Results of Competition 19: Dramatic monologue
There were 22 entries (far fewer than for the sonnet competition). These were judged anonymously by Michael Grieve, who is a dab hand at dramatic monologue, among his other talents. The winner was Sharon Phillips. For detailed feedback from Michael, see below.
Adjudicator comments from Michael Grieve (author of Luck)
Perhaps most associated with the Victorian cadences of Tennyson and Browning, the dramatic monologue is a form in which poets of the last hundred years have delivered remarkable poems: Frost’s North of Boston; Bishop’s ‘Crusoe in England’; Richard Wilbur’s ‘The Mind-Reader’; Michael Donaghy’s ‘Black Ice and Rain’; Sasha Dugdale’s ‘Joy’. I could go on, but I’ve a sheaf of entries next to me each with a speaker trying to have their own voice heard.
The poems entered for this competition found their speakers in sundry places, with many taking a leaf from Bishop and Tennyson by ventriloquizing a figure already somewhat known to the reader. Lee Nash speaks through the drug-calmed mouth of Elizabeth Barrett Browning in ‘Sydenham’s laudanum’, a sonnet whose Victorian manners allow for lines that most contemporary poems wouldn’t go near, and which leave an uncomfortable film on the reader’s tongue:
Likely I have lost my taste for sugar,
for sugar does not make the sour thing sweet
(as Nature does not make the wild thing neat).
True, its taste is best described as bitter
And to more humorous (though peculiarly endearing) ends, Susannah Clayson’s ‘Myth Monthter’ gives voice to a lisping basilisk ill-served by the Classical myth kitty:
Gryphon and Hippogriff are great, Chimera’th good. Thyclopth I hate.
Hydra I can ennunthiate, whilst th-pincth make-th me ecthpectorate.
In ‘Mrs Silver Polishes her Thoughts’, Pamela Gormally takes on the frustrated (though besotted) character of Long John Silver’s wife, brought to England only for him to set off voyaging:
Of course it was the wrong island. Desolate pine
swept down to the strand; no palm tree in sight
I sold the inn. Moved east to Tilbury docks. Still ripe
I long for your swaggering tongue and honey bravado.
I am waiting for a word. Send me a word—
But the well-known personage that arrested me most was Galileo. In ‘A Mistake Has Been Made’, by Trish Harewood, he speaks to Pope Urban while oblivious of his forthcoming arrest. This is a slender poem, and a sly one. Watch the ‘heavenly circles’ double up, and the ‘gyration’ take on a lascivious, protean colour:
I think you’ll agree,
that in heavenly circles
Earth circumnavigates sun.
What you mistake for the other
is the endless gyration of Earth
which, standing only at the Vatican,
you would never guess at.
The winner of the competition, however, speaks in a voice that you can hear for yourself. Just pop down to the local park, sit on a bench, and wait. ‘Always in our thoughts’, by Sharon Phillips, is a quiet poem. With touches of vernacular (‘het up’), a genuine empathy in the voice (‘I haven’t let on to the wife, just in case / she upsets herself again’), and an artful metrical pulse, this poem works wonders. Keep an eye on line eleven; alone, it has almost nothing in it, but in context, it bursts into spoken life. And once you’ve read the poem, maybe pick up the phone.
Always in our thoughts
…being oldies ourselves, we have noted that almost every bench has a commemorative plaque these days
—Islandman, Dorset Echo
Now and then we stop to read his plaque.
This is where he sat to watch the sun go down.
Always in our thoughts. Nothing fancy, nothing
too clever. Sensible words, the sort I’d want
when it’s my time. Down to earth, I told the wife,
that’s what I want. I wouldn't mind a bench,
but I don’t want fancy words.
Don’t be daft,
she says, we’ve got years left. Plenty of time
for that. Anyway, they didn’t do him much good,
with their always in our thoughts. I never saw
them with him when he were alive.
She got het up,
the wife. She has been doing, of late. Once I’d
settled her down, it struck me I’d never seen him
sat with anyone else. Family moved off, I heard,
like ours. I haven’t let on to the wife, just in case
she upsets herself again, but still: it bothers me,
what he might have been thinking,
as he sat there and watched the sun go down.
Competition 20: Something that was said to you....
The task this time is to write a poem that draws on a memory of something someone once said to you, something that has stuck.
Most of us have a word or a phrase that has stayed in our heads all our lives — perhaps because of some painful circumstance, or perhaps the reverse.
I will not forget my English teacher at school, for example, saying to me: ‘And you can take that look off your face, Helen Curry!’ It was the moment I realised that sometimes faces (especially mine) communicate what we’re thinking as clearly as words.
The actual words that were said to you don’t have to feature in the poem, though of course they may. There is a poem by Fiona Pitt-Kethley titled 'That Word’ in which the word in question doesn’t appear at all in the poem, and makes its presence felt all the more clearly as a result.
Prize: a copy of Fiona Moore’s The Distal Point (or if you already have this book, any other HappenStance volume.)
Rules of competition:
- Not more than 30 lines.
- No prose poems please.
- Unpublished work.
- No more than one entry per person.
- Deadline: Sunday November 11, 2018.
- Judge: a HappenStance poet, to be revealed later.
Please type your entry into the box below. If you need italics, indicate them with an asterisk at start and finish of italicised section.