Competition Report 2022

‘Tradition is not the repository of ashes but the preservation of fire,’ as Gustav Mahler once apparently wrote, and there was plenty of poetic fire, traditional and otherwise, in this year’s entries to Charm.

Our winner Vijaya Venkatesan goes far into the past for inspiration, all the way to the Phoenicians, before stopping over in the fourteenth century on her way back and almost cutting off her oxygen supply in the process (that’ll teach you). What I liked was the way this poem, Boustrophedon, forces us to read very carefully and wears its learning light-heartedly. I’m wondering when the word boustrophedon was first coined and which genius was responsible – probably already realizing how useful it would be for poetry competition entrants in 2022 and having a quiet chuckle to her (or more likely him) self as the eureka moment struck. A scholar in the great library at Alexandria perhaps, in a comfortable fug among the papyri, thrilled not to be outside working the plough yet aware of the need to appear severely stressed by his own kind of heavy working-from-home sort of labour.  We know what he was up to.

 The question asked by second prize winner Siobhan Flynn in Tall Old Ladies is one I’ve been asking since I grew threateningly tall myself. Where in heaven will we go? Well most likely not heaven. I fear it won’t be pretty. The shawl for crawling in will probably be delivered by Amazon Prime any day (that’s why I don’t have Amazon Prime) and the hole for huddling in will promptly yawn wide.  I liked the way this poem was funny all the way to the end, and the line ‘a brave cohort to thwart the short’ is an absolute zinger.

 Third prize, Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day by Kelly Davis, kept to its Shakespearean model but had a nice contemporary relaxed flavour which put me a little in mind of Wendy Cope.  ‘One moment summer’s here and then it’s not’ – indeed!

 The five commended poems were, obviously, close contenders.  They were all amusing and a little left field, from the single sock caught up in an art installation at the Slade to a sonnet that starts with a found line about a car park lingerer, while the sneaky intrusiveness of supermarket vouchers has been crying out for artistic investigation for some time. And some shaped poems too – impressive language games.

 As someone who has gone in for poetry competitions herself and sometimes felt quite aggrieved that her perfectly good poem was not even listed by some fool of a judge, I found the process of selection very illuminating. There were, for example, several accomplished poems that were just too deeply reflective in tone, or too free to meet this particular brief, and others which were excellent in places but didn’t keep the standard up right through to the end. There were also poems that were extremely well-constructed but where – for my taste – form had strangled content. Despite what Mahler said about tradition being the preservation of fire, inviting a traditional form into a poem can sometimes be a bit like inviting relatives you know will never want to leave unless you show them a firm hand or invent an emergency – maybe a fire. But of course as we all know the process of judging is highly subjective, so please forgive me my oversights and thank you for sharing your poems.




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