2016 NZPS Poetry Competition Results
Congratulations to all our winners and runners-up!
Please remember that the entries are currently being re-read by our anthology editor. Poems and haiku that were unsuccessful in the competition can still be selected for publication in the annual anthology. They must not be submitted elsewhere before 31st August.
Open Section I Haiku Section I Open Junior Section I Haiku Junior Section
Judge: Diana Bridge
1st Prize: Gail Ingram, Christchurch: ‘The canvas’
2nd Prize: Alexandra Fraser, Auckland: ‘Penguin days’
3rd Prize: Ruth Hanover, Christchurch: ‘Let Me Tell You’
Highly Commended: ‘Poem’ and ‘Postman; Northern Russia’ by William Connor, Greytown; ‘Hospital Guard’ by Johanna Emeney, Auckland; ‘Haast eagle’ and ‘Reading Derrida while it rains’ by Alexandra Fraser, Auckland; ‘Wakanui’ by John Kelk, Invercargill; ‘Abul-Abbas and My Father’ by Owen Marshall, Timaru; ‘someone has smashed in the night’ by Catherine Moxham, Palmerston North.
Commended: ‘Watching the last Thylacine on YouTube’ by Alexandra Fraser, Auckland; ‘At the back of the corner dairy’ by Ruth Hanover, Christchurch; ‘Apia Markets’, by Tim Heath, Australia; ‘The White Flower’ by Charmian Koed, Nelson; ‘off season tickets for Antarctica’ by Frankie McMillan, Christchurch; ‘Tangimoana’ by Catherine Moxham, Palmerston North; ‘Moby’ by Janet Newman, Levin; ‘a peal beside the lake’ by Keith Nunes, Rotorua; ‘Flax Way’ by Gillian Roach, Auckland; ‘Night Vision’ by Barbara Strang, Christchurch.
Thank you to all of those who submitted poems to this year’s competition, and to Laurice Gilbert (Competition Secretary) for asking me to judge its open section.
The haul in 2016 was a grand 571 poems. In reading these, I found myself re-connected to my own country, especially to parts of the South Island, and taking steps into others – India, Russia, Samoa. I also became for a few moments a refugee, who had lost his or her country. And I entered hundreds of different minds and psyches.
Although forms and approaches differed widely, what the better, and best, poems in this large entry had in common was a defining sureness with poetic form and a freshness in their approach to topic. These are fundamental yardsticks and I think they are worth restating.
In this short report I will briefly identify some areas in which many potentially good poems became derailed, and follow these comments with my take on poems that I believe triumphantly avoided these pitfalls. Only the three top-placed poems are considered in detail. I hope that those whose work was commended will take from these remarks something converse: what I liked about their individual poems.
1. Many poems consisted of lines – and lines – of description. While some poems of this kind contained lively analogy and a sense of progression, and a few of them accordingly found their way into the ‘commended’ box, many others missed out. It is usually not enough to describe only what you have seen. I looked for lines shaped by reflection; for the way in which a poem was structured to build into a statement that was capable of catching a reader’s interest. I should say, too, that being set in the New Zealand landscape is not in itself sufficient to hold a reader’s interest.
Poems written with great sincerity and commitment often failed to detach themselves sufficiently from the original situation that triggered them, or to go beyond the purely personal. I noted a lack of allusion which, used with care, might have added an additional dimension or sprung a poem into life.
‘Meaningful moment’ poems must convince the reader that they have something to say to her.
The poem I placed first, ‘The canvas’, is essentially a descriptive poem rooted in a scene – against the “U-line of the hills between Mount/ Cavendish and Castle Rock”, while the object itself carries echoes of the journey from Guangzhou where it emanated. Its language has a gritty, concrete strength; it radiates energy. Its author has placed words on the page with flare as well as confidence, accommodating an unexpected break “a city street /long”, and allowing a verb to demonstrate time and weight: “Pulled /vertical”.
The refocusing of its final four lines is terrific. These lines make of the poem a resonant narrative containing a lingering slice of mystery. The cut to the human watcher in the final line is masterly.
2. Please don’t moralise. This is a variation on that old adage ‘show don’t tell’. I will use as an example a category of poems: those with an ecological slant. There were many of them this year. The best one of these achieved a comfortable juxtaposition between man and the animal world simply through measured repetition: “seals found a place there … we found a place there”. In this way it presented an ideal without a whiff of the didactic or dogmatic. It even managed to accommodate the difficult word ‘endangered’ on which the poem turns.
This poem also offered the excellent phrase, “sunning the Atlantic /out of their blood”, as well as the competition’s best title, ‘Penguin days’, and its finest image, “yellow-eyed penguins /the sour lemon of their irises /glinting with suspicion”. I placed it second.
3. Fun with form. If you’re going to make your point through repetition, stepped forms or the use of puns, there has to be more to the finished object than the fulfillment of a formal or linguistic goal. Forms that rely on repetition – for example, the villanelle, the pantoum or sestina – can be wonderfully satisfying but when lines are repeated they should revisit their original context, re-framing it, refreshing perspective and, most of all, serving the poem’s topic. Without that service to topic, form simply draws attention to itself. The same goes for puns.
The poem I placed third used repetition to underline the acute sense of presence which came with the poem’s present-tense narration. Each repetition of a word, a phrase or a line – “the way the mouth moistens”, “the razor wire between us” – was employed to describe alterations in the narrator’s grasp of the scene being enacted before him or her. With each repetition the ground under our feet could be felt to shift until the narrator’s original interpretation, along with the reader’s, was turned on its head.
Significance built until, in the final section, memory was brought in, to position the narrator, and skewer us with the words: “I remember…what a field /in Hungary /is for.”
‘Let Me Tell You’ is not a title to which I would normally respond. Placed as a rubric over this strikingly selected and limpidly told incident – one which focuses on the plight of a Syrian narrator suffering displacement, hardship and corruption in ways most of us have only read about – it is like the beginning of an old tale. As a reaching out to an other, in this case a reader in the luckier part of the world, it is completely right.
I will conclude my report by saying that when I winnowed the ‘highly commended’ section to the recommended number, eight, I was delighted to hold in my hand poems of great topical, tonal and formal variety comprising a real flush hand plus three.
Judge: Cynthia Rowe
1st Prize and Jeanette Stace Memorial Award: Quendryth Young, Australia: ‘petrichor’
2nd Prize: Barbara Strang, Christchurch: ‘fourth summer…’
3rd Prize: Elaine Riddell, Hamilton: ‘the/ moment/ ‘
4th Prize: Chen-ou Liu, Canada: ‘winter twilight’
5th Prize: Nathalie Buckland, Australia: ‘scent of lilies’
Highly Commended: ‘packing to move – ‘ by Catherine Bullock, Waihi; ‘so many things‘ by Jenny Fraser, Mt Maunganui; ‘cliff edge…’ by Chen-ou Liu, Canada; ‘after the rain’ by Catherine Moxham, Palmerston North; ‘drizzle’ by Marion Moxham, Palmerston North; ‘living alone’ by Helen Yong, Christchurch; ‘birdsong’ by Quendryth Young, Australia.
Commended: ‘roofless‘ by Ernest J Berry, Blenheim; ‘ambulance siren’ by Margaret Beverland, Katikati; ‘Father slipping’ Chen-ou Liu, Canada; ‘sultry day’ by Scott Mason, USA; ‘peeled dinghy’ by Marion Moxham, Palmerston North; ‘words left unsaid’ by Vanessa Proctor, Australia; ‘after all these years’ and ‘between tussocks’ by Katherine Raine, Milton; ‘dawn’ and ‘reading the leaf drifts…’ by Elaine Riddell, Hamilton; ‘bauxite mine’ by André Surridge, Hamilton.
I was delighted to be asked to judge the Haiku section of the 2016 NZPS International Poetry Competition. A challenging but rewarding task. From 602 entries, over two-thirds were rejected as unpublishable, lacking a basic knowledge of haiku, and therefore unable to be considered. A number of poems failed to make the shortlist due to shortcomings which included an over-reliance on adjectives and adverbs, anthropomorphism, ‘lists’, double entendres, aphorisms, rhetorical questions, too many syllables, jokes, jingles, and hackneyed descriptions which led to prosaic imagery.
After the initial cull, the standard of the remaining haiku was high, making it no easy task to come to a final decision. Through the process of reading and re-reading, I finally got down to a long-list of 50 poems before whittling the entries down to a manageable shortlist, enabling me to make my decision. After deep thought I have selected the following:
First Place and Jeanette Stace Memorial Award
‘ petrichor …’ – the first line drew me in. The word sounds like an exotic creature, an other-worldly manifestation, a spiritual mysticism, and in a sense, it is. The intoxicating scent of rain falling on the earth after a long, dry spell is familiar to all of us. How often have we said, ‘Can you smell the rain?’ The word comes from the Greek petros (stone) plus ichor – the Greek word for the fluid that comes from the veins of the gods. The second line of the haiku is unusual in that it ends with a preposition but, by avoiding short/long/short the poet has chosen to give the poem an air of solidity – for this is an important event. We can guess that a farmer, or someone directly connected to the land, is dancing; the drought has broken. He/she dances with ‘the first drops’, indicating delight and celebration, but this gives the haiku an added meaning such that the drops themselves are most probably also dancing. For when the earth has been baked dry by the sun, the first raindrops that fall bounce or slide off the ground before they begin to penetrate the terrain, sending the wonderful perfume into the air that we enjoy. A poem worthy of first place!
‘fourth summer …’ The poet is counting the seasons, for memories of the disaster that he/she has endured still linger. This is the fourth summer that has elapsed since the ‘broken roof’ episode and, finally, promise shines through in the form of an agave flower. Each rosette from the plant, a succulent, flowers once and then dies, thus helping to manifest one’s talents and strengths, to take charge of one’s destiny. The poet, also, will be able to ‘rise above the broken roof’. The haiku may, of course, be an earthquake poem referencing the one that occurred in 2011 when Christchurch was devastated – approximately a ‘fourth summer’ ago. The fact that the agave flower, although yellow and giving the impression of sunlight and hope, perishes after blooming also brings to mind the victims of the earthquake, the demise of a large number of the city’s citizens. A thought-provoking haiku.
‘ the / moment ‘ This concrete haiku, shaped like a morning star, indicates a bedside vigil, suggesting that the poet has been watching and waiting beside a loved one all night, praying for signs of improvement. We hope that his breathing has changed for the better, that the morning star, named for the planet Venus, has appeared just before sunrise in the east to support this. Or does the morning star’s presence indicate that he has passed on, the light at the end of the tunnel bringing closure to his suffering? This moving haiku can be interpreted in various ways, leaving the reader with plenty to ponder.
‘winter twilight’ is very much in the zeitgeist, the spirit of the time. The poem is literally, and metaphorically, dark. We are reminded of the plight of refugees fleeing a war zone, of a child slipping past the border guards on his/her mission for freedom. The poet has intentionally specified a child, drawing on the vulnerability of innocent young lives affected by the bombing of their homes by super powers, collateral damage in the hostilities that we read about in the media, that we see on the nightly television news. The poet specifies ‘crossing the border’. This haiku brings an immediacy to the realities of world conflict and if one more child is free we should, by inference, celebrate this. A thoughtful haiku.
‘scent of lilies’ The ‘scent of lilies’ dwells in the poet’s mind. Calla or arum lilies, although featuring in bridal bouquets, are also considered funeral flowers, above all in Europe, so we assume that someone close has passed. This is backed up by the subsequent lines. Another old friend has been ‘deleted’ from the poet’s network. An air of world-weariness pervades this quiet poem, the grief – even acceptance – that this person is no longer part of the poet’s life. The fact that ‘another’ name is deleted means the address book is dwindling. The layout is appealing, with the single word ‘deleted’ on its own, to one side, almost as an afterthought. The sadness of this haiku is poignant.
To sum up, themes that kept appearing (which is not to say they were inappropriate) were: children’s playgrounds, dementia, meditation (sometimes thwarted), global warming, regrets. It is often claimed that haiku is the easiest form of poetry to write but the hardest to write well. Brevity is a key fundamental. It has been said that the poem should be able to be recited in one breath. The writer should eschew poetic tools such as simile, metaphor, rhyme, anthropomorphism, personification or abstract images and language. In a satisfying haiku we can smell the sea, feel the cold of the frost under our feet, without being explicitly told.
Ultimately, guidelines only help to a certain extent. It’s up to each poet, each writer, to find his/her way through trial and error, through helpful editors, and hopefully relish the journey.*
Congratulations go to the winners and place-getters, fine poems and yet each varying in scope and content. There can ever only be a handful of place-getters in any competition – many of you came close. I urge all contestants to continue writing and entering competitions. Good luck to all in future haiku endeavours.
*Living Haiku Anthology 2016
Defining Haiku – Concision
Open Junior Section
Judge: Majella Cullinane
1st Prize: Molly Crighton, Columba College, Dunedin: ‘American Boys’
Runner-up, Primary/Intermediate: Oliver McLean, Arrowtown Primary School: ‘Musical Musique of Melodic Stuff’
Runner-up, Secondary: Vivian Qiu, St Cuthbert’s College, Auckland: ‘Hiatus’
Highly Commended: ‘Day Fifteen’ by Sam Jory-Smart, Burnside High School, Christchurch; ‘Two cents’ worth of the ages 15 to 20′ by Joanna Li, Diocesan School for Girls, Auckland; ‘To You, Who Gives Me Life’ by Shreya Nair, Epsom Girls’ Grammar School, Auckland.
Commended: ‘The Mind of an Anaphylactic Goat’ by Anna Doak, St Margaret’s College, Christchurch; ‘If Music Was a City’ by Kate Edmonds, Arrowtown Primary School; ‘The Swing’ by Fineen Hingston, Arrowtown Primary School; ‘Love Letters’ by Freya Kelly, Raroa Normal Intermediate School, Wellington; ‘apatheium’ by Shreya Nair, Epsom Girls’ Grammar School, Auckland ; ‘Asian girl’ by Vivian Qiu, St Cuthbert’s College, Auckland; ‘The Air Ambulance’ by Maddie Simmons, Selwyn House School, Christchurch; ‘Teal’ by Kayla Wallace, Arrowtown Primary School; ‘Leaf music’ by Carmen Woodhouse, Arrowtown Primary School.
The primary and secondary entries comprised a total of 124 poems. I opened the primary school entries first. On first reading, poems fizzled with the exuberance of childhood – the use of diverse font and font sizes, some included pictures or drawings next to their poems. Poems bubbled with energy, and covered such topics as shoes, music, autumn, and the sea.
Young writers also approached more serious topics in this age group too: love, suicide and depression. I was impressed by the quality and attention to the effort of writing a poem, which of course is no easy task.
I had two slight reservations with regard to entries by primary and secondary school writers: the overall lack of punctuation, but most particularly those poems in the primary school section which used ‘class themes’, and as a result, despite some unique lines, overall made for less interesting reading. Unsurprisingly, the poems that stood out were the ones that always stand out – poems that were unique and striking in their use of language, or in their particular approach to a subject.
In the secondary school section there was a wide variety of topics covered also, and some poems oozed with adolescent indignation and outrage regarding the world’s greed, war, and the refugee crisis. Other poems had softer, gentler musings on age-old favourites such as love, and the moon.
The winner, ‘American Boys’, drew me in immediately with its quiet, yet poignant narrative. This poem expressed wonderfully the awareness that comes with age, from a young writer astute enough to express their wisdom in direct lines such as: “Go home to your doting mothers /who’ll shout at you in a rage of love /And smell smoke on your cheap leather jackets /and think how very like your fathers you are”.
The runner-up from the Primary School Section, ‘Musical Musique of Melodic Stuff’, was a poem filled with the exuberance and excitement of writing a poem: “The chat of the brain, the tap of the keys, /the pattern-type assonance wherever you please. /A swirl of ideas, all mixed into one, /that sings and swivels like the beat of a drum”.
‘Hiatus’, the runner-up from the Secondary School Section had some lovely imagery to express the end of a relationship: “The milky way shines overhead…/You’re wrapped up in a sleeping bag, /beanie on your head,/…and the sounds of one of our last /late night conversations /echo in the night.
Such was the originality of the shortlist, there were many more poems that I would have liked to have placed were it possible. I do hope that knowing this will encourage those who were not placed, (or those highly commended or commended) on this occasion to keep trying, to believe that the expression of your thoughts and beliefs is a valid, worthy enterprise. Keep writing! And don’t forget to read poetry. The two: reading and writing go hand in hand.
My warm congratulations to the winner, to the runners-ups, and to the Highly-Commended and Commended submissions, and to all emerging poets brave enough to enter.
Haiku Junior Section
Judge: Harry Frentz
1st Prize, Primary/Intermediate, and Jeanette Stace Memorial Award: Evie Johnson, Selwyn House School, Christchurch: ‘Eiffel tower’
2nd Prize, Primary/Intermediate: Josh McPhail, St Andrew’s College Preparatory School, Christchurch: ‘the bach kitchen’
3rd Prize, Primary/Intermediate: Amelia Gordon, Selwyn House School, Christchurch: ‘wolf’
1st Prize, Secondary: Anna Doak, St Margaret’s College, Christchurch: ‘Machu Picchu’
2nd Prize, Secondary: Amy Wells, St Andrew’s College, Christchurch: ‘bourbon breath’
3rd Prize, Secondary: Jackson Lewis, St Andrew’s College, Christchurch: ‘misty alleyway’
Highly Commended: ‘twilight’ by Paige Bowman, Heaton Normal Intermediate School, Christchurch; ‘cancer’ by Anna Doak, St Margaret’s College, Christchurch; ‘winter’s night’ by Madeleine Horton, Ilam School, Christchurch; ‘modern education’ by Amy Huang, Rangi Ruru Girls’ School, Christchurch; ‘shattered mirrors’ and ‘breath’ by Stephanie Lester, Christchurch Girls’ High School; ‘hospital bed’ by Abby Mason, Selwyn House School, Christchurch.
Commended: ‘stars scatter across the sunset’ by Emma Cawood, Selwyn House School, Christchurch ; ‘Denali’ by Anna Doak, St Margaret’s College, Christchurch; ‘oil spill’ by Victor Gan, St Andrew’s College, Christchurch; ‘thunder’ by Minah Kim, Fendalton Open-air School, Christchurch; ‘the archer’s arrow’ by Stephanie Lester, Christchurch Girls’ High School; ‘Afghanistan’ by George Lester, St Andrew’s College, Christchurch; ‘bundle of fluff’ by Hannah McKie, Sacred Heart Girls’ College, New Plymouth; ‘families weep loss’ by Jessica Mehana, Sacred Heart Girls’ College, New Plymouth; ‘overcast’ by Finn Pearce, Ilam School, Christchurch; ‘starlight breeze’ by Holly Rankin, Paparoa St School, Christchurch; ‘cathedral’ by Nick Wilson, Fendalton Open-air School, Christchurch.