Thursday, 4 January 2018

Results and Judge's Report, SPM Publications Poetry Book Competition 2017


First Prize  

Molly Donachie - Icarus 

For the main part, the poems in this collection inhabit a world of private and personal events and memories, many of which are written about in epigrammatic structures using freshly-minted and freely-associative imagery. The subject matter centres on intimate moments – small domestic matters such as the significance of a trailing thread, the challenge of running for a bus, the desire of mothers wanting to join in with a game of skipping-rope. This exploration of everydayness with its possibilities, accidents and contradictions is couched in fine detail which reveals the innernesses of things, the otherwise unknown or unperceived. This is particularly so in a series of family poems in which the reader is allowed only a partial glimpse into distant memories and happenings, so for example we don’t know the full story of Auntie Feenie’s life, but are there to share her resilient fight against authority and her refusal to give in. Exploring more generally-experienced concerns, several poems make reference to Biblical and classical personages and events (Solomon, Achilles, Troy, and Icarus in the imaginatively-perceptive title-poem), or more recent cultural icons (St Therese of Carmel, Marilyn Monroe, and Lech Walesa); and others focus on the worlds of artists (Breughel, van Gogh, Klee, Giacometti, Callum Innes, and Cezanne visiting Pissarro) in which the descriptions of the painter’s craft, dedication and insights are used to illustrate and illuminate the everyday. Of the poems using the natural world as backcloth for the human dilemma, two deserve particular mention. In Moon Halo, the effective description of the halo-ed moon widens to make reference to the nativity of Christ, “a halo-ed babe”, and then expands to an all-embracing concern of mothers for their new-born children. In Camouflage, another moon, this time “hazy”, serves as a vehicle to introduce a catalogue of actions of deception in both the human and animal world, the latter skilfully and sensitively described with exact verbal precision and rich diction. The writing throughout the collection is confident and authoritative, and there is a tone of hushed questing and questioning, of probing boundaries beyond the reach of secretiveness. This is an intriguing and satisfying collection, whose treasures are revealed by careful and repeated readings. It should be on every poetry lover’s reading list.

 Second Prize 

 Konstandinos Mahoney - Tutti Frutti 

This is challenging and rewarding poetry which engages the reader by its startling juxtaposition of the familiar with the new. In several poems, mythical referencing is refashioned into contemporary events, so that the imagined past brings its pains and mystery to consequence in an occasional nightmarish present; for example, the story of Poseidon is used to comment on the bed-bathing of a wheel-chaired father in moments of “crippled tenderness”; while a black boy falling to his suicidal death in Mortlake is depicted as a modern-day Icarus. In others, the presentation of separate lives and experiences running contiguously is employed to explore the tenuous hold on reality, so in Hell’s Kitchen combat soldiers (“each with a curved blade” and a “personal butcher for every man”) viewed while TV channel-hopping are paralleled with a celebrity chef showing “how to butterfly lamb”. Other poems, located both at home or in far-flung places (among them, the Far East, Greece, Prague and Canada), explore the complexities of emotionally-close relationships: the needs of love, and losing love, the ache of separateness, and the desires and pains between estranged people and generations. The cultural referencing ranges widely: from Mozart, Oscar Wilde, E. M Forster, via Roger Bacon and Cavafy, to Little Richard, Cliff, The Sugarbabes and popular songs such as “I do like to be beside the seaside”, and is used to explore issues shared in place and time with ordinary people. Throughout, the writing is disciplined and mature. Its penetrating observations are detached and assured and recorded in sensory detail couched in imaginatively-coined imagery, honed by wit. This is a remarkable collection which demands close and repeated reading.

 Third Prize  

John Lindley - Love & Crossbones 

This collection is the work of a committed writer who is building on the poetic tradition to open challenging insights into what it is to be human. The resultant variety of subject matter is handled with imagination, verbal precision and originality of imagery in a range of poetic forms from tightly-structured sonnets to lengthy free-verse celebrations which, at times, approach the level of mantra. Several poems probe issues of religious and spiritual faith, both personal and public, in a searching and essentially positive manner. Others offer tender and vivid portrayals of family members, and explore the boundaries between generations and gender in a fusion of humour, wit and delicate suggestibility. There are moving memorials to “names carved in stone” and “the unknown voices” of the dead of the First World War, and the Grenfell Tower fire respectively. Other poems are peopled by a gallery of notables: among them, Heads of State (Napoleon, George VI, and J. F. Kennedy); film stars (Micky Rooney, Fay Wray and King Kong); artists (van Gogh, and Toulouse Lautrec); poets (John Keats, Emily Dickinson, Christina Rossetti, Walt Whitman, and Edward Lear); novelists (Mark Twain, J.M. Barrie, Lewis Carroll, J.D. Salinger, and R. L. Stevenson); and, most notably, popular singers and performers (Paul Simon, Bessie Smith, Buddy Holly, Hank Williams, Eddie Cochran and Elvis) – notably because, above everything else, this poetry sings! All the crafting techniques of rhyme, metre, rhythm, alliterative and assonantal patterning are skilfully employed to create memorable and life-affirming poems that have a propulsive energetic drive. This rich collection is powerful and moving. Buy it; read it; cherish it!

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