunction with thought and emotion, sense and feeling. Alter the context in terms of sense and/or emotion – say in an elegy or an ode as opposed to a satiric villanelle – and the same words containing the same number of syllables (stressed and/or unstressed, patterned or not) will be delivered in a different tempo, a varying pace: one that suits the content, and therefore the meaning – not one that suits the patterned structure of syllables. This subtle playing off of the movement of words to underpin sense and emotion constitutes rhythm. Integral to this is the fact that that the choice of diction for such (poetic) purposes as assonance, alliteration, or even just for the pure sound quality of the words as companion to sense/feeling, or for the effects to be gained from the juxtaposition of monosyllabic with polysyllabic words – this choice is in itself central to the tempo of the movement of the words, and contributive to the poem’s rhythmic quality.
What became apparent during the Adjudication process was that too few “would-be” poets have a “good” grasp of this, and in attempting to compose free-verse end up with a product that lacks rhythm and which constitutes little more than prose chopped-up arbitrarily into lines: the sort of stuff that gives modern poetry a very “bad” name. In free-verse what is crucial is the process of lineation (the splitting of the content into lines) a feature which has to be undertaken carefully. It is in no ways arbitrary or to be executed cavalierly. Lineation controls the shaping of the poem’s intellectual and emotional content, its pacing, and rhythmic pulse. Lineation, line-enjambment (the running-on of sense via broken and incomplete phrase or clause over the end of one line or verse-paragraph and on to the next), and the sensitive use of punctuation are essential in controlling the rhythmic pulse in free-verse and help to give it its special musical qualities that distinguish it from prose. All these affect the rhythm and the sense of the line, and, ultimately, the rhythm and sense of the poem. A simple way of monitoring this is to read the lines out loud and introduce the slightest of pauses on an upbeat at the end of the line even though the sense is continuous. Doing this will help to confirm the cadential rhythm or breathing pulse of the lines. Checking this rhythmic integrity will also simultaneously confirm matters of sense: you’ll be able to see whether the line-breaks work against the meaning by emphasising the “wrong” word or part of the sentence, or such things as the auxiliary verb being broken away from the participle, the (in)definite article/possessive pronoun/adjective left hanging mid-air from the noun. Once identified, such matters are easily rectified. This is why it is necessary to “listen” to the rhythm of the lines – a practice which I always apply as part of the adjudication process by reading the submitted poems out loud. (Hearing this from distant rooms, my close family think I’m on the verge of losing the plot!)
Probably the best way to demonstrate this issue of lineation and rhythm is to put these ideas into practice with an example. Using the approach outlined above, read these lines out aloud, at least twice:
A snake came
To my water-trough
On a hot, hot day,
And I in pyjamas
For the heat
Now, adopting the same strategy, read these lines again but with their original lineation:
A snake came to my water-trough
On a hot, hot day, and I in pyjamas for the heat,
To drink there.
I feel sure that readers are able to identify that there are subtle differences in texture, mood, and feeling between the two versions. And this is encapsulated in and emphasised by the differing rhythm of the lines – i.e. in the tempo of the movement of the words. Given that the tempo is dependent on the context of the sense and feeling behind the events being described, this particular lineation, subtle and pointed, has helped to communicate the thoughts and emotions that D. H. Lawrence wished to convey. And such subtlety lies at the heart of the poems chosen in the final stages of this competition – a clear indication that their authors had an effective understanding of this finely-nuanced creative process, and the way in which the HOW of the poem (its technical means) affects the WHAT (its message and meaning); and vice versa!
Now to the adjudication results:  
Commended Poems
Cousin Vera
Growing Pains
Lost Words
New Year’s Day
Old glass
Postcard from the Algarve
Richard’s Tooth
The Catch
The View from 92
Yeavering Bell Meets Goat Hill
Highly Commended Poems
First Sight of Leeds after Leaving the M1
Knots and Hitches
Night Notes on Sea (British Coast)
War Graves, the Devonshire Cemetery, Mametz
The Prize-Winners:
Third Prize
In 12 lines the poet creates a night-time landscape, and a sense of separation and loneliness that are made tenable and acceptable by a feeling of mutual trust, belonging and wonder. The description delineates with accuracy and precision the relationship between the sheep “like boulders rolled at random”; and the visiting narrator/owner “a statue at her gates”.  Interestingly it is the capturing of the correspondents as made of stone and non-animate material that confirms their bond, even to the final recognition that while others move and depart, “we hold on”. What supports this admirably is the mix of diction: from the quasi-philosophical - “trapped in the antique, silent protocol / of mutual, mute stare, an equipoise” - to the physical and vernacular as one sheep “scrambles, shining, to her pins” and marks her ground with a “rushing piss”. There is an acute awareness of the sharing of two very different and distinct worlds in a level of understanding that inhabits the sense of time and place. This understanding is made more focussed initially by the light shining from distant car headlights which “bleach the nearest ewe to brilliance” and bring her to the narrator’s world, only then to be placed back in the darkness when “car roars away”, leaving poet and sheep in an even tighter bond, “far from home tonight”. This is mature writing, beautifully poised and pointed, in which what is not said is as articulate as what is said: it is the absence of verbal communication that the poem celebrates in its awareness of the presence of a relationship that can know no language.
Second Prize
Initially I almost overlooked this entry, considering that its title was a “cop-out”, the penning of someone who hadn’t thought about the importance of titles, and who had little idea of the nature of poetry and poetry competitions. But how wrong could I have been; the title is so apposite that to have an alternative more attention-grabbing one would have done the poem a disservice. This is a superb example of an extended metaphor, skilfully, cleverly and adroitly created, through its use of parallel worlds of meaning, wordplay, puns, verbal ambiguity, cliché and imaginative probings. To explain its intricacies fully would be to undermine the poem’s artistic integrity and achievement: and, at times, such is the poet’s referencing that the reader has to supply his own interpretation of the parallels; and that’s a clever ploy, if not risk. In the hands of someone less skilful, this strategy might have backfired. Suffice it to say, the poem explores the birth of poetic creativity while simultaneously drawing on a religious context referenced, though not stated as such, by the Biblical emphasis on the link between God/Christ and language/word/belief: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” For Word and God, the poet asks us, read Poetry – hence the title. So, the miraculous birth of Christ (“factotum, carpenter, / weaver of words”) becomes the crucible for this poem produced in “a workshop”. There are times when the sheer mental agility of the poet’s imaginative creativity brought a smile to my face. However, more exemplary is the movingly- understated characterisation of the role of Mary and poet in this birth: the origin of poetic creativity shares similarity with the notion of the Annunciation: “where the seed came from was hard to tell”; so since “No-one accused her of cribbing it”, she “went along with something someone had told her”; and the “poem, true to its humble roots, hid its light / under a bushel”. There is something tremendously moving to the point of being unbearable in the concluding two lines:
Left her lonely at the last,
his hands full of nails.
I am humbled by this achievement: the birth of this poem.
First Prize
136 Jones, Paper-Boy
The title prepares the reader for the poem’s seeringly-critical analysis of the way in which humans are reduced to machines; and identity becomes a number and/or job-descriptor – one more man named Jones in a catalogue of enlisted Joneses - “the apprentice paper-hanger down from / Bawtry, or the newspaper lad from Leeds”- how effective are those place names in “locating” the poem’s 24-lined remit. Individualised only by civilian-profession, and a simultaneous reference to youth, this is the dispensable cannon-fodder of war; these “so many wonderful men”, the essential ingredient in social Darwinism. The adoption of the first-person soldier-narrator allows the use of a bluff sense of humour touched with class-jibing, and sarcastic probing. There is a clear growth of character here, including the use of a four-letter expletive, in no way gratuitous; and, despite the emphasis on the reductive nature of the war-machine, the creation of this individual soldier as a totemic young working-class combatant is masterly. This gives the poem tremendous authority and realism. The poem’s opening line, in its employment of the block capitals and diction of a boy’s comic, “Howl, HOWL, Whizbang!” immediately fixes the element of surrealism in the puerile and facile nature of the reality of war. Such is the layering of meaning throughout the poem that this “Howl” refers not only to the sound of war, but also to the shrieks of the soldiers, and the poet’s commentary on the waste of young blood. Similarly, the way in which class conflict is delineated and continues even during warfare is captured in the depiction of military order and discipline: “No Loitering / says my sergeant. Expectoration Forbidden / says Second Lieutenant Phipps”. The irony here resides in the fact that they cannot help but loiter for though “There is a bit of jostling, a little shove”, and “Chalky is upside down”, the soldiers “fall together, as if on feathers”, their “various pieces” “all present and incorrect, Sir”. The pacing, tone and sarcastic realism are captured skilfully in the use of casually-shifting sentences in which grammatical and verbal ambiguity coupled with the use of the demotic serve to underpin the satiric comment; and any anger is made palatable by the sardonic humour and litotes: “I feel a bit put out and want to pull myself together.” Such strategy means that the horror of events is understated: hinted at rather than graphically portrayed. And any reservation that the soldier/narrator being dead means there is an element of awkwardness or unreality in the poem is countered by remembering that Wilfred Owen’s Strange Meeting offers a precedent. Indeed, the ironic resolution and realisation of the poem’s final lines “the voices / whispering, ‘Sleep!’ … the body now beside me is my own” share elements with Owen’s strategy of the suspension of disbelief. The poet’s overall commentary about the lost seed of mankind, the demise of hope and youth, and the resolution of death as peace combine to create a disturbing work, which is both intellectually and emotionally questioning, and simultaneously life-confirming in its concern for humanity. This is an impressive poem; enviable in both its conception and its realisation!
Congratulations go to all the authors of Commended and Prize-Winning poems, and my thanks to all competitors for allowing me to share their worlds, thoughts, their laughter, tears and concerns: I learn such a lot from their writing. Finally, my thanks to Nnorom for honouring me with this assignment and for his continuing confidence in my judgement!
Three cheers for poetry! Long may the Sentinel Poetry Movement flourish!
Roger Elkin, 1st March 2015