South Downs Poetry Prize June 2017 – Judge Jackie Wills
Results and judge’s report
First prize: Meath Street horses by Jane Lovell (scroll down for the poem)
Second prize: The firetale by Caroline Hammond
Third prize: As she lay dying by Camilla Lambert
Best poem by a young poet: sounding paper by Miriam Briggs
Best poem by an unpublished poet: Ardnamurchan by Alison Carter
A bend in the river by William David
Blackbird by Emma-Jane Hughes
Brickies by John Foggin
Channel Crossing June 1940 by Camilla Lambert
Dead Moments by Tess Adams
Does it Jiggle? by Louisa Campbell
It must be like standing on a hill side by Dawn Gorman
My Country by John Foggin
Spring End by Alison Carter
The poems that made up my longlist as I did the first major sift through the submissions, caught my attention for a number of reasons: the language or subject of the poem was distinctive, I felt transported into the life of the poem, I wanted to read more by this writer.
I enjoyed tender poems, one or two light and funny love poems, some experimental submissions. Others dealt with difficult subjects – rape, death, terminal illness. There was a seam of poems that were pretty pessimistic about the planet.
Spending time with the longlist and then my shortlist gave me a sense of camaraderie with the poems, as if we were all part of a community, and indeed we are – the South Downs Poetry Festival.
The three winners and commended poems all have a distinctive quality that set them apart over several readings and siftings. These poems have stamina and demand to be re-read.
First Meath Street Horses by Jane Lovell
The energy in this poem is tangible. There’s no punctuation or capital letters to hold it up, this poet keeps the language and form as unfettered as possible – it’s buzzing and alive, a celebration of freedom, while making an important point about the homogenisation of culture.
Second The firetale by Caroline Hammond
This is another uplifting poem written as if it was a fable, quirky, tight and also really well constructed. This poem celebrates song, love, compassion and spirituality. Its final image offers a flash of red, an image of hope.
Third As she lay dying by Camilla Lambert
This poem builds, layering a life stanza by stanza with resonant detail and language. It is a musical poem and a lament. It is true, honest and loving. It celebrates memory, landscape and life, while still mourning.
Young poet prize sounding paper by Miriam Briggs
This poem stood out because of its confidence and intense focus on the moment. It explores creativity and metaphysics, it shows, even echoes, a creative experience unfolding. This poet has a great future.
Best by unpublished poet Ardnamurchan by Alison Carter
This poem has sureness of touch and control of language, image and emotional tone. It was a top three contender and stood out on first reading because the voice is so confident, the imagery so suggestive.
A Bend in the River by William David: This poem is tender but unsentimental. It holds a moment in time and the poet takes us there quietly.
Blackbird by Emma-Jane Hughes: I was drawn to its quirkiness, the oddness of the encounter it describes. It’s modern and celebrates people. An uplifting poem.
Brickies by John Foggin: There aren’t enough poems about work and I’ve never found one about bricklayers. This caught my eye from the start. It goes a very long way.
Channel Crossing June 1940 by Camilla Lambert: This is a historical poem but its subject, a sea crossing from occupied France, is very relevant today. It’s powerful and well written.
Dead Moments by Tess Adams: This poem holds itself upright until the final line, so pushes the reader back to the start to re-think the experience. Its impact is therefore doubled.
Does it Jiggle? by Louisa Campbell: This is so uplifting and witty, I’d like it on my fridge. It nods to Emily Dickinson, it’s brave and totally accessible. A great idea and playful.
it must be like standing on a hill side by Dawn Gorman: This is quiet, poignant and well crafted. So much is unsaid but the poet’s skill ensures the reader understands viscerally.
My Country by John Foggin: It was a pleasure to read this political poem, which quietly conveys change and encourages the reader to dream.
Spring End by Alison Carter: This poem’s distinguished by its confident voice, celebrating communal baths while maintaining a complex sense of threat. Beautifully made.
Jackie Wills, Brighton, May 2017.
Meath Street Horses – First Prize Winner
we ride them hard, these gypsy mares
high as cowboys
yipping up the tired air, the tired light
pools of glimming oil shattered by hooves
cracking past streets of boarded up lives
candy-black graffiti, roaming feral dogs
the old years hanging in doorways
all blown smoke and narrowed eyes
we know the score
catch us hard-arsing it past St Catherine’s
her plumes of flame and bright glass cracking
the font shizzy with smashed ice
we are kings of the backstreets: the piebald,
the proud, eyes fixed the long o’the street
that window to a tiny sky, the moment wound
tight round our bitten hands
them and us, we’re brazen as hell
we don’t know
we never seen what’s beyond