Bradford on Avon Arts Festival Flights of Fancy Poetry Competition. Judge: Carrie Etter
There was a brilliantly buzzy atmosphere at the packed Bradford on Avon Arts Festival Poetry Competition Finals event on Sunday September 17th. Seven of our 11 finalists came to read their poems, Paul Brokensha kindly read poems by some of those who couldn't make it, and our judge Carrie Etter treated us to a hugely entertaining 'Flights of Fancy' set, having realised to her surprise that much of her work fits naturally into that category.
In her comments about the judging process, she commented that the final decision "was excruciating". She added "I read and re-read the final 11 poems so many times, the decision was needle-thin - and that is how it should be." Addressing the finalists, she said "If you got this far, you're a winner, all of you."
The placings were as follows:
First prize (£500):
Eric Berlin, NY, USA - Weird Sisters
Second prize (£150):
David Van-Cauter, Hertfordshire - Leakage
Third prize (£100):
Penny Hope, East Sussex - Climbing Girl
Ama Bolton, Somerset - Greyhaar, City of Sea Mist
Iris Anne Lewis, Gloucestershire - A Hot Summer Day in Cougnac
Zoe Siobhan Howarth-Lowe, Cheshire - When NASA Finishes Mining
Jill Munro, East Sussex - Ptarmigan
Kerry Priest, Devon - Debussy Writes Images
Lesley Saunders, Berkshire - Glass Man
Natalie Whittaker, Kent - Thoughts Are Origami Birds
Local Prize Winner (art work of his poem, plus bubbly):
Darius Victor Snieckus, Bradford on Avon - Rising
Huge congratulations to them all.
I was particularly thrilled to note that no less than three of the finalists have been along to Words & Ears events - out of 610 entries from all corners of the UK, many parts of Europe, Australia and the US, I think that's pretty impressive! And one of those, Lesley Saunders, was the winner of our poems-on-a-beermat competition three years ago.
A massive personal thank you to Carrie Etter for being such an enthusiastic, supportive and wonderfully efficient judge (and for not panicking when I let her know how the entries suddenly went into overdrive in the final week of the competition!). Thanks also to Alex Kay, Deputy Mayor of Bradford on Avon, for officially opening the finals event, and for her artistic response to our local winner's poem, which made for a unique and gorgeous prize; to Eve Slater, the Arts Festival Chairman, for agreeing to take the competition under the festival's erm, Flights of Fancy wing in the first place; to Nick Fitzpatrick, for his patience and calm in handling the on-line payments, and to Crysse Morrison for the photos of the finals night. And, of course, thank you to YOU, if you entered, shared details of the competition or supported us in any other way. It could not have happened without you.
So, here are the poems...
First Prize - Eric Berlin
'I have walked through many lives, some of them my own...'
- Stanley Kunitz
Applause can only last so long, so the last few steps
he takes in silence, the oldest poet alive,
to the podium, where, with a palm, he irons
the crease from his poems and the microphone
broadcasts the intricate crinkling, but all I see from the edge
of the crowd, where I stand on a tent peg, hand
on a cable, is the backs of heads, row on row stacked
like cantaloupes sinking in sweetness. You don't want
to spin him over, someone pleads behind me, and I turn
to see the shortest of three small girls, who've encircled a planter
flooded with run-off from last night's rain. Flip him, she says,
and the tallest, whose back is to me, takes a stick
they must have snapped from a sapling, a twist of white wood
where they fatigued it free, and stirs the brown swill, the charms
on her wrist clacking, until in the space between them
a drowned mouse bobs by. Look, it's got such skinny fingers,
the middle one says, as she lowers a chokecherry towards its mouth,
and that's when the one whose face I haven't seen yet
Second Prize - David Van-Cauter (with huge apologies to David for my website's inability to cope with his long lines and the spacing across the page of the final three)
..8am, no sun, ash sky, train tracks and my neighbour's headphones leaking tinny drum and bass,
as you are jammed between commuters, your arms pinned, red-faced,
trying not to cry, for blood tests, misplaced information, the weeks and months ahead.
Today I smell everything - Strepsils, curry, fresh paint, the still air on the bus. A woman boards,
a sign around her neck claiming Jesus Is Our Saviour. We move off, as an ageing Rastafarian
on the street stumbles, lugging a huge white wooden cross. I take your hand.
The sun appears at noon. We have been deferred, referred, talk now of dining tables,
new shoes, pints of milk. But I can feel the grass under the pavement, pushing at the cracks, touching the skin at the base of my feet, and voices in the air pressing my face.
Words leak out
but we don't
let them in
Third Prize - Penny Hope
Imagine her trapped within the chimney,
her limbs bent to fit the angles of the flue.
Listen to the quiet wheezing of her song:
Soot Oh, Sweep Oh! Soot Oh, Sweep Oh!
Imagine, now, the bird which her hand
has found among the debris of a nest.
A black bird; not seen, but felt, within
the dark; its feather-warmth, its trembling.
When her Master comes, Soot Oh, Soot!
When Joe comes limping, Sweep Oh!
They'll tug at her feet and prise her gently
into the free air. Imagine her imagining.
She is Jack-in-the-Green, she is dancing
in her leaves. My heart lives in a tree!
She mustn't struggle or the falling dust
will smother her. Imagine all the kinds
of dark she knows in her narrow chamber.
She is tired of coughing, tired of climbing.
The bird throbs with silent song. Imagine
the song dying, the fear dying in her hand.
Local Prize - Darius Victor Sneickus
Rising out of the supersensible oil-
lensed foam, the frog lazily turns its pale
belly to the light, buoyed by swell in the flood
at the drain-mouth, as bathwaters, unplugged,
rush down from above, fetal webbed fingers
splayed, its round eyes seeing only dark water.
A bee, droning, floats by while the blanched
spring sun climbs through the branches
of the lilac tree, so late to leaf this year.
At the foot of the low wall, on the manure-
cut, re-seeded soil, a pair of blind, bent-kneed
fledglings lie, in the flesh, side by side,
like stones, alive with clambering flies
leaping into brief orbit from the two bodies.
High Commended - Natalie Whittaker
Thoughts are Origami Birds
tied to the tree that branches from my scalp.
They snap from their strings in the lightest wind.
Sometimes I can hear a real bird singing:
lost beneath the papery flapping
of those folded mathematical birds
and the rasp of branches scraping the sky.
High Commended - Iris Anne Lewis
A hot summer day in Cougnac
The cave is cool and spacious.
I see a frieze: mammoths,
and two wounded men,
spears thrust in their sides.
Two red-coated pillars
of calcite frame
And I remember a hot summer day
when I took refuge
in a cool country church.
Pillars of fluted stone
framed a cross
and a wounded man,
his side gashed by a spear.
Above him, in stained glass,
And now, in Cougnac,
I look at the ibex
but see the Lamb.
High Commended - Zoe Siobhan Howarth-Lowe (apologies to Zoe Siobhan for my website's inability to cope with the long lines of her prose poem).
When NASA Finishes Mining
There used to be craters on the moon, now the moon is a crater. Carved out, mined of all its juices, it remains derelict. Too light to continue to orbit: it just hangs, skeletal and listless. Unable to wax or wane, its cycle broken.
Tidal-confusion grips the ocean below. Trapped, neither flowing in nor out, unable to turn yet trying to. Turning itself one way, then the next, like an uncomfortable sleeper, too hot inside its own shape.
I sit, bare-footed, on night-dewed grass, sniffing out the hot-salt of the ocean that cannot rest, the orange-rind moon above. I too am neither one thing, nor another. I whisper to the blades of grass, tap on the earth, and wait for the flowers that will never come.
High Commended - Lesley Saunders
The war peters out in ruined orchards, faint sounds
of rubble settling in the dead hours, a metallic smoulder
on the edge of towns. Then plague. These are the years
when a man might dream his body is as frail as butter,
lighter than a feather, that his head will roll, that his brain
and bones have turned to glass. He knows he'll shatter
at a touch, he's an exploding teardrop, a flawed solitaire.
Hiding his face in crystalline hands, he falls and falls
through the cloudless houses of his body, half-blinded
by their brittle brilliance. A gift of vision, say physicians,
to scry the soul with such clarity, such self-clairvoyance:
but he only stares at his feet and sees the melting sand
in which he stands, the lime-pits, the flame-throwers.
High Commended - Ama Bolton (again, apologies to Ama for my website's inability to cope with the long lines of her prose poem).
Greyhaar, city of sea-mist
You will ride north for weeks before you reach the city of Grayhaar. When you arrive, the chances are you will not see its full glory. The granite castle's crenelated roof-line, the towers and spires and domes of the city's churches and temples, the ornamented parapets of the buildings of state, the upper storeys of the tall narrow houses, all are obscured by fog. Wagons drawn by shaggy oxen will rumble out of the sea-fret, pass you by and disappear. You will not see ships but you will hear the voices of mariners and kittiwakes. You will not see the grey-green waters of the estuary but you will smell pitch and rotting seaweed. You will not see the summit of the extinct volcano that sits incongruously within the city's walls. At midwinter the noonday light is a mere lessening of the gloom.
For one month at midsummer the city sparkles in cloudless sunshine. Trees break into blossom and the slopes of the volcano are covered in wild flowers whose fragrance fills the air. Butterflies and song-birds flock from the south. The citizens are freed from toil by the arrival of itinerant workers. Minstrels and mountebanks throng the city squares. In place of drab work-wear everyone puts on bright clothes. It is a brief and hectic season of wooing and wedding, of dancing in the streets and merrymaking late into the summer-dim. You may wonder why the citizens stay there year after year. It is said that the joy they know during that single month of summer more than compensates for eleven months of dreary weather, and that indeed the pleasure of anticipation is one of the greatest benefits of life in Grayhaar.
Judge's Report - Carrie Etter
Eric Berlin's Weird Sisters, with its fluency and precision, richly visualizes the scene of a poetry reading only to take us to a place of mystery and potential menace.
Ama Bolton's Greyhaar, City of Sea-Mist is reminiscent of Italo Calvino's masterpiece, Invisible Cities, as both illuminate how place can create culture.
Penny Hope's Climbing Girl lyrically, inventively imagines a girl and a bird in an unexpected struggle.
Zoe Siobhan Howarth-Lowe's original prose poem When NASA Finishes Mining borders on speculative fiction, imagining what would become of our world without a moon.
Iris-Anne Lewis's beautifully paced poem, A Hot Summer Day in Cougnac, blurs the line between sight and perception in spiritual experience.
Jill Munro's Ptarmigan imaginatively considers the power of names and naming. Indeed, we 'become' our names.
Kerry Priest's Debussy Writes Images tenderly evokes how musical composition creates another world.
Lesley Saunders' Glass Man powerfully explores what happens when a man seems to become what he feels in the aftermath of war.
Darius Victor Snieckus' Rising richly evokes the extraordinary in the animal life around us.
David Van-Cauter's Leakage, uses four sections to create a compelling montage in which the everyday collides with the threat of illness.
Deceptively brief, Natalie Whittaker's poem, Thoughts Are Origami Birds brings together real and figurative birds in a way that is both intriguing and provocative.