We are delighted to announce the results of our annual poetry competition. We had close to 1700 entries across the categories. Our four judges – Nicola Easthope, Ken Arkind, an’ya and Sarah-Kate Simons – 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 2022 anthology, edited by Tim Jones because all the winning poems and editorial selections will be in the anthology.
Judge: Nicola Easthope
1st Place: The Return by Partridge Boswell, United States of America.
In first place is “The Return” by Partridge Boswell (USA) – a poem that dazzles with long, imagistic lines, “loons gliding across the lake’s smooth pewter scrim”; a poem that chimes and echoes across lines, “elusive loners or pairs / of reclusive stay-at-homers”. Boswell’s is a poetic voice at once conversational and playfully philosophical – its cleverness opens out to and includes the reader. “The Return” illuminates a moment of shared appreciation for the life within a lake – where memory, ecology, fantasy and politics bubble to the surface, and enjoyment of the word abounds. I found it (re)wildly appealing!
2nd Place: “Heavy-limbed tree after rain” by Iona Winter, New Zealand
In second place, “Heavy-limbed tree after rain” by Iona Winter (Aotearoa) arrows straight to the heart. It is a poem that encapsulates the agony of losing a child with an immediate challenge to the reader, “You say I’m a heroine for navigating my tama’s death”. The perhaps well-intentioned messages from others to ‘move on’ over time is fiercely defended with striking and intimate truths, and the poem’s free, ragged structure is a perfect choice.
3rd Place: “Crossing the fault” by Brent Cantwell, Australia; formerly Timaru
In third place, is “crossing the fault” by Brent Cantwell (Australia; formerly Timaru). An exquisite sketch of a journey, which I imagine happening across Raukawa Moana/Cook Strait – where the mysteries of human connection and longing arise in that liminal space between and along tectonic islands: “I just wanted someone to talk to, someone to smudge / a piece of the world against a piece of the world – ”. It’s a really poised, evocative poem.
“Correcting Einstein” by David Gregory, New Zealand
“Matryoshka” by Partridge Boswell, United States
“Small Changes” by Anne Casey, Australia
“Sunflowers” by Matt Hohner, United States
“The Measure of Absence” by Denise O’Hagan, Australia
“Ara Toi” by Iona Winter, New Zealand
“Listening for Spirits” by Jac Jenkins, New Zealand
“The Little Blues” by Gillian Roach, New Zealand
“I bend” by Rebecca Ball, New Zealand
“Voices” by Jeni Curtis, New Zealand
“Kippers and Lace Curtains” by David Terelinck, Australia
“Myths” by Samantha Montgomerie, New Zealand
“Push” by Karen Zelas, New Zealand
“Rain Theory” by Partridge Boswell, United States
“The Exiles Prayer” by Siobhan Harvey, New Zealand
“There is a river inside of her” by Tracia Lark, New Zealand
Tēnā koutou katoa.
It was a privilege to be invited into the sacred, creative realms of language evident in each entry for the 2022 New Zealand Poetry Society’s International Poetry Competition. Out of the 660 poems in my section, all were formed and fashioned to engage with the self, with the relational spaces between people, and the interweavings of the world we share. I was enchanted, startled, humoured, inspired and sometimes, my eyes welled. As you would expect, there was a rich array of themes, styles and forms. Collectively, the 660 pieces traversed arcs of ancestry, birth, love, travel, death and renewal. Repeating motifs across the collection included eels, birds, bodies of water, forests, mountains, houses, lights, stardust and the gaps formed by the loss of beloved ones. Each and every poem in the hefty pile was a gift from one anonymous poet-heart to another.
What was it about a poem that particularly alighted my attention; that made it not just good or ‘not bad’, but quite brilliant? Poems that gave multi-sensory tingles, that were imaginatively transporting, emotionally engaging, and where the ending had just the right measure of wonder, ache or satisfaction. Poets who clearly had practice also paid attention to sound and rhythm, through consonance and assonance, internal rhymes or half-rhymes, syllabic patterns and judicious line breaks to force a micro-pause or accelerate the flow. The best poems often demonstrated a deliberation over structure and form – whether measured into even lines and stanzas or more messily spread, as appropriate to the interior logic, purpose, and emotional pulse of the poem. The Commended and Highly Commended poems did many or all of these things.
When it came to this final place-getting selection, I was acutely aware that you could have ten judges in the room disagreeing in great and lively debate, such is the quality of so many of the entries. In the end, my discernment came down to personal engagement and taste – the invisible thread between my head-heart and each poem.
Ngā mihi maioha and congratulations to these and all the poets who entered. It was a slow and thorough pleasure reading and rereading your work. -Nicola Easthope, Raumati South, July 2022.
JUNIOR OPEN SECTION
Judge: Ken Arkind
1st Place Sillouettes by Oshadha Perera, New Zealand
Poetry is the art of trying to articulate an idea in a language that cannot capture it. It captures the part of our lives that is messy and indescribable and then turns that tragedy into something that makes sense. The winning poem by Oshadha Perera is a beautiful portrait of illness and the powerlessness of having to watch someone you love go through it. In stunning clarity, the author takes simple images (…blank walls and IV tubes, the smooth plaster of the ceiling, the window that gets disinfected once a day…) and weaves them into a complex tapestry of love and heartache. What I found most remarkable was how the poem about such an alienating experience still made the reader feel less alone by the end of it. The sky will sing for you, And I will wonder when you grew so tall.
2nd Place Lush by Ray Zhang, United States
The 2nd place poem by Ray Zhang is exactly what I meant when I said courageous. A testament to sacrifice and what it means to be the child of an immigrant. Writing about family is never easy, regardless of age. Holding mirrors up to the faces of those we love, hoping they see what we need them to. Each stanza is so well crafted they could almost be their own poems. it’s daunting how evolution/ perfected a claw only to be crushed/ under its metal brethren was a highlight for me along with the poems stunning ending. I felt privileged to read it.
3rd Place Entering this poem by Finn Kerby-Pinguet, New Zealand
Make no mistake about it, humour is one of the hardest things to do as a poet. Finn Kerby-Pinguet’s 3rd place poem is hilarious, poignant, and highly relatable considering the current crisis with the cost of living. Perhaps it wasn’t the author’s intent, but all great comedy comes with a heaping spoonful of hard truths, and I found myself not only laughing but shaking my fist at what felt like its condemnation of late-stage capitalism. Sharp biting punchlines like this poem is an investment, and a poor one at that but the market is a bear, whatever the nft-compounding-equity that means, are so memorable I was quoting them long after first reading it.
Nai Nai by Emily Zhang, New Zealand
Captain Cook by Indigo Tomlinson, New Zealand
The Sunflower Weeps by Claudia Mistar, New Zealand
dear book by Brooklyn Taylor, New Zealand
The Adventure Cookies by Sasha Walter, New Zealand
how to write poetry by Ella Duggan, New Zealand
We exist in a time by Ash Parkin, New Zealand
High Street Siesta by Eden Li, New Zealand
青花瓷 by Eassin Wang, New Zealand
It was an honour to judge the Open Junior Competition this year. The poems submitted this year were of such calibre that this was an unbelievably difficult process. I have spent almost 2 decades facilitating youth poetry events all over the world. And many of these programmes, such as slams, publishing contests, or Youth Poet Laureate Programmes, have a judging process. I cannot count the number of times I have uttered the phrase ‘I do not envy the judges’. After reading this year’s entries, I can’t help but feel a bit guilty for putting so many others into this same position.
And while it is a daunting task to pick a winner, it has been an absolute gift to be able to experience these poems.
What struck me most about the entries this year was the range of voice, topics, and styles. From personal poems about family and identity to hilarious social satire, love, complex wordplay and rhyme skill. These poets show a wisdom that defies their age. They are not the voices of tomorrow, they are the voices of today. I encourage anyone who wants a true look into the state of our current world to go to a Youth Poetry Slam or Open Mic or to read these poems.
I want to tell each and every one of the entrants this year that regardless of the outcome of this competition, to keep writing. Your voices are necessary.
What I love most in poetry is when it is courageous. When the author is taking a risk alongside the reader. I also love poems that tell a story, that capture a moment or emotion in time before it is lost. So when picking my top entries these are the factors that guided me.
Again thank you to every poet who submitted and also to the organisers who asked me to be a part of this.
Click here for all winners and placegetters as well as the judge’s report.
HAIKU JUNIOR SECTION
Judge: Sarah Kate Simons
Haiku Junior School group
1st place: “Bustling Streets” by Zach Easton, Ohaupo School
This is a stunning example of an incredibly modern image that fits perfectly with the haiku style. It’s immediate and evocative, showing us an image that is both familiar, and a touch unusual. Meeting a man in a coffee shop wearing a mask has become a standard of life, but a man who has cut a hole in his mask specifically to drink his coffee is a bizarre twist on a familiar image.
2nd place: “Trout Leaps” by Freddy Todhunter, St Andrews
While there is less pressure on modern poets to follow the strict line and syllable counts, two-line haikus are still rare and rather a daring choice to make. For the most part, this poem is beautifully concise, the image is quickly and neatly communicated.
3rd place: “Morning rays meet the earth” by Zach Easton, Ohaupo School
This haiku struck me for its humour. The poet sets up a relaxed atmosphere as if to
lull the reader into a false sense of security before striking us with the true nature of the moment.
1st place: “Harvesting Tomatoes” by Oshadha Perera, Southland Boys’ Highschool
This haiku is concise and evocative, with a deep sense of colour woven throughout. The poet has paired a more everyday experience with a uniquely personal one, making it both accessible and new to readers.
2nd place: “Spring Morning” by Ekam Kaur Minhas, Cambridge Highschool
The verb choice here of ‘whip’ rather than something more generic is well thought out and beautiful. It adds a sense of speed and immediacy that solidifies the image.
3rd place: “Dawn” by Isabelle Harrison, St Andrews Prep
Another very traditional haiku that has gorgeously encapsulated that magical feeling
one gets at dawn in a very short space of words.
“Winter Fire” by Savarna Yang
This is a lovely, cosy little haiku that is interesting for its use of a separate image in each of the three lines.
“Hospital Carpark” by Savarna Yang
“No Mans’ Land” by Oshadha Perera, Southland Boys Highschool
Haiku is, at its very core, a celebration of the moment—how best can a poet encapsulate a single moment in the smallest amount of words possible? This year I have had the privilege of experiencing moments both big and small, from a dog waiting outside a hospital to an abandoned swing in a garden to harvesting tomatoes and making a corsage. The entries were honest and evocative, communicated both through what was said and what was not said. The writers had a mature understanding of how the blank page can speak just as powerfully as the words, and each word was chosen with care to best deliver its message.
One piece of advice I would give to the entrants: please, please proofread your work, or have someone else read over it before sending it into a competition. Several beautiful pieces were ruined by misspellings, missing words and tense errors that could have been avoided if they had been reread pre-entry.
Also, a reminder that haiku is not short poetry. I came across entries that were bulky, word-heavy, abstract images crammed into three lines, many so abstract it took me several rereads to work out what the writer was saying. Poetry is a mystical mixture of the abstract and the concrete, whereas haiku relies solely on the concrete. In haiku, the abstract lives in the blank spaces between the words. I had to set aside several entries that were, by poetry standards, beautifully written, but not in any form a haiku.
The winners of the school group section in particular showed skill in taking a traditional form and placing it into our modern world. Haiku can sometimes be seen as a relic form that no longer has any grounding in our fast-paced modern lives, but these young writers proved that thought wrong by cleverly and skilfully showcasing the contemporary experience. There are tastes of the pandemic and of humour, and more structurally related modernizations, such as the rarer two-line haiku style.
The open junior section verges more into a celebration of the traditional, with deft descriptions of interactions with nature and vivid imagery. Here the competition was close, and I had a hard time picking out winners. In the end, I chose the three haiku whose imagery stayed with me and left me effectively ‘caught’ in the moment long after I reached the end of the final lines.
To all of you who entered this year: keep writing. Your skill and attentiveness to your work is admirable, and I hope you will continue refining your craft.