Full colour photo of tiny red apples gleaming on a tree (they are actually crab apples)Competition 18 Winner: ‘21st October: An Apology’

We had 55 entries this time round, and the standard of entry was the highest since these competitions began, so judging was daunting. It seems that people not only like sonnets, but that many of them can excel in this form. It’s not that hard to pen a sonnet. But it’s not in the least easy to do it well.

After much thought, the competition judge, Charlotte Gann, has reached a decision, and this is what she has to say:

There were many interesting sonnets sent in for this competition. It was hard to whittle them down. And in the end, this shortlist came down to personal taste as much as anything.

I loved ‘1. Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II is bored’, by Tristram Fane Saunders, (taken from, purportedly, ‘A Brief History of the Bad Sonnet’). It’s fun, and it’s funny, and it’s beautifully enacted. The first line – ‘However loathsome Rome may seem, Sicily / is worse’ – sets a splendid pace, and nowhere does the poem falter. Or disappoint. The rhyme of ‘Sicily’ with ‘pissily’ is typically fine.

‘John and Catherine’, by Morven Leese, is one of those poems where the title and the body sit in stimulating balance. The title conjures a couple – who share (or shared?), perhaps, a long life together. The poem itself operates elsewhere. It begins: ‘Celestial bodies once by chance combined / when hurtling through the heavens gathering force / their orbits met and clashed.’ This could all so easily spin off course. It doesn’t.

‘Companion’, by Joanna Watson, is a poem that struck me for its clarity and simplicity. The companion addressed throughout is, the final word of the sonnet confirms, ‘loneliness’. The whole poem moves me: ‘In noise, in hush, you listen; feel the pain / of lives suspended in monotony.’

‘Perhaps we did’, by D.A. Prince, is, I guess, a poets’ poem – in the sense its subject is a walk home, down ‘the street slick-wet from rain’, after a poetry reading. I liked it especially because it made me think, and I could relate strongly to it. I like the way its author is holding at least three different trains of thought, while pursuing one central question…. Clever, compelling and ultimately I think, compassionate.

‘Old Sludge Beds’, by Mark Totterdell, is beautifully executed. Wonderfully written. I love its sounds and echoes. Just look how the scene is set: ‘The former sewage settlement lagoons, / a wasteland wedged between the river’s curves / and an elbow of equivalent canal’. I like writing that finds beauty in the ordinary, or ugly – here, I think, how beauty might operate among the rubble of sludge.

I really liked ‘Sisyphus’, by Carl Tomlinson, a poem drawing on the character of Greek mythology condemned forevermore, futilely and repeatedly, to push his boulder up hill. The poem (which I imagine plays on Camus’ reinterpretation of the myth) contains the glorious lines: ‘This is not some comically cone shaped pre- / perspective pointy painting of a hill’. And I love its reframing of grim fate; ‘He gets to choose the way, to take all day…’; then ‘The struggle is enough to fill a heart’. It’s a poem that lifted my day – and I love every word of the sestet.

My winner came to me more slowly. ‘21st October An Apology’, by Kathy Pimlottstarts ‘The air thins.’ and ends ‘Is it time?’ Between these two three-word bookends comes a delicate and reverential love poem, apparently, to an English apple. Perhaps what I like most is the bated breath of the poem, the suspension in the one moment at dusk in which the sonnet is set – a moment with the writer’s hand raised ‘to cup and test’ the apple’s ‘readiness’. It’s delicately balanced, sweeping through a backward glance, into the summer just passed (the wonderful line ‘I’ve dallied with the long-haul charlatans’), before returning to this present moment, as the ‘day’s edge narrows’, the apple still hanging, about to be plucked. This poem also seems to me about aging, biding your time, waiting for ‘the right one’ – whatever that might mean. I adore its closing on that question.

Here is Kathy Pimlott’s winning sonnet.

21st October: An Apology

The air thins. I stand underneath the trees,             
contrite, my hand held up to cup and test                
with reverential twist your readiness                                   
to drop onto my waiting palm. And yes,                               
all this forgetful summer passed away                                
I’ve dallied with the long-haul charlatans,               
swallowed their false promise shamefully,             
their brief sweetness ashes on my tongue.              

Blame my impatience, my green eagerness
for your vinaceous strawberry hit, for nut
unfolding under your respective flush
of crimson, your chafed cheek rusticoat.

The day’s edge narrows into true autumn.
You hang, a gathering of light. Is it time?

(21st October is Apple Day

Competition 19: Dramatic monologue

This time, I'm inviting you to write in a voice that is not your own. Think Browning's Porphyria's Lover, or any other voice. A monologue. A character piece. If you can make it metrical, so much the better, but you can disregard that at will since I (Helena Nelson) will not be the judge.

  • Prize: the two new story-poem pamphlets, both dramatic monologues: Luck, by Michael Grieve, and Granny Garbage by Joan Lennon
  • Form: dramatic monologue in no more than 25 lines.
  • Unpublished poems please
  • Not more than one entry per poet (if you enter twice, second entry will be discarded)
  • Closing date: 30.07.2018
  • Judge: to be announced later.

Please type your entry into the box below. If you need italics, indicate them with an asterisk at start and finish of your italicised section.

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