2021 International Poetry Competition results
We are delighted to announce the results of our annual poetry competition. We had close to 2,000 entries across the categories. Our four judges – Lynley Edmeades (New Zealand), Marco Fraticelli (Canada), Simon Hanson (Australia) and Chris Tse (New Zealand) – had a tough job selecting winners and placegetters from an outstanding field. Thank you to our judges for their efforts.
To read all the winning poems, make sure to buy a copy of our 2021 anthology, edited by Tim Jones, because all the winning poems and editorial selections will be in the anthology.
And now…drum roll…for the results!
Judge: Lynley Edmeades
‘Death Mask Daisy’ by Jasmine OM Taylor, Dunedin
‘Force Taken in Direct Translation’ by Ruth Hanover, Christchurch
Wed’ by Sue Wardell, Dunedin
‘Sometimes we wake to the sound of geese honking’ by Steve Cutler, Dunedin
‘The weeping of the women and children is a lamentable scene’ by Rose Collins, Lyttelton
‘Eastbourne” by Deborah Illingworth
‘Pianissimo (a Triptych)’ by Brett Reid, Auckland
‘Seapoint, Dublin (Autumn 2018)’ by Brett Reid, Auckland
‘dumb shit i google and other outsourced intelligence’ by Lucy McClean
‘raising the fire” by Jac Jenkins, Kohukohu
‘slam’ by Jac Jenkins, Kohukohu
‘Transmission Gully’ by S.K. Grout, Auckland
‘My phone’ by Robert Stratford, Poirua
‘Argento over the moon’ by Michael Giacon, Auckland
‘Student Teacher’ by Lynne Kohen, Mapua
‘Small Places – a haibun’ by Majella Cullinane, Dunedin
‘Finding the First Body’ by Ashlee Ann Sneller, Wellington
‘A Quarter to Laughter’ by Gregory Dally, Clyde (NZ)
‘Perfect Life’ by Nigel Skjellerup, Christchurch
‘Elder tree’ by Robyn Maree Pickens, Dunedin
It was equally fascinating and bewildering to open a file with close to 700 poems, knowing my task was to sift through and find the gems. What was a looking for? Would I know it when I found it? What makes a poem “good”? These were some of the questions that rattled through my mind as I made my way through the tranche of work that had landed on my desk.
I don’t know the answer to the final question—if I knew what makes a poem good, I suspect I could package it up and sell it on Trade Me for a pretty penny. The question of a poem’s goodness is still so slippery to me. The best I can do is make a nod towards affect: it is something instinctive, something to do with trust and control, with lyricism and surprise. I realised in reading these poems and selecting my winners that I don’t care what the poem is necessarily about. I didn’t go looking for a dead bird poem (First place: “Death Mask Daisy”), a Swedish pronunciation poem (Second place: “Force Taken in Direct Translation”), a failed engagement poem (Third place: “Wed”). But when I read them, and wanted to re-read them, and found myself thinking about them when I wasn’t reading them, and talking about them at the dinner table, I knew that there was something “good” in there.
All three winning poems display control and deftness that allows the reader to relax. The writer seems to say, look, I’ll show you something interesting, and I know what I’m doing, trust me. It is this curiosity to try to work through language to uncover something about the world, and at the same time to be in control of that language. Let me show you this thing I’ve discovered. The winning poems are tight and trimmed, don’t carry any flab or ostentation. While the reader can trust the writer, the writer is also saying to the reader, I trust you too. So, there is a relation—a mutual generosity, like an honest and rewarding friendship.
At the same time, there is a level of playfulness, a flicking of the tail or a hint of experimentalism, either in the language itself or with the subject matter. In “Death Mask Daisy” we have these surprise repetitions that both slow the reader down and perform the encounter that the narrator is relaying. I found myself thinking: how does this poem get away with that, why is that working? I wondered how I could try and do that in one of my own poems… The poem is also about mortality—dead baby birds—but addresses this most-epic and often-overwrought poetic subject by circling around it, by not saying what it wants to say. There is nothing in this poem that does not need to be there—it is the perfect machine made of words.
In the wonderfully playful “Force Taken in Direct Translation” we traverse the world of mouth-sounds for words. We are ambitiously taken through ideas of pronunciation and listening, only to land on the very foundation of hearing, the ear, the “satellite-dish that captures.” This poem had me reading out loud and feeling like I’d been given a Swedish lesson, and that I was, by virtue of reading the poem, an expert in Swedish pronunciation.
The third placed poem, “Wed,” is a slow burn. It doesn’t play any linguistic tricks, but instead leads the reader down the garden path, so to speak. We start with companionship and memory, only to wind up in failed nuptials, “drowning in the tin rattle/of the hopes we dragged behind.” Full of many lyrical moments, this poem was hard to let go of.
The highly commended poems were all pieces that I couldn’t quite shake off. They displayed control and audacity, and often pointed towards something existential through language that made me feel the poet had really held this feeling up towards the light, looked at it in myriad ways, and was reporting on their findings. Often these were deceptively simple (“Sometimes we wake to the sound of geese honking”), at times devastating (“Eastbourne” and “The weeping of the women and children is a lamentable scene”) or poised and transporting (“Pianissimo (a Triptych)” and “Seapoint, Dublin (Autumn 2018).”
The commended poems all had something special and pulled me back for various reasons. But it was in my returning to them that I would often see a slight flaw—a thwarted line break, a hint of cliché, or a slender wavering of conviction—that would make itself known. Still, the creativity and spirit that had driven the poem was something I couldn’t ignore. These are poems that may not be resolved or perfect, but there is the kernel of intrigue that was enough to hold me: hyperlinks, a chicken carcass, the word “zshooshed,” for example.
Finally, it is common practice for judges to comment on themes they might have noticed in reading such a wide selection of poems—what are people thinking about these days? Last year of course, we had COVID-19 which seemed to cast its dark shadow over any thinking that attempted to forget about it. In 2019, the Christchurch mosque attacks demanded we talk about them. In 2021, there may not be a singular thing which has held our attention the most. It might be, instead, that in wake of COVID-19 particularly, poets have begun to grapple with the feeling of futility that seems to hover over us like a storm cloud. As such, if I had to name a theme, it would be tentative exploration of an inner world—a place to notice, to listen, to reflect. A place to go on from.
JUNIOR OPEN SECTION
Judge: Chris Tse
‘Ekphrasis’ by Elizabeth Milne, Christchurch
‘sirens in vacuums’ by Oshadha Perera, Invercargill
‘A woman carrying the simple day’s pain’ by Isla Calder, St. Andrew’s College, Christchurch
‘Mr Anderson, you heartbreaker you’ by Elizabeth Milne, Christchurch
‘How to Bake ANZAC Biscuits’ by Indigo Tomlinson, Whangerei
‘Their Eyes’ by Priya Bartlett, Christchurch
‘Drowned’ by Sarah-Kate Simons, Southbridge
‘She had forgotten’ by Myken Miller, St. Andrew’s College, Christchurch
‘hand-sanitised lungs’ by Oshadha Perera, Invercargill
‘Malé ryby taky ryby’ by William Yu, Auckland
‘May We Accept’ by Denika Mead, Lower Hutt
‘Pepeha’ by Maytal Noy, Samuel Marsden Collegiate School, Wellington
‘Simulacrum’ by Mia Walker, St. Andrew’s College, Christchurch
‘The Year of Honesty’ by Hunter Haynes, Auckland
‘They Bury Poets’ by Sarah-Kate Simons, Southbridge
‘Tragedy at Sea’ by Zoe Sullivan, Christchurch
Every time I’ve run poetry workshops with school students, I’m always impressed and encouraged by their willingness to expand both their craft and the subjects they write about. There are some who so easily pigeon-hole young poets with the stereotype of internalised, angst-ridden poetry with capital “F” feelings on show. Truth be told, I’ve read just as many poems written by adult writers that fall into this category! What the standout entries in this year’s Open Junior revealed, and emphasised, is that young poets are very engaged with the world around them, and the politics and social issues that dominate our headlines and social media feeds. I was surprised and impressed by the many entries that challenged the status quo and asked some thorny questions.
Although a range of issues and interests were canvassed in this year’s entries, there were two notable recurring topics: climate change and mental health (in particular, within the context of the Covid-19 pandemic and how it continues to affect our day-to-day lives). The poets who wrote about these two topics approached them from a number of perspectives – some were hopeful and sure that change is possible, others were less certain and used their poems to confront our challenging reality. Some poets took inspiration from classic texts and other writers, using their poems to put a new spin on familiar narratives or characters. Overall, the passion and imagination on display was fantastic and gave me much to consider when it came time to make the tough decisions as judge.
The process of judging a poetry competition or selecting poems for publication from a pool of open submissions can be strange and bewildering. There’s no instruction manual or a checklist; there’s no right or wrong way to go about it. You have to throw yourself into the task at hand and learn to trust your instincts as a reader. Reading poetry is a subjective act in itself, even without the motivating factor of judgement or selecting ‘the best’. As readers, we will naturally be drawn to, or moved by, different poems. Our individual interpretations and appreciation are shaped so much by our own tastes and life experiences. What I find fascinating about reading in this way is what I learn about myself as a reader and what it is that I value in a poem, particularly when I’m forced to make a choice! There were poems I had to read a second or third time immediately because they were so instantly enjoyable, and others that I marked to return to because there was a spark of something in them that I couldn’t shake.
Although many of the entries contained memorable images or wickedly clever lines, the poems I’ve selected as the winner, runners-up and commended were the ones that felt considered and ‘complete’. These were poems where I could tell the poet had taken time to edit their work carefully and ensure that every word, line and image was pulling its weight within the poem.
The four runners-up each represent the variety of forms, tones and perspectives in this year’s entries. They demonstrated a level of craft and maturity, building small worlds of layered emotion and experience that draw in the reader.
‘A woman carrying the simple day’s pain’ is a moving portrait of a woman saddled with the pressures, regrets and frustrations of daily life. Upon first reading, its short lines, measured pace and subtle repetition lend it an almost weightless feeling, but it packs an emotional punch that lingers long after the final lines.
‘How to Bake ANZAC Biscuits’ takes the familiar recipe poem form and transforms it into a heartfelt elegy for those lost in conflict. The line between the literal and the metaphorical blur ever so slightly (“Golden syrup pools in rivers”) as ingredients for the titular biscuits and other details are mixed together, summoning the echoes of past wars that continue to be felt.
‘Mr Andersen, you heartbreaker you’ is a response to a poem by Helen Rickerby, whose poetry often features character studies of historical and fictional characters. The poem’s speaker addresses the writer Hans Christian Andersen, weaving together allusions to some of his well-known stories and Andersen’s own same-sex affairs. The poem is both tender and brutal, much like Andersen’s own writing.
The first thing you notice about ‘Their Eyes’ is the poem’s experimental form – short, fractured lines cascade down the page creating an arresting visual layout. This layout helps to charge the poem’s depiction of a pod of orcas “gliding through the waves”. Although the orcas are presented to us as “clever fish”, there is also the suggested threat of something ominous lurking under the surface. This is a mysterious poem that captivated me.
The winning poem, ‘Ekphrasis’, caught my attention with its intriguing opening couplet that immediately sets the scene and stokes the reader’s imagination: “My first kiss was with a statue. / The sign said don’t touch, but I’m human”. We’re familiar with the contract we agree to as visitors to an art gallery or a museum – look, but don’t touch. In ‘Ekphrasis’, the speaker dares to break that contract by giving in to a number of human weaknesses: the desire for connection, and the audacity to break the rules. I love the way the poet teases out the tension in the poem by giving life to the inanimate statue (his irises “laced with mineral veins” and “the earth’s heat in his belly”). By doing so, the poet asks us to consider what it is the statue truly represents: perhaps it’s something more than just a physical representation of a man. This then leads to the poem taking a somewhat existential turn when the speaker begins to draw parallels between the statue’s creation and ‘purpose’, and their own place in the world: “the universe touches us both / at every point.” By the end, the speaker vows to “root [their] feet / in the earth / more firmly.” The journey that this poem takes the reader on is masterfully directed by the poet – what began as an eyebrow-raising act of public disturbance organically morphs into a complicated question of what it means to find one’s place in the world.
I’d like to thank all the poets who took the time to enter this year’s competition. I’m honoured to have read your work and enjoyed how your poems allowed me to see the world through new eyes for a brief moment. I encourage you to keep writing and developing your skills, and I hope you all enter next year’s competition.
Judge: Simon Hanson, Australia
1st Place/Jeanette Stace Memorial Award:
resting on top of the Kauri pine
the pale moon
by Mircea Moldovan, Romania
On first reading I was moved, my response was visceral, I had to share it immediately with my wife and haven’t wavered for a moment since that this well deserves the Jeanette Stace Memorial Award. One mustn’t say too much—poetry speaks for itself; beautifully constructed in word and visual appearance. This poem’s centred format is done for very good reason—symmetrical like a great pine, an image to behold, crowned by the moon. As befitting a lullaby, the wording of this haiku is softly sounding when read aloud and more so when whispered—it reads very nicely whispered.
I have learnt that the Kauri pine is much revered in Maori culture. A native tree to Aotearoa, it is the subject of legend and myth, used in carvings and the construction of dwellings and because of its strength and natural resistance to seawater many canoes were made from a single Kauri trunk, some holding up to 180 warriors—amidst the softness there is great power here too. And I’ve learnt also that the moon holds a central place in the Maori calendar, the Maramataka, is a lunar calendar. These details are important for it shows that the subject of this haiku is well informed, known first-hand or well researched, more than just a pretty ornament. But an ornament it is too, lovely to look at, lovely to read, while containing depths of historical significance. On another level this haiku is energising by a symbol of some fascination—the image of the moon resting on top of the pine and its juxtaposition with the first line speaks deeply to our collective and ancient history—of fertility and of new life. My gratitude, thank you.
less than a breath’s length shooting star
by Alan Peat, United Kingdom
Judge’s commentary: Catching sight of a shooting star is invariably an occasion of some excitement, one feels fortunate, even blessed, and if one is with another, something we are excited to share— did you see that! This haiku captures something of the life of such a moment. Its format as a one-liner does much to enhance this—presented as a streak, the shooting star itself moving away from the first phrase less than a breath’s length—which by the way is true of reading this haiku in its entirety—it can be done in less than a single breath. I do like the way (intentionally or not) it gets one to focus on breathing, adding an intimate and physiological dimension to the haiku. I did catch myself gasping a little here and there as these aha realizations made themselves felt. The brevity of it all, its seven simple words, aptly mirrors the ephemeral experience it refers to. less than a breath’s length is a contemplation in-itself with just the right spacing between it and the second phrase, shooting star. It is clever—and clever is ok, when it is not done for its own sake or to impress and does not obscure the art in anyway. And an artful haiku it is; painting a picture, telling a story, bringing a moment to life with a minimum of words, all come and gone in a few seconds—gone in flash.
tadpoles nibble away
the endless sky
by Ron C. Moss, Australia
Judge’s commentary: I was hoping to be surprised, and this haiku did just that. It is highly original and has an enigmatic quality that invites contemplation. One can imagine the tadpoles nibbling away at the sky as they forage around the edges of the mountain tarn, immersed in the reflection of the sky above and below—the image is credible and appealing, but interestingly the idea of them nibbling away at the sky seems mysterious, and as befitting of mystery, is full of suggestion and depth. The unconscious mind is a wondrous thing— as in certain dreams, hallucinations and artistic creations, it has a way of hiding its treasures in imagery and so charging them with power. Such images can appeal to us in ways that are difficult to put words to.
just a flicker of spring light
through clear water
by Katherine Raine, Cromwell, New Zealand
Judge’s commentary: I admit to a sympathetic disposition toward imagistic haiku and am sometimes most impressed by particular examples of super-realism; but as with creative photography, subject, angle and lighting count for a great deal and make all the difference between a nice picture and an artful photograph. Where this is well done, as it is here done very well, subtly, we may be led toward that welcomed dissolution between subject and object, to be for a moment actually present, immersed in the scene that the poet places before us. There is no obligation in haiku to celebrate beauty nor is there any good reason to shy away from it—where nature is beautiful we are honouring the haiku virtue of lifefullness to portray it as such. This image is simply beautiful—and presented in such a way that one might feel for a moment to be there by the pond, caught in reverie, lost in the flicker of spring light.
by Jeffrey Harpeng, Australia
Judge’s commentary: Full of motion and sound, from a tinkle to a dancing jangle, to a chaotic clatter, a narrative in three words. Each of us will bring our own wind-chime to this story—whether of hollow bamboo, metal, glass or seashells—and so each of us will hear different sounds. The story begins gently (that’s how I imagine it) and ends; well, in a storm. We are given a space here to experience the weather, the calm before the storm, the first hints of its arrival announced by the wind-chime and then unequivocally in a single word, the tempest in full flight. The setting and place of this happening, the kind of storm it might be, your emotional engagement with it, are for you to envisage and feel in your own way—so much invitation in so few words—splendid.
‘blood moon’ by Sandra Simpson, Tauranga
‘the darkness’ by Debbie Strange, Manitoba, Canada
‘cumulonimbus’ by Jay Friedenberg, New York, USA
‘bare maple’ by Gavin Austin, Australia
‘hospital bed’ by Jenny Fraser, Mt Maunganui, NZ
‘night shift’ by Nola Borrell, Lower Hutt, NZ
‘mountains arising’ by Katherine Raine, Cromwell, NZ
‘approaching storm’ by Frank Hooven, Morrisville, PA, USA
‘cloud shadow’ by Margaret Beverland, Katikati, NZ
‘fog and drizzle’ by Jenny Fraser, Mt. Maunganui, NZ
‘clearing skies’ by Katherine Raine, Cromwell, NZ
‘starlight’ by Jenny Fraser, Mt. Maunganui, NZ
‘city rush’ by Jan Dobb, Australia
‘New Year jam’ by Owen Bullock, Australia
‘sunlit jasmine…’ by Gavin Austin, Australia
‘after the chemo’ by Stefanie Bucifal, Germany
‘jumping off the wharf’ by Julie Prince, Beach Haven, NZ
‘offering wintersweet’ by Sandra Simpson, Tauranga, NZ
There were a record number of 749 entries this year, reflecting the growing popularity of haiku around the world and affirming the prestigious nature of the Jeanette Stace Memorial Award.
As is usually the case in large numbers of submissions there was considerable diversity in style, subject matter and form along with a significant range in quality. In reading the entries it became clear that there were many who were new to haiku, and I was generally heartened by their sense of adventure and enthusiasm, remembering also that all of us in the haiku community are, or were once, new to the form—I recall with gratitude certain editors who took the time to make encouraging suggestions around some of my own early attempts. So subtle is the art that the haiku journey is never completed, its aspirations never fully realised and I am happy to say I am still very much a learner. There is often a freshness that is most appealing in the work and play of those new to any art, perhaps particularly so in haiku—hence some of the gems that crop up in the younger age categories. This is something to be nurtured before our natural inclinations and exuberance are cluttered by ego, expertise and over concern with form and technique—though in haiku it does us well to deepen our understanding of its values, principles, history, contemporary trends and fashions. That’s a long way of saying there is much merit in staying fresh as we develop our craft. I hope there are a few newcomers among the selections here and I sincerely thank you all for all your offerings. If yours were not included in the final selections please don’t be put off, many excellent haiku could not be included simply because of limitations in the number of available places. While I was needing to be moved by various aesthetic qualities, there remains a degree of subjectivity in the process of making selections and a different adjudicator would inevitably have made other selections. I suspect though that many of the standouts here would have been noticed by anyone with an eye for it. For those just beginning the journey, continue to read the work of others, old and new—every age has its own take on art, adds something unique to the totality—allow yourself to be influenced, but more importantly continue to develop your own voice, celebrate what is most essential to your nature—and most of all, enjoy what you do, life is not a competition.
Considering any creative endeavour; whether in music, dance, literature, fashion design, humour, acting, motorcycle restoration or whatever, it is clear that creativity flows differently and uniquely through individual persons as well as in the chemistry between persons. Of course, there are social and cultural dimensions to creative expression, however we each potentially tap into a unique part of the wellspring. Liberating the energies of creative flow for each of us is a personal challenge. Be influenced but never imitate, the rest of us will only be truly excited by that something unique that comes from you. Finding one’s own voice is not just a challenge we might feel as aspiring poets but entails the challenge of living deeply, of becoming more ourselves. But ugh!— have fun. As Salvador Dali said, ‘Never worry about perfection, you’ll never reach it.’
HAIKU JUNIOR SECTION
Judge: Marco Fraticelli, Canada
Haiku Junior School group
snowy night —
the smell of
by Zoe Grant, Epsom Normal Primary School, Auckland
soft lights between leaves
stars against the sky
by Millie Keith, St. Andrew’s College, Christchurch
white walls, messy wires
flowers in the vase
fixed green line on the screen
by Katie Zhang, St. Andrew’s College, Christchurch
varnished toenails sinking
in the sand
by Sarah-Kate Simons, Southbridge
Cherry blossoms fall,
Drift to old temple roof,
Settle on cold ponds.
by Aveline Forsyth, Christchurch
the widow gathers
by Sarah-Kate Simons, Southbridge
‘midnight’ by Aneel Bartlett, Christchurch
‘Drops of reflection’ by Jamie Rea, Palmerston North
‘the temple’ by Priya Bartlett, Christchurch
‘made from oil’ by Emily Morgan, St. Andrew’s College, Christchurch
‘cars speeding away’ by Lorna Hart, St. Andrew’s College, Christchurch
‘From a forest of trees’ by Julia Mitchell, Halswell School, Christchurch
‘Pitter patter’ by Reuben Fone, Halswell School, Christchurch
‘Sea sick on the shore’ by Sofia Mepham, Birchville Middle School, Upper Hutt
‘Autumn arrives’ by Lily Noh, Halswell School, Christchurch
‘Nanny’s birthday’ by Addison Williams, St. Andrew’s College, Christchurch
‘Across the river’ by Thomas Nalder
‘a toddler’ by Priya Bartlett, Christchurch
‘winter’ by Chloe Sha, Christchurch
‘hic cups’ by Tarn Paterson, Little River
‘About’ by Evie Johnson
‘Early morning’ by Alfie Lash, Christchurch
‘Droplets fall’ by Eva Reynolds, Otago Girls’ High School, Dunedin
‘Cloudy days’ by Cheryl Cheng, Christchurch
Let me begin by saying how pleased and honoured I felt when I was when I was asked to judge the Junior Division of the New Zealand Haiku Contest.
I have been writing haiku for close to fifty years and in all that time, a consistent concern in the haiku community has been how to attract younger poets to the haiku genre. At virtually every haiku conference that I have attended over the years, the talk would inevitably turn to the need to bring our youth into the haiku community.
Judging this contest has given me a sense of hope in this regard. Although some readers might be inclined to question a few of the haiku that I have selected on technical grounds, we cannot deny the freshness and vision of these young poets. The range of topics is large. While some of the haiku are humorous, many others are very serious. They take us to a deathbed in a hospital, our over-dependence on oil, and even to refugees stranded on a foreign shore. These poets are very much aware of the world that surrounds them.
I was particularly impressed by the subtlety of many of the entries. Although the majority of the haiku were visually strong, other relied on our other senses such as smell, hearing and touch, for their success.
Speaking as an elementary school teacher of many years, I would offer this advice to my fellow teachers: stay out of their way. These youngsters still live much more in the moment than those of us who have attained a certain age. Let them express their visions without encumbering them with too many rules. Haiku don’t need to have a title. They don’t need to be a certain number of syllables. Haiku are not sentences that require a period at the end or a capital letter at the beginning. A haiku is an attempt to capture the moment that you are experiencing. Everything else is secondary.
Congratulations to everyone whose haiku were selected. I wish that I had been able to write as well as you when I was your age. Many adults struggle to produce work that is as good as these haiku.
And finally, if your haiku was not one that was chosen, you should know that there were many others that I liked and that had great merit. The unfortunate restriction of a contest is that the judge is limited to selecting only a small number of winners. I hope that you will try again next year and that yours is one of the haiku selected by the judge.