Competition Report 2024

Around a month ago, 325 poems appeared on my doorstep and I welcomed them into my house. Over the next 30 days, as I got to know them, I was amazed by their range and diversity. They came in many forms – pantoums, villanelles, ghazals, quatrains, haiku, freeform, sonnets, clerihews, abecedarians, odes and rap - and their warmth and inventiveness filled my days. During the first sift I weeded out any that I felt hadn’t quite achieved what they had set out to do. The next sift, down to 30 poems, was even harder. Many that I felt were now old friends had to be stringently tested against the competition guidelines. Getting down to the 10 finalists was harder still and I had to steel myself to say goodbye to some of my favourites; but at last the job was done. 


There are seven Highly Commended. In no particular order they are: 


Double Exposure – a pantoum about memories whose concrete images stay vividly in my mind. 

Forgiving You – a beautifully subtle Shakespearian sonnet on how time, and a river trip, can lead to old hurts being swept away. 

The Grey Cat – in its ‘pelt of grey smoke’ which is determined to haunt the poet, even from next door. 

Hope – in the form of a flock of goldfinches who ‘bedazzle’ a drab day ‘with things that seem impossible…’. 

He Challenged Me To Write a Villanelle – a stark warning about crossing someone who is tough enough to ‘work in personnel’. 

Per ardua ex aspidistra – another stark warning, this time about crossing a lover of fuchsias. 

Sheeps – a poem whose language/dialect defied definition and therefore hooked me in with its strangeness. The herd ‘warm-bundled at dawn’, the dogs who lie ‘bone-chavelling’ and the ‘grain-bellied’ geese. 


Third place: 

there’s more than one way to smile – this has to be the best list poem I have ever read. Its 26 lines describe a host of different smiles so creatively that I was utterly enchanted. Each line is a tiny vignette told with wit and precision: ‘an i-spy smile keeps dark secrets’ and ‘a do-or-die smile skis off-piste’. There isn’t a weak line (or even half line) in the whole poem and the ending is so knowing, it turned my smile into a laugh of recognition. Congratulations to this poet for such an original and well-achieved poem. 


Second place: 

Jeff Does Poetry – the familiar ‘poetry workshop’ poem but done with such gusto and flair, it totally captivated me. Undeterred by the group’s lacklustre feedback on his sonnet, the hapless Jeff plunges on into other (even harder) forms such as the villanelle, sestina and ghazal – ‘Even knowing how to say it was an irksome little puzzle’. I loved the confidence and brio of this poem, the rhyme scheme of five stanzas of aaabb (a Triple Rebel Round) worked very well and the rhymes themselves – ‘Sonnet/ bonnet/ on it’ and ‘Sestina/ Bettina/ seen her’ – were rib-ticklingly good. It was the one poem that made me laugh out loud however many times I read it. 


First place: 

Imposter syndrome another poem about poetry, this time a hugely accomplished homage to that most famous of villanelles, Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘One Art’. I loved the intertextuality and tongue-in-cheek wit, acknowledging the incestuous nature of a poem about imposter syndrome being an imposter itself. For all its humour, the poem contains many insights we can all relate toOther’s knowledge always seems much vaster/ and everything you say is unprofound.’ Taking some rhyme words from the original – ‘master/ faster/ disaster’ – the poet branches out into half rhymes with ‘imposter/ muster/ bluster’, keeping the irony of the original while putting their own very stylish spin on it in pretty well near perfect iambic pentameterWell done indeed! 


Many thanks to all who sent in poems and to Martin McGovern for running this unique and very special competition. 



Jenny Lewis 


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