HappenStance Competition 23: Feeling Blank
Judge’s Comments: Helena Nelson (HappenStance editor)
Some hugely enjoyable poems came in for this competition. Some, however, had to be ruled out because they rhymed (which the rules excluded) or because although their authors may have thought they were in iambic pentameter, I didn’t. It’s a tricky business writing in a regular form and at the same time accommodating variation. So it’s not that every single line has to go te-dum, te-dum, te-dum, te-dum, te-DUM– but that pattern does underpin everything, and the ear needs to hear each line working either in that pattern or around or against it (as in the last two lines of the winning poem).
There were also entries in lovely iambic pentameter which I didn’t select because I liked them in part but not totally. As usual, I wanted several to end just before they did. Some last lines fell flat and to me sounded like they were trying not to rhyme while really wanting to (had the rules not excluded rhyme this might not have mattered).
All in all, judging is always partly subjective. I’d like to praise Janis Clark (lovely use of place-names), Sandra Horn (end on line 11 and it’s a winner), Peter Gallagher (beware: three lines rhyme), Eunice Lorrimer-Roberts (good garden piece, and topical), Stephanie Blythe’s lovely Christmas list, Les Berry (neatly retro), Eleanor Vale (chilling), Tracy Davidson (shades of Robert Browning), Douglas Hall (re-think last line perhaps?).
Tim Kiely nearly won with ‘Preparing Eggs for Easter’, which uses iambic pentameter beautifully and was a strong contender. My favourite bit of this poem is
[ ... ] We sit
and watch. The kettle breathes. I take your hand.
It doesn’t go quite as we hoped. Our shades
don’t take. Even the royal blue that folds
luxurious from cabbage leaves laps up
against the shell and leaves it pale.
The ‘luxurious’ there is no less than delicious. For me, the end of the poem was not as good as the middle, albeit formally pleasing.
And Annie Fisher also nearly won with ‘Falling’. First-rate use of form, and what a cracking opening two lines!
I can’t forget a boy I barely knew
who rode into the sky one afternoon.
But I would suggest cutting the third stanza and ensuring that only one line ends with the word ‘fall’ the last one).
The poem I’ve chosen as winner looks modest but the more I read it, the more I like it, even though I might prefer ‘he’ rather than ‘it’ throughout. I’m also rather fond of toads, so that might be a factor, as was the utterly satisfying inclusion of the iambically tripping word ‘unmetaphorical’ . Well done, Mark Totterdell, for ‘Bufo’.
Can it be glad I picked it off the path?
It’s dull as mud, gnarled as a crumpled leaf.
It fills my hand, unmetaphorical.
Is this walled scrap of garden all its world?
Its warts will not be charmed or doctored off.
There is no gem, but is the poison real?
And is it true what I knew as a child?
Does my skin burn its cool skin like a flame?
No more competitions for a while. HappenStance is having a rethink about many aspects of its business, this being only one of them.
If competitions start up again, I’ll notify all who have signed up for notifications.