It was good to see a variety of forms represented, including the traditional (sonnet, haibun) traditionally frivolous (limerick), repeating (pantoum, rondeau), and plenty of others, though free-form and blank verse were also well-represented.
There were some common themes - since the entrants are all poets, it should come as no surprise that poetry about poems and the writing process were popular. There were several entries replying to well-known poets – to Wordsworth on daffodils, to Keats on ceramics, and two divergent views on how the marriage of Lear’s Owl and Pussycat turned out. The nature of the Charm Poetry Competition possibly encouraged the channelling of writers’ inner Ogden Nash, or Spike Milligan - the animal kingdom featured strongly. Vertebrates dominated, though we were happy to see the starfish, and the usually vilified or ignored wasp. Animal types included domestic (cats and dogs), domesticated (sheep and goats), and a range of mammals of different sizes: the familiar African bestiary of lions, rhinos and elephants, and smaller mammals such as lemmings - twice. Birds were represented by members of the corvid family in particular.
Unsurprisingly, Covid-19 and lockdown featured strongly too. Sometimes addressing the damage done, but in other poems, examining the side-effects – enforced domesticity, greater bonding, rediscovering nature, or the strange news items that couldn’t have happened before.
Competition reports usually contain a description of the assessment process – how a judge takes a field of nearly 250 entries and reduce them to a handful. And the usual approaches were followed here – read, wait a while, re-read, all the time, asking questions. Does this jump off the page? Does it jar? Has it been carved, like sculpture, so that only the essential remains? What impression is left after a second reading, or a third?
At times, I felt envious of those judging ‘heaviest vegetable’ competitions, because judging poetry will always be a subjective matter. With that disclaimer out of the way, here are my thoughts on the winning entries.
American humourist James Thurber said ‘Let us not look back in anger, or forward in fear, but around in awareness’. In ‘Anti-viral’, John Ling gave voice to Thurber’s wish, to describe the warmth and joy of a human relationship, and its ultimate triumph over Covid and the associated damage it has caused for so many.
Many poets use visual language to describe the world. Victoria Sherratt takes a different approach in ‘Sound Supermarket’, and addresses a world in which we can shop for sounds. This results in a fresh and more intimate view – or perhaps, hearing – of an everyday trip to the shops.
An aim of the Charm Poetry competition is to promote poetry filled with warmth, whimsy, wit and wordplay. Andrew Wilson successfully rose to the challenge with his poem ‘Once upon a Llama’ – turning up the tension – and the wordplay – steadily, until the reader is totally captivated by an unusual telephone conversation.
You can read the winning poems here.