2009 Poetry Competition Results

Congratulations to all the winners! View the results and read the judges’ comments below.

Open Section I Haiku Section I Open Junior Section I Haiku Junior Section

Open Section

First Prize: Frankie McMillan, Christchurch – ‘My father’s balance/Le marriage des funambules’

Second Prize: Owen Bullock, Waihi – ‘echo/reading Yunna Morits’

Third Prize: John Horrocks, Lower Hutt – ‘Ordnance’

Highly Commended:

Tom Dowling (Ireland): ‘White frost’; Amanda Hunt (Wellington): ‘Overture’; Frankie McMillan (Christchurch): ‘Man with two legs’; Catherine Moxham (Palmerston North): ‘She tells you’; John O’Connor (Christchurch): ‘His first language is Japanese’; Pat White (Masterton): ‘Process/ remembering Christian Hugens, 1658′.

Commended:

Alison Denham (Waimangaroa): ‘Windmills and Beaches’, and ‘Raspberry Money’; Janis Freegard (Wellington): The Wind and the Caterpillar’; Karen Goa (North Shore City): ‘Shoes’; Saradha Koirala (Wellington): ‘Echolalia’; Frankie McMillan (Christchurch): No money in Hungarians’; JM White (USA): ‘ “They shall entangle this world with iron” Wooden Cup’; Nick Williamson (Christchurch): ‘My father was a hare’; Cy Mathews (Dunedin): ‘Little Night Song’.

Judge’s Comments: Michael Harlow

714 poems that arrived in various degrees of fitness, and all keen to make a claim for one of the finalist places in the 2009 International Poetry Competition. Poems in a very wide range of themes and forms and voices. To be read and reflected on and read yet again, especially those that made it through to the long-list, which initially came out rather ‘long’ indeed at some 100 poems. Out of which I had to find three top prizewinners, a 1st, 2nd and 3rd; and then a combination of 15 poems Highly Commended and Commended. And all of which were in various ways and forms of saying, a pleasure to read.

When it came down to the short-listing of fifty poems, and then the short-list of contending finalists of some 25 poems, I began to see and hear the quality of the writing in both content and form, which made the end-run to the Finals difficult, but difficult by way of pleasure at having such a number of distinctive poems to choose from; at the same time a little frustrating because there were clearly more poems deserving of a ‘top spot’ than there were places available. The delight in reading such a range of very accomplished poems quickened, but finally after a great deal of re-reading (all of which was aloud as well), I was able to settle on the finalists.

1st prizewinner, ‘My father’s balance/Le marriage des funambules’ is a poem as metaphor in itself at the same time it is a very skilled enactment of, as the epigraph signals, “Le marriage des funambules”. There is a robust sensibility of language that sharpens the detailed ‘narrative’, so that there is that kind of clarity that can make a poem shine, in this case a fairly quiet kind of light – no flashy stuff going on here. From the very first reading, I kept returning to this poem for the pleasure of reading how finely tuned it is to both the eye and the ear. A poem that makes intimate the experience that it touches.

2nd prizewinner, ‘echo/reading Yunna Morits‘. On first reading ‘echo’ I felt strongly that it was going to end up as a finalist, and repeated readings confirmed that. One of those poems that presents the thing in order to convey the feeling, it allows the feeling to show in the words/ images through using a ‘personified voice’ that is both instinct with elegy and resonant with a (quiet) redemptive note. There is in the language a sensibility of shared feelings that is everywhere present, and that creates a sense of intimacy between the voice and its ‘echo’; you could say, a conversation with its ‘other self’. As well, it reads rather like a translation, or translation-version of one voice to the other, in itself a fascinating act of the imaginal.

3rd prizewinner, ‘Ordnance’. A poem whose very title ends up saying more (and significantly more) than it appears to say at first glance, just as the object itself in the poem is more than a “mere unexploded/ordnance, a relic of old wars” A poem that extends what happens at one level into a brief meditation (in memoriam, rather) on a near-death experience and the “power of water”; and takes that into a deeper territory of meaning as we see and hear in “the force of ungovernable/transformation, stood bright/moments in the whirlwind”. Rather than invent this is a poem that discovers – that understanding is one thing, ‘knowing’ is another.

In the Highly Commended grouping, there were a number of poems that kept wanting to make the top trio into a sextet or a septet of prize-winning estimables. In no particular order:

‘His first language is Japanese’ (I read it as a prose-poem), where fragments of experience – rather like a triptych of micro-poems in themselves – are scored to explore and show, in brief, the way the imagination and its associational fluency can “make words dream again” so that one day in this poem the “Bishop” might be “aware that he [is] about to be imagined by a tow truck.”

‘White frost’ is very assured in what it has to say and the manner of its saying. A poem that digs deep, as it were, to say in a language that is clearly true to the occasion and itself, something that matters, and deeply so; that it is in the natural world that we confront ourselves most fully. A quiet lyric that looks through to the deeper places of understanding. One wouldn’t want to alter or change or delete, or shift a word in this poem, so well composed as it is to sing, as they say, solo (with chorus in attendance).

In Overture there is a kind of easefulness of language that is at the same time quite animated in its crispness and feeling for how words can and do sometimes fly to each other with surprising results. A poem that takes some sharply observed particulars/details and opens them up to a deeper experience in which (again) an invisible knowingness is made visible as revealed in “and yet…every morning the first notes of a song/he already knows”.

‘Process’ uses a good measure of wit, in that sense of good judgement about the seriously ‘light touch’ (used seriously), to talk about the ramifications of displaced passion (the territory of the obsessive-compulsive), and the fascination with duration, and time itself. Rather a ‘Process’ of much ado about something that resists itself, the reasons for which the poem leaves open to the curiosity of the reader, but says enough to give us a word-hold on what that might be. This is good prose turned to verse that brings us closer to what the words are up to on the way to any idea that might declare itself, as it says, in the ‘process’.

Whatever else is happening (and there’s lots) in ‘Man with two legs’, this is a poem that gives pleasure, and some delight, too. There is much to be said, and all of it good, that poems can do this particularly in the way that this poem does. The talent for using words for ‘making strange’ the ordinary, the neat and tidy and predictable (without settling for invention when discovery is the ‘ticket’, as they say), can create those ‘quick surprises’ that can lift a poem to a more imaginative way of seeing what’s going on in the world inside and out, large or small.

‘She tells you’ is a finely crafted (love) lyric with I think not a word put wrong or gone astray. There’s lots of word-music here. And when we listen to what’s happening in that great hole behind words, we discover (because the poem makes that happen) that the voice of the loss of self-regard turned against itself, as it is here in the hurt heart, finally calls forth that ‘other voice’ – you could say the redemptive part of the self – that despite all “she sings in the morning/and it is light, not words/falling from her mouth”

Equally among the Commended set there were a number of poems that were always pushing to place themselves higher on the scale, as it were. Again in no particular order I can mention some of those:

The quite lovely canticle, ‘Little Night Song’ for its striking and provocative images and measured reticence, which in combination open the poem to any number of possible imaginings. A pleasure to read, rather a gem of a poem that resists too much knowing; that ‘resists the intelligence almost successfully’ (Stevens).

‘Echolalia’ for its exploration of ‘learning to talk’ through the imaginal, and the power of language to transform the ordinary into more than the predictable and what lies at the surface of a word’s reach.

‘Shoes’ for the way it builds on a moment of recognition that results in a truth-to-telling of what happens when Eros makes an appearance in a story just waiting for the action; and for the way it uses the colour of local/dialect to very engaging effect.

Congratulations and a Bravo, too, to all the Prizewinners and those who placed as Highly Commended and Commended. ‘Take a risk, trust your language, make a poem’ still seems a modest but worthwhile proposal to me, so thanks are in order for making that happen.

Haiku Section

First Prize (and winner of the Jeanette Stace Memorial Prize): Claire Knight (United Kingdom) – fluttering to the creak

Second Prize: Ernest J Berry (Picton) –  bedside vigil

Third Prize: Sandra Simpson (Tauranga) –  great-grandfather’s diary –

Fourth prize: Patricia Prime (Auckland) –  table for two –

Fifth Prize: Steve Cordery (Tauranga) –  the scent of jasmine

Highly Commended:

Melanie Barnes (Upper Hutt): ‘boarding school at 7′: Nathalie Buckland (Australia): ‘picnic area…’; Steve Cordery (Tauranga): ‘holding hands’; Helen Lowe (Christchurch): ‘after the funeral’; Joanna Preston (Christchurch): ‘new glasses’; Eleanor Rae (Christchurch): ‘christmas lily’; Sandra Simpson (Tauranga): ‘through the dome’; Helen Yong (Christchurch): ‘camping ground…’.

Commended:

Ernest J Berry (Picton): ‘early snow’; Owen Bullock (Waihi): ‘an ambulance’; Karen Peterson Butterworth (Otaki): ‘Heathrow’ and ‘2 am police call’; Ngaere Campbell (Coromandel): ‘winding road at evening’; Kirsten Cliff (Tauranga): ‘marriage ceremony’; Cameron Elliot (Tauranga): ‘city centre’; Maureen Irvine (Coromandel): ‘dead transistor radio …’; Scott Mason (USA): ‘twang of the fence wire – ‘; Sandra Simpson (Tauranga): ‘country war memorial’.

Judge’s Comments:Tony Chad

opening the mail
a ream
of haiku

That’s how it began – 505 haiku waiting for me to read, enjoy, sort and finally rank the top thirty or so outstanding entries. After an initial run through, it seemed wise to make a start on my final report, and clarify what I would be looking for!

First up, although a haiku captures a moment in time it has to do a lot more than that. We can run outside with a digital camera these days and quickly capture a moment. A reaction of “Oh, that’s nice” may be an acceptable response. A similar approach with a ‘haiku’ could result in “that’s nice – but so what?” A good haiku should never result in “So what?”

Likewise, all other things being equal, I would be looking for fresh images and images that truly reflected the culture in which the writer lived. I’m afraid a “cherry-blossom” haiku would be at an immediate disadvantage and have to work really hard to overcome a history of overuse.

Likewise, a good haiku should usually suggest time of year by its imagery rather than stating specifically ‘winter’, ‘autumn’, ‘summer’ or ‘spring’.

I would expect that the best haiku would stop me in my tracks – I would grab hold of the contrasting images conjured up by the writer, would maybe empathise with the thoughts, would be struck by the freshness, the strength, the realisation that “Yes, that’s so true”. The “Ah” factor.

I would not distinguish between haiku and senryu from the point of view of favouring one or the other.

I would keep in mind the excellent “Guidelines for writing haiku” found in the appendix of the first New Zealand Haiku Anthology (1993). To quote Cyril Childs : “Haiku is about what is happening now, about keenly perceived moments in time. Haiku is about images (often unexpectedly juxtaposed) that arouse interest and emotions; about layers of suggestion and implication – these give haiku their all important ‘depth’. Haiku is about sparseness and clarity, the right choice of words that conveys images explicitly and emotions implicitly. Haiku provide jumping-off points for readers to explore their own experiences. Haiku is about being part of the world around us”.

Over the course of two weeks I read through all the entries several times, gradually letting go of some each time as I aimed for my final selection from which I would choose the top five, followed by Highly Commended and Commended. In general I was impressed by the quality, so much so that when I thought I was quite close to the final selection process, I discovered that I actually still had 185 haiku to choose from! There followed a few more ruthless readings, then a change of mind on some and I ended up with 25 from which to make my final selections. The wonderful thing about haiku is that we are all able to interpret them in different ways according to our own unique experiences. So, a haiku that particularly impresses me may do nothing for some other reader. This leads me to comment (as I usually do when judging a competition of any poetic form): “Remember that the results in a competition are just one person’s opinion. The important thing is to express yourself, write as well as you can, steadily improve, and share your work – especially through ‘live’ performance. Read as many published poets as you can, and support any live readings you hear about”. Here are my choices:

First

fluttering to the creak
of ice caverns
Himalayan prayer flags

My choice of haiku for first place hit me immediately – it brought to mind an interview I had seen with a community of people who lived, I think, in Nepal. Their whole future was under threat (as is the world’s) from the effects of global warming and particularly in their case the retreating glaciers, upon whose water supply they depended at certain times of the year. I was also reminded of the power and danger of the ice formations, after the collapse of an ice shelf at Fox Glacier in NZ which killed two tourists recently. Daily we read of how the world’s leaders are dragging their heels on dealing with global warming. This haiku leaves us with the striking image of an old indigenous people’s reliance on prayer to bring a solution.

Second

bedside vigil
the man in the moon
almost gone

So many questions from a simple-looking haiku … Who was the vigil for? What was the relationship? At first glance we expect that the person in the bed is an older person, soon to leave this life. The mention of “the man in the moon” suggests that the visitor has been there a long time, maybe literally all night or maybe even longer. Night-time is almost over, the vigil is almost over, just as a life is about to end. But then that phrase “the man in the moon” suggests nursery rhymes and that a child may be involved. That makes the whole situation much more poignant.

Third

great-grandfather’s diary –
his sketch of an iceberg
fading away

OK – so it’s another global warming one! Topical yes, but such an important issue … Neat images from a bygone era – a time when people used to keep a diary. Had great-grandfather been on a cruise to see icebergs? Was he going overseas to serve in some war in Victorian times where he had come across icebergs? Had he just seen photographs or read books about icebergs, even before the invention of ‘moving pictures’? We don’t know, but we can conjure up all kinds of possibilities. It was a time before anyone talked about global warming or abuse of the Earth’s resources. At the end, the sketch of the iceberg is “fading away” just as the real icebergs are in today’s environment.

Fourth

table for two –
I share it with a stranger
and my notebook

Ah! Here’s a more light-hearted one! “Table for two” is simple, but was it the only table available and was the sharing a matter of necessity? Was the writer (probably female) going to use her notebook as a barrier between her and the stranger? Was the stranger a man? Was the notebook in fact a book or a small computer? Was the table booked in advance, knowing that it would be shared with a stranger? If so, was that stranger someone the writer was going to interview? Was it a blind date? Were the two people actually in a relationship that was ‘past its use-by date’? Had the other person become a stranger through time? Was the writer going to end a relationship? Had the relationship already ended and were the two people meeting in a public place to discuss settlement details? Many possibilities from the seemingly innocuous three short lines.

Fifth

the scent of jasmine
as he makes the bed

Seems simple enough … but in a stereotypical way, why is “he” making the bed? It suggests that he is living alone, whether permanently of temporarily. Was he in a relationship that has recently ended? Was it recent enough that the smell of his partner’s fragrance is still on the sheets? Is it the beginning of a new relationship where a new partner has stayed overnight, possibly for the first time and he is lingering over the scent of her? Is he merely making the bed and the scent of jasmine wafts in from outside through an open window, bringing other memories altogether? Is he staying somewhere away from home, and the scent of jasmine reminds him of home, a partner, a lover? Again, many questions from a seemingly very simple haiku. Of course, there is no answer!
[As for the] Highly Commended and Commended entries [s]ometimes the borders were blurred, and there were a large number of very good submissions. It’s been a pleasure to judge this year’s competition.

Open Junior Section

First Prize: Charlotte Trevella (Christchurch) – ‘Sum to Infinity’

First Runner-Up (Secondary): Sonya Clark, Hastings – ‘She Has Seen Summers’

Second Runner-Up (Secondary): Rebecca Hawkes (Ashburton) –  ‘Rhapsodomancy’

First Runner-Up (Primary/ Intermediate) Oliver Sircombe-Kohen (Upper Moutere) –  ‘On the Walk to Separation Point’

Second Runner-Up (Primary/ Intermediate) Yanhao Tay (Christchurch) –  ‘So Sad’

Highly Commended:

Laura Hadfield (Auckland): ‘Me Little Small’; Charlotte Trevella (Christchurch): ‘Night Light’, ‘Genetics’ and ‘Brothers Grimm’; Harry Waters (Arrowtown): ‘Alone’.

Commended:

Sophia Frentz (Tauranga): ‘On Studying Biology’; Monique Hodgkinson (Wellington): ‘My Father is a Writer’; Tabitha Manson (Auckland): ‘The Bear’; Luke Masters (Auckland): ‘House of Animals’; Leika McIvor (Palmerston North): ‘Camping’; Kirsty Plowman (Christchurch): ‘The Last Formal’; Charlotte Trevella (Christchurch): ‘Weathervane’ and ‘Summer etc.’; Sam Williams (Christchurch): Family Farm; Room 10 (Year 2), Victoria Ave Primary School (Auckland): ‘Blowy Wind’.

Judge’s Comments: Sue Wootton

There were over 300 poems in this part of the competition. There were poems that sang it strange, sang it sweet, sang it sad, sang it silly. Occasionally there was a poem that did all of this on one page. I read every submitted poem at least three times. By then a strong shortlist had revealed itself, which, after countless rereading (often aloud), I was able to whittle down to the best of the best. Ranking the winners caused me much anguish, because all of these best poems had a number of qualities I was drawn to. Each was alive on the page, and I could tell that the poet had ‘lived inside’ the poem while it was being written. The evidence was there in quiet, non-obtrusive clues, such as the line break being in exactly the right place for this poem, the beat being exactly right for this poem, the word choice being exactly right for this poem. Where students had worked with a teacher-given theme, like Anzac Day, or Autumn, the poems that shone were the ones that showcased the poem, not the formula, bringing the poem itself to the foreground and letting the reader’s awareness of classroom exercises recede.

All the winning and commended poets went on a difficult journey. Each took a ‘poetic’ idea or impulse inwards, on the quest for a whole poem. Each focused long and hard, so as to recognise the (sometimes camouflaged, often elusive) fragments of that emerging poem, bringing what was found to the surface – to the page – where all the reassembling and polishing takes place. The winning and commended poems shared the following attributes:

  • They were not overwritten. In fact they were rigorously pared back with a sense of attention having been paid to every single line, every single word. “Is this necessary?” “Am I repeating myself? And if so, do I want to?” “How does this fit in with the pattern I’m developing in this poem?” – these poets had asked themselves questions like this as they crafted their finished work.
  • The poets used language athletically – sometimes acrobatically. But elegance, as always, is deceptive: “If it doesn’t look easy you aren’t working hard enough”, said Fred Astaire. The poems that didn’t make the cut often used awkward turns of phrase, or clichés, in the hope that this would elevate the language into something more “poetic”. The best work had been made from the inside out, like strong bones, not applied from the outside in, like an ill-fitting jacket.

The winning poem, ‘Sum to Infinity’, is both quiet and bold. I love the control of language, the delicate rhythms, the infinite space of this poem. It deals with something dear to the hearts of many entrants, but avoids cliché, sentimentality and melodrama. The poet muses on the nature of infinity. The poem starts with an assertion about the “original miracle” and ends with the word “forever”. So this poem is about life and death, and, though couched in philosophical and scientific language, is personal as well as cosmic in its reach. The centre of the poem is now – “this week”. The “I” of the poem is fixed in time and space, sitting exams in a “huge and/ hollow building” while “the sky/ accelerated towards/ us”. Of course what is also accelerating towards the speaker is the future – adult life beyond the relative safety of school (“hollow” to the student who is preparing to leave) – exciting, but also daunting: “black with voltage”. This poem perfectly captures this moment of being poised on the brink. Childhood is behind (because we can’t “hold on tight enough”) and the unfathomable “smooth planetarium/ of sky” future lies ahead. “With physics nothing is a/ miracle anymore,” states the speaker, and those two lines are allowed to hang by themselves: a flat, “hollow” conclusion. Ah, but not a conclusion – see how the statement ends with a comma, not a full stop. Straight away this thought (that “nothing is a miracle anymore”) is rejected by the speaker: “but how strange” – and now the poem loops back to the balloon image from the first stanza. But now the child’s “helium balloon” (weighing “less than nothing”) is a “red balloon”, full-blooded, ready and willing to dare “puncture” that sky, and start “travelling”.

‘She Has Seen Summers’ [First Runner-Up, Secondary] cooked up an entire landscape. It’s a smoldering poem, almost suffocating, where “steam drips down her face” and a “thirsty” sun is “stuck/ in the afternoon’s sky”. The grandmother’s uneasy reminiscences about “the drought of ‘89” and “the fire of that summer” form one part of the narrative. In the first stanza we are plunged into heat and violence: “cracked the concrete”, “splitting”. This is underscored by queasy, fearful helplessness (“She had watched the dogs bark themselves sick/ as their collars cooked their necks. Too hot/to help…”). These memories are interwoven with images of what she is doing right now (“she pours/ her fingers into cooking/ fruit”). Standing at the stove watching “the steam and how it rises like smoke”, the grandmother is nearly paralysed by memories and fear (“her hair hangs limp”; “she is watching”; “She watches”). Meanwhile the pot is boiling over and “splinters of burning grass” might be closing in from the horizon. The last line is expertly judged. “There is a bucket of water nearby” – this is first mention of cold water in this combustible poem and it comes as a quench of relief. But… only a bucket? The relief is momentary, as we realise how inadequate the water is. And immediately the jumpy fear comes rushing back, in the repeated panicky pulse of “just in case, just in case”.

‘Rhapsodomancy’ [Second Runner=Up, Secondary] unfolds as a series of observations about an un-named someone who is “so light/ … I swear you must have/ Sparrow bones”. The poem charms and alienates in turn, so that the reader is first hooked in, then kept at arm’s length having to work out what is going on (like the observer in the poem, I suspect). The poem, like the person being described, is sometimes heartbreakingly beautiful, sometimes playful, suddenly almost revealing but then suddenly elusive or obscure. The beat or rhythm of the poem is all fits and starts: bursts of long-line energy (“Effervescence carved into calculated agony-euphoria-love-hate-caffeine-highs”) followed by reigned-in two, three or four word lines. At its most de-energised, the poem is all but catatonic (see the one-word lines “Rude”, and “Echolalia”). Immediately, though, it swings back towards euphoria and fantasy (“The wings on your back”). The language, likewise, “flicks as it moves”, balancing a palpable love for the observed person with an underlying fear for their safety. This is a poem describing someone on the edge: “You trace your frame against the edge of nature”; “Your heart lies somewhere between perfection and dust.” Instability lies at the heart of the impulse for this poem, and bleeds into its structure. The poem – like the person the poem is addressed to – struggles, at times, to contain and control itself. Yet this poem, so empathetically written, so accurately observed and honestly articulated, put a haunting on me which I can’t shake off.

‘On the Walk to Separation Point’ is the first runner-up in the primary/intermediate section. This poem is beautifully controlled, with the form echoing the sense. The writing was so mature that I had to check that it wasn’t actually a secondary school entry. The reader accompanies the poet on a walk. In a sense the walk is circular: the title and last line are identical, and so we end where we started (and we knew where we were going all along – to Separation Point). But at another level the poem is a meandering walk in one direction, and the Separation Point in the last line of the poem is quite a different place to the imagined Separation Point of the title. It isn’t a fast walk. There is time to observe, time to contemplate. The poet notices “crusty branches” obstructing the track. The children are “muted”, “hunched” as slow or awkward as turtles. Midway things almost come to a complete halt with the description of the tree “fallen in the bay”. This is the only couplet in a poem of triplets – it looks as if this stanza has become separated from its third line (possibly from the title). By now, we are starting to realise, ‘separation’ is everywhere – branches separated from trees; the speaker separated from a line of children ahead; the children’s voices “fragmenting”; a whole tree separated from its earth and fallen in the bay. As if to strike back at this, to make a connection rather than a separation, the very next word is “we”. But though the group has near-military attributes, it has no power in this landscape: “We tramp forward/ A drum roll of muddy boots/ On a graveyard of skeleton leaves”. The last stanza is in itself a beautiful resonant poem. Here the poet finally uses the pronoun “I” – not once, but twice (“I am thinking of things I do not have”). It’s a moment of insight or acceptance (and it leaves room for the reader to imagine what those things might be). In the next line “my hand curved round a grainy old stick” is a powerful image – it could be simple hiking support, or it could be a weapon, like a taiaha, or it could be fuel for a fire, or the first upright for a hut, or (being grainy and old) it might be a grandparent’s walking stick… you decide. Now the poem concludes: “On the walk to Separation Point” – which, in a lovely paradox, closes the circle, and ‘unseparates’ the end from the beginning. Nice!

‘So Sad’ [Second Runner-Up, Primary/Intermediate] is a small poem of only 17 words, including the title, and many of these are repeated. The word sock is repeated three times, the phrase favourite soccer sock twice, and the word so is echoed in sew. In three lines and a title the poet has used end rhyme, internal rhyme (so, hole, sew), and alliteration (so sad, soccer sock, sew). Visually and aurally the poem starts small and expands as it goes, each line building on the previous, the two beats of the title and first line (So sad; hole in my sock) becoming three beats in the second, and five in the last. That beat is slow as a funeral drum – you cannot read this poem quickly, even though it is so small. The first line lays out the problem: hole in my sock. The second line tells us more: my favourite soccer sock. Not just a soccer sock, but my favourite. The last line is a question without an answer. For me, this poem goes on expanding in my mind long after I’ve read the words on the page, exposing more and more “hole” in place of answers. It made me feel “so sad”, even though on the surface this poem is simply about a holey soccer sock, and even though the repeated phrase “soccer sock” tickles my tongue and makes me smile. That’s another thing I really like about this poem – how it balances the comic tickly ‘t’ and ‘k’ sounds (favourite soccer sock) against long sad vowel sounds (so, sew, hole, who). And the word that goes on ringing in my ears long afterwards is not any of the repeated words. It’s the word Who. With its ‘h’ and long oo, with its first-word-of the line placement and emphatic stress, it harks back to the poem’s opening word: Hole. Now when I listen, Who sounds like hoo, which sounds like a ghost blowing through the hole in the poem. Then the word sew echoes the so in the title, reminding the reader that the poem’s called ‘So sad’, and suggesting a far greater sadness, a far emptier ‘hole’ – an absence, or the fear of absence, of someone important. I bet the writer didn’t consciously intend any of this when he or she penned this little masterpiece! Nevertheless the effects are there. This young poet has the ability to climb inside the work while he or she is writing, perfect pitch, and the confidence to know that less is often more. Well done!

In a poem called Feeling and Form, American poet Marilyn Hacker wrote: “… I do like words/ which is why I make things out of words/ and listen to their hints, resounding like skipping stones radiating circles…” The winning poets obviously like words, have listened attentively for word hints, and crafted poems that go on ‘radiating circles’ long after they are read. It’s been an honour and a pleasure to read your work. Congratulations and keep writing!

Haiku Junior Section

First Prize: (and winner of the Jeanette Stace Memorial Prize): Sophia Frentz (Tauranga) – stolen lunchtime

Second Prize: Sophia Frentz (Tauranga) – last dance

Third Prize: Devon Gurney-Meehan (Christchurch) – the tree’s reflection

Fourth Prize: Margaret Reed (Christchurch) – sitting still

Fifth Prize: Cathy Reimer (Christchurch) – Devils’ fingers

Highly Commended:

Courtney Barr (Christchurch): ‘power lines buzz’; Harry Frentz (Tauranga): ‘my face reflected’; Sophia Frentz (Tauranga): ‘autumn leaves’; Ashleigh Goh (Christchurch): ‘midnight my cupcake full’; Ben Jenkins (Christchurch): ‘I close the gate’; Jacoba Kinley (Christchurch): ‘flax bushes’; Charlotte Trevella (Christchurch): ‘spider’s web’; Felicity van der Pol (Christchurch): ‘moon’; Sam Verdellen (Christchurch): ‘full moon’.

Commended:

Matilda Boyce (Christchurch): ‘traffic jams’; Jared Chin (Christchurch): ‘midnight’; Jessica Duston (Westport): ‘the spaniel’s shadow’; Sophia Frentz (Tauranga): ‘old table’; Kimberley Gee (Christchurch): ‘a recycle truck waits’; William Habgood (Christchurch): ‘on a still night’; Danielle Lusk (Westport): ‘jandals float’; Ayreton Macdonald (Westport): ‘smoke rises’; Charlotte Trevella (Christchurch): ‘empty seat’; Felicity van der Pol (Christchurch): ‘snow’. Special Mention: James Criglington (Christchurch): ‘the little old frog’.

Judge’s Comments: Linzy Forbes

Judging this year’s junior haiku/senryu was a most enjoyable task. There were over 800 entries on a wide variety of themes. There are many interpretations of what makes a good haiku, from the strict traditional syllable count through to the more arcane elements such as wabi, sabi and yugen. (I would recommend that serious students google these terms) My own take is that a good haiku expresses the essence of a moment in a breath. The best of them relive or conjure that moment to the ears or eyes of the listener or reader. The more we know of that moment the more we are in tune with that moment. I am happy to report that a good percentage of the submitted works can be regarded as haiku and about half of the entries were good efforts. Some failed however by being merely descriptive or just simple statements. However, some of these were quite good little poems in their own right. Some of the submissions used unnecessary words, usually to make up a syllable count of seventeen and this often detracted from what were otherwise good haiku. I did note there was a huge disparity in the sophistication of the work presented. Some of the haiku were obviously written by senior students and some by real youngsters. I would like to give a special commendation to one handwritten & illustrated haiku by perhaps our youngest entrant [James Criglington]. His/her haiku while obviously a familiar yet new take on perhaps the most popular haiku of all time gives us a wonderful picture of the author’s delight in his recent understanding of the art form:

the little old frog
sat on the black wonky bridge
splash! Splash! silence there [. . .]

First Prize really stood out from the rest. A very simple and elegant senryu with a strong sense of yugen:

stolen lunchtime
I count
his piercings

There is a sense of mystery in this poem. The writer is surreptitiously counting someone’s piercings whilst engaged in another activity that is not strictly on the agenda. The poem evokes two provocative questions. Is the agenda the poet’s or is it someone else’s? Is the poet perhaps offended by the piercings or secretly admiring them? This is a very good example of the term shasei (meaning ‘sketching from life’). There is much subtlety here. The portrait is immediate yet remains mysterious while retaining an element of grace and contemplation.

Second Prize has similar elements of mystery. Here we find the natural impermanence of things as they really are:

last dance
my perfume
almost gone

We also find the notion that something is incomplete and a hint of decay. This poem brings forth an emotional response that immediately links us to the moment and the poet herself.

Third Prize gives us a clear image of a picture presented when the natural world collides with humanity:

the tree’s reflection
wobbled as gumboots
splashed on concrete

This haiku offers immediacy and we can sense the fun and the pleasure involved. I would however suggest that these elements would be more immediate if the poem were written in the present tense!

Fourth Prize is a haiku that has a simple beauty:

sitting still
beside a window
sunlight reflects blind eyes

Here we find tranquility – an ease and a beauty with something that otherwise may be seen as imperfect. There is the contrast between the bright sun-filled world and the dark inner world of the sightless one who yet observes the sun through other senses. There is also an unspoken empathy with the object of the poem.

Fifth Prize is a humorous reminder to many of us of our schooldays:

Devils’ fingers
tempt insects into
Venus fly traps

I especially like the sound of this poem. The ‘v’s the ‘l’s the ‘i’s and the ‘t’s all combine wonderfully here to help provide a dark edge to the poem. I am sure that most who read this poem will remember being there.

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