Competition Report 2023

 It was an honour to be invited to judge Charm: this competition’s remit of warmth, wordplay, wit and whimsy celebrates both the reader’s and the writer’s delight and enjoyment of poetry. In late April this year, I received 250 poems to read, and a month’s sheer entertainment followed.

The focus of the competition was the main guideline, and as I read my way through the poems, I found I was also looking for a relish in language, the joyful and unexpected surprise that rhyme and rhythm can give, and the laughing out loud that can only come unbidden. The criterion of warmth gave an unexpected layer to the judging process: kindness, or regret, or acknowledgment of the human condition, was present in the tone of the majority of the poems which made it to the final 30. Reading the poem out loud was a crucial part of the decisionmaking: did I stumble or lose interest? Did I find that the rhythm became pedestrian, or missed a beat? Or did I find myself reading with energy and instinct? What happened at the end: did a moment of rest and silence follow or was I thinking, so what?

Many entries showed confidence in using established forms, including the villanelle and the sonnet. Hats off to the entrant who mastered the triolet. The range of subject matter was simply enormous, from rain to spoonerisms, from old age to vertigo, from DM boots to Zeus, from paper towels to snails, from sheep to custard. Political satire is alive and well, as is feminist satire. Comedy remains a clear lens to see, to hold and reflect on tragedy.

The three commended poems are focussed, lucid, coherent and confident. They demonstrate an effortless form arising from their subject matter, rhythm, rhyme and word play. Sharing an Apple with a Horse gives simple imagery the power of clear windows to highlight a political message of justice and equity. The very title of Argumend contains the irony of the poem: the possibility of mending and a hesitant way forward contained in a recurrent argument that’s become a game. Apparently throws the emphasis onto the small, unnoticed words contained in common place sayings – “they”, “time”, “you” – as a springboard to a devil-may-care ending.

And now for the winners. Both Third and Second Prize poems are characterised by a distinctive and energetic flamboyance. In third place, Aerodonetics for Beginners has a glorious, fast and leaping narrative, dramatic vistas of language which echo Gerard Manley Hopkins, and a brilliant feminist twist at the end. In second place, Soulmates is a witty, rhyming gallop through Shakespeare with love as the finishing line, which still had me laughing the fifth time I read it.

Perhaps it is surprising then, that Meet Me In The Chippy, in first place, has a much gentler atmosphere. The poet acknowledges the debt to John Clare’s pastoral love poem, Meet Me In the Green Glen, and brings that same rooted sense of place to a very different setting: the teenage ordinariness of the chip shop. As well as funny, the poem is illuminated by a love which is kind, true and timeless, and in its final stanza, transcendent.

Finally, I’d like to thank the poets who gave such pleasure, and the competition organisers for inviting me as judge.

Alice Willington

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