Poetry competition results 2014

Congratulations to all the winners and place-getters in this year’s competition. Select each section below to see the results and read the judges’ comments.

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

Open Section

Judge: Tim Jones

1st: ‘Apocalypse’ – Mary Dennis, Wellington

2nd: ‘The Evicted’ – Siobhan Harvey, Auckland

3rd: ‘Optimism’ – Lynley Edmeades, Dunedin

Highly Commended

‘evolution’ – Keith Nunes, Tauranga; ‘Sea foam at Gemstone Beach’ – Sue Wootton, Dunedin; ‘my daughter is a fish’ – Anne Harré, Wellington; ‘Torea Street’ and ‘A walk with her’ – Nicola Easthope, Raumati South; ‘The Astronomer’ David Taylor, Auckland; ‘at night my dead mother appears wanting soup’ – Frankie McMillan, Christchurch; ‘Spiegel im Spiegel’ – Tracey Sullivan, Singapore.

Commended

‘Ventifacts’ – Barbara Strang, Christchurch; ‘Furious Type’ – Wes Lee, Wellington; ‘Quan Jue’ – Eric Dodson, Tauranga; ‘Plaything’ – Fern Paulussen, Tauranga; ‘Waterfront’ – Rachel Tobin, Paekakariki; ‘Everything In Me Is Slow’ and ‘The Motel Prayer Book’ – Antonia Bertucci, Renwick; ‘Equine Connection’ – Gail Ingram, Christchurch; ‘Charlotte Brontë Observes a Murder’ and ‘February 11th, Tahrir Square’ – Mary Dennis, Wellington; ‘Palaces’ – Sue Wootton, Dunedin; ‘Twelve steps or more from my mother’s door’ – Frankie McMillan, Christchurch.

Judge’s Comments: Tim Jones

654. Not quite the Number of the Beast, not a number Iron Maiden is ever likely to write a song about, but a number that has been on my mind throughout the past month. That’s how many poems were entered in the Open Section of this year’s International Poetry Competition, which I had the honour of judging.

I’ve edited magazine issues and anthologies for which a large number of poems have had to be culled down to a much smaller number, but in such cases, there’s still room to include a generous selection of the best work submitted. Turning 654 entries into three placegetters and up to 20 Highly Commendeds and Commendeds is a much tougher task, because it means that many poems of publishable standard will miss out – and that makes judging especially difficult.

I had no preconceived idea when I started judging of what characteristics the leading poems would have, but I found myself responding most strongly to poems that were technically well-executed, memorable, and had something out of the ordinary to offer. The very best poems had all three. Poems that met the requirements of particular forms, but did not engage me with their content, fell by the wayside; so did poems that made a strong point – often a point I thoroughly agreed with – but did not execute it well as poetry.

Quite often, I found myself reading a poem and thinking ‘if only this poem had ended a stanza or a line earlier, it would still be in the running, because it would have been so much stronger without the moral spelled out at the end’. Poems that bent sense and syntax to serve rhyme schemes did not fare well with me: writing good rhyming poetry in English, especially non-humorous rhyming poetry, is a task that demands serious attention to detail. I came across images that dazzled me: but not all that glitters is gold, and a poem needed more than one striking image to advance.

So I set aside poems I felt comfortable setting aside, and then poems I would rather not have discarded, and then poems I greatly regretted discarding. What follows is one person’s opinion, one judge’s selection. Others would have judged, will judge, differently. To all those whose poems are not included, I say: read again, write again, and submit again!

Commended

Poems of love and horror: the real-world political horror of “Quan Jue”, with its marvellous final stanza, and “February 11th, Tahrir Square”; artworld horror and horror of art in the fury of “Furious Type”. Horror is refracted through literature in “Charlotte Brontë Observes a Murder” and “‘Twelve steps or more from my mother’s door'”. In “Waterfront” and “Palaces”, love of place is enhanced by memory, and a remembered landscape is also vivid in “Ventifacts”, whose dry style and sparse form matches its subject. “Plaything” is a villanelle that pulls off the marriage of form and content, while “Equine Connection”, the sinister and sexy “The Motel Prayer Book” and the quietly witty “Everything In Me Is Slow” find arresting ways of saying something about love. Twelve poems that wouldn’t let me let them go.

Highly Commended

The eight poems in this category are poems that came very close to being placegetters: the chopped diction and taut images of “A walk with her”, the marvellous evocation of an oystercatcher in “Torea Street”, the comical but endearing attempt to conquer the land in “Sea foam at Gemstone Beach”, and the quirky evolution of “evolution”, would contained my single favourite individual line of the entire competition.

From the absolute parental love and prospective but still distant loss of “my daughter is a fish”, to the surreal Western swing of “at night my dead mother appears wanting soup”, to “Spiegel im Spiegel” with its tiny moving figure in a vast still landscape, each of these poems stood out from the crowd: none more so than “The Astronomer”, which captures that most elusive of elements, wonder.

Placegetters

3rd place: “Optimism” is a lovely marriage of tight formal control, real-world ennui, and dry wit. This poem showcases what a prose poem can do.

2nd place: “The Evicted” is a poem of wide scope and strong political conviction – a poem of oppression but also hope. That is a great deal to pull off in 40 lines or less, and “The Evicted” achieves that by matching the drama of its language to the drama of its subject.

1st place: “Apocalypse” is the poem that, more than any other, brought together the three elements that went to make up the best poems entered for this competition: formal control, memorable content, and distinctive subject matter. These declarative statements of action and emotion use understatement to sneak up on the magnitude of their subject, and the last line rounds the poem off perfectly.

Open Junior Section

Judge: Siobhan Harvey

Winner: ‘to the fifth year med student’ – Sophie van Waardenberg, St Cuthbert’s College, Auckland

Runner-up, Secondary: ‘An Explanation for Darkness’ – Anna Doak, St Margaret’s College, Christchurch

Runner-up, Primary/Intermediate: ‘Darkness’ – Sophie Hampson, Broadgreen Intermediate School, Stoke

Highly Commended: ‘Veins’ – Amy Atkins, Awatapu College, Palmerston North; ‘Umbrella’ – Juliet McLachlan, Papanui High School, Christchurch; ‘What if…’ and ‘Sea Sonnet’ – Annabel Fairbairn, Mt Aspiring College, Wanaka; ‘Bubble’ – Alberta Hall, Sumner School / Bay Writers’ Class, Christchurch; ‘routine’ and ‘Crayon and dye on sugar paper by my brother at seven’ – Sophie van Waardenberg, St Cuthbert’s College, Auckland.

Commended: ‘Against the tide’ – Gabby Dodd-Terrell, Rangi Ruru Girls’ School, Christchurch; ‘Instructions to my average day’ – Peter Yu, St Andrew’s College, Christchurch; ‘To My Friend’ – Victoria Lowe, St Cuthbert’s College, Auckland; ‘Without words’ – Anna Wardill, Cromwell College, Cromwell; ‘Elephant in a room’ – Jaime Toepfer, Mt Aspiring College, Wanaka; ‘Painting Sonnet’ – Will Turner, Mt Aspiring College, Wanaka; ‘The Oak Tree’ – Greta Balfour, Arrowtown School, Queenstown; ‘Living with a Parent with Depression’ – Amy Atkins, Awatapu College, Palmerston North.

Judge’s Comments: Siobhan Harvey

Upon reading and rereading the 278 entries for this year’s competition, the themes which greeted me were a diversity of ideas and concerns, snapshots into the challenges and concepts absorbing our bright, young minds: bullying, gaming, dendrology, astronomy, cosmology, creativity, biography, friendships, annoyance, devotion, whānau… In this, as traumatic as it is to read well composed verse about children processing parental mental illness or how to find strength through terminal cancer, it is also heartening to witness and be immersed in these writers’ engagements with poetry as a medium for expression, creativity, perception and catharsis. New Zealand poetry is stronger for each entrant’s connection with language and concept.

To voice a topic and do so clearly and cleverly, as many entrants did, is one thing, but to connect the exploration of the subject with sophisticated poetic techniques such as innovative form, use of parallels and binary oppositions, inversions of meaning and so forth, is another. So often when I journeyed through the 278 poems entered in the competition, those that rose above the throng, those that startled my eye and impressed my mind were those which showcased a deep and impressive understanding of poetic craft, one well beyond their authors’ ages. This is especially true of the winning, runners-up and many of the Highly Commended poems.

Amongst the poems which were Highly Commended, a work such as ‘Crayon and dye on sugar paper by my brother at seven’ (JOS96), which offered taut rhythms, sharp line structures and an imaginative viewpoint of a sibling’s work of art might, in another year, have won the competition. As it was, in a particularly strong year for submissions, this poem and all the Highly Commended entries were edged out by 3 fine verses.

The poems which are awarded runners-up status are both about the night sky, the stars which decorate the heavens and have, for aeons, captivated the imagination: ‘An Explanation for Darkness’ (JOS8) and ‘Darkness’ (JOP26). In each case, given how frequently poets through the centuries have been inspired by this subject, it would have been easy for these young writers to offer us clichés and thematic dead-ends. Instead each author provides fresh insights framed through the richest of languages. In ‘An Explanation for Darkness’ for instance, Blue straggler stars are the moko of the night sky./ The arms that hold me; while, in ‘Darkness’, Wise Scorpio watches in awe at the/ Beautiful shooting stars/ Pieces swim together, loving the/ Bright glow of the sun…

Of the winning poem, ‘to the fifth year med student’, here is a work underpinned by subtle, smart cadence, suggestions and associations:

after your nephew has fallen asleep
tugging your hair in sticky fists with his lips against your ear
you turn over lecture notes and help me with my algebra
sighing as numbers fall like tetris blocks

What follows is a poetic form and story shaped by a series of inferred comparisons and contrasts: the writer’s scribbles in margins which travel nowhere while the protagonist’s future journeys are thought into being you will go to india, cambodia,/ new york, maybe…, both perceptions wryly viewed by the joy of seeing you at a distance ; the card game which leads writer and carer to lie, stomach to floor, poor reflections of each other; an exchange in symbols giving you grapefruits/ from the tree behind my house and taking the pink daisies in front of yours. This is a poem whose music, imagery, industry and technique could have floated from the pen of our most esteemed poets.

My congratulations to the winner, to the runners-up, and to the Highly-Commended and Commended submissions. So often we’re told that Poetry is a dead, meaningless and/or inferior art form; your works prove otherwise. All of your poems confirm that the future of New Zealand poetry, which rests upon you, is bright. Well done.

Haiku Section

Judge: John O’Connor

1st (Winner of the Jeanette Stace Memorial Award): ‘all that I am…’ – Vanessa Proctor, Australia

2nd: ‘moving day…’ – Katherine Raine, Milton

3rd: ‘on the grass – the shadow’ – Laurel Astle, Australia

4th: ‘on the driveway’ – Lynn Tara Austin, Christchurch

5th: ‘pine tree   pine tree   pine tree’ – Charline Pocock, Eketahuna

Highly Commended: ‘carousel’ – Tracy Davidson, UK; ‘Saturday night’ – Barbara Strang, Christchurch; ‘dicing onion’ – Dave Robertson, Katikati.

Commended: ‘from the reeds’ – Simon Hanson, Australia; ‘cloud drift’ – Kirsten Cliff, Te Awamutu; ‘rain glistening…’ – Greg Piko, Australia; ‘clearing winter…’ and ‘for no reason’ – Julie Warther, USA, ‘last ferry home’ – Cynthia Rowe, Australia, ‘late for…’ Ernest J Berry, Blenheim; ‘over distant hills’ – Patricia Prime, Auckland; ‘the bob of her ponytail…’ – Jenny Fraser, Hamilton; ‘wrybills in flight’ and ‘first time’ – Elaine Riddell, Hamilton; ‘ebb tide-‘ – Margaret Beverland, Katikati; ‘hill trail’ – Catherine Moxham, Palmerston North; ‘shortening day’; Lonnard Dean Watkins, Wellington; ‘winter’ – Charline Pocock; ‘childless’ and ‘a moth circles’ – Barbara Strang, Christchurch.

Judge’s Comments: John O’Connor

The other times I’ve judged this competition the first place getter has stood out clearly, for me. Not so this time. I’ve had quite a job coming to a decision, and even now (after multiple readings, sleeping on it, etc.) I feel that only a fraction separates the top two.
After much thought, then, I’ve awarded First Prize to:

all that I am mountain spring

It’s a haiku that may be interpreted in two ways. Firstly, the spring as in a natural water font bubbling up & secondly, spring as in the season. Either way it leaves a good deal to the imagination. I’ll take the first interpretation only – my favoured reading. In it, is the poet actually bathing in the spring, as climbers & trampers sometimes do? Or has he or she just come upon the spring & responded to it at some level? Either way the haiku is a fresh response to nature in the form of a mountain spring.
As such it links – & more than links – nature & human nature at the level of the senses as well as cerebrally. The ego is dissolved – no pun intended – in the total experience of the spring. The spring & the poet become one. This is a terrific haiku, fully deserving of its place.

In second place we have:

moving day wind slams the door open

Again nature (the wind) links to human nature, but this poem has none of the sensory spirituality of the first haiku. Whereas the first one is all happening within the poet, this poem is all happening outside the poet. In that sense it is the more traditional of the two pieces. It relies for its effect more on its pervasive sense of movement – moving house, wind blowing, door slamming – and its emphasis on the aura senses (wind sounds, door slamming) & its surprise ending. (We tend to think of doors slamming shut, not open.) In fact the ending is, I think, essential to the success of the poem. Had it been a door slamming shut it would have closed the poem down rather than leaving it potentially ongoing. Again, a fantastic & fresh poem.

To the third place-getter:

on the grass – the shadow
of the Swamp Harrier
before the bird

Very much more a standard haiku – but none the less good for that. It has a strong sense of movement (the harrier is almost certainly descending, presumably for prey). The shadow coming first is a nice touch as we often associate with shadows/shades with danger/death. It is also a plus to have the bird described as a “Swamp Harrier” (are the capitals really necessary?) as this gives a more precise image than some more general description. Of course the three line format is familiar territory, but it’s well handled, the lineation of the poem (each line shorter than the one preceding) matching the slow movement of the harrier. A very strong haiku.

Fourth:

on the driveway
going somewhere –
ants

I like the emphatic finish, & also that the ants are “going somewhere”, but where? There’s room for the imagination in this haiku. Again the linkage of nature to human nature (the observer) & again the deft, non-standard handling of the three line form. Nice too that both the ants & the human use the driveway to go places. A haiku with some claim on the intellect as well as the senses. Not to ignore it’s sense of fun. All in all a good strong haiku.

Fifth:
& here I must complain about a hand-written haiku on ruled paper. This may be within the rules, but surely if a haiku is worth writing (as this very much is) it’s worth presenting well.

pine tree     pine tree     pine tree
pine tree     pine tree     pine tree
pine tree     pine tree     pine tree

Call it a concrete haiku. There’s nothing much to say as the poem says it all, its uniform pattern suggesting a plantation, this being just a fragment that gives the whole. I started with this among the Commendeds, then moved it up to the Highly Commendeds. From there to its final place as 5th. It grows on you. As Ezra Pound once said, “a poem is news that stays news”.

More generally I felt that the quality was reasonable overall. But this hides the usual situation of a minority of poets showing a good understanding of haiku/senryu & many more who haven’t reached that level of competence. Nonetheless, I was pleased to see very few in 5-7-5.

Lastly, haiku, in my opinion, is the most straightforward form of poetry. At its most simple (often its most effective) you can just put two sensory images together & see how they interact. If they don’t work well together its time for the ‘in-house editor’ (that all poets need to develop) to take a hand. To go further have a look at the Poetry Society’s website – it has plenty of excellent advice put together by Sandra Simpson, one of our leading haiku poets.

Writers are readers first.

Haiku Junior Section

Judge: Margaret Beverland

1st Prize, Secondary (and Winner of the Jeanette Stace Memorial Award): ‘7 years of drought’ – Amy Wells, St Andrew’s College, Leeston

2nd Prize, Secondary: ‘first light’ – Stephanie Lester, Christchurch Girls’ High School, Christchurch

3rd Prize, Secondary: ‘flooded street’ – Marisol Hunter, Rangi Ruru Girls’ School, Christchurch

1st Prize (Primary/Intermediate): ‘early morning’ – Maddy Horton, Ilam School, Christchurch

2nd Prize (Primary/Intermediate): ‘always in a hurry…’ – Caitlyn Wickham, St Andrew’s College Preparatory School, Christchurch

3rd Prize (Primary/Intermediate): ‘Christchurch’ – Cerys Eggleston, Ilam School , Christchurch

Highly Commended: ‘after his shift’ – Anna Doak, St Margaret’s College, Christchurch; ‘shadow…’ – Philipp Hoeper, Christchurch Boys’ High School, Christchurch; ‘broken home’ – Amy Huang, Rangi Ruru Girls’ School, Christchurch; ‘war’ – Peter Yu, St Andrew’s College, Christchurch; ‘anzac’ – Diane Kim, Fendalton Open Air School, Christchurch; ‘Autumn I paint’ – Eleanor Field, Ilam School, Christchurch; ‘autumn morning’ – Maddy Horton, Ilam School, Christchurch.

Commended: ‘red carpet’ – Anna Doak, St Margaret’s College, Christchurch; ‘early morning’ – Stephanie Lester, Christchurch Girls’ High School, Christchurch; ‘a still morning’ – Rex Kennedy, Rutherford College, Auckland; ‘Christmas’ – Milin Babu-John, St Andrew’s College, Christchurch; ‘frosty morning’ – Abby Mason, Selwyn House School, Christchurch; ‘stormy day’ – Alex Wilson, Fendalton Open Air School, Christchurch; ‘during the storm’ – Eve Swan, Fendalton Open Air School, Christchurch; ‘royal visit’ – Corin Simcock, Fendalton Open Air School, Christchurch; ‘earthquake’ – Jack Prebble, Fendalton Open Air School, Christchurch; ‘early morning’ – Ana Gold, Fendalton Open Air School, Christchurch; ‘dinner time’ and ‘spring’ – Enzo Gordon, Fendalton Open Air School,  Christchurch; ‘rain’ – Chloe Harrington, Fendalton Open Air School, Christchurch; ‘midnight’ – Cerys Eggleston, Ilam School, Christchurch, ‘early evening’ – Niamh Brackley, Ilam School, Christchurch.

Judge’s Comments: Margaret Beverland

Entries were up in this year’s junior contest, with the 276 primary/intermediate entries, and the 79 secondary entries delivering a treasure trove of poems to be mulled over.

On the first reading, some stood out as winners and remained that way throughout subsequent readings. I was pleased to see that most competitors chose to write in modern format, with very few choosing the traditional Japanese 5-7-5 layout. For those that did, once again you attained the syllable count by padding out with unnecessary adjectives and adverbs. A good number wrote two-lined haiku, and there were a few one-liners, and even one experiment with shape, the word ‘tallest’ being placed vertically on the page. With our young writers experimenting this way, and with good results, the future of New Zealand haiku is in good hands.

In my final selection, I was looking for keenly observed images with additional layers of meaning. Again I say, my instincts in that first reading provided me with the place getters, the challenge was to place them in order of merit.

Congratulations to the winners, and to all who entered the contest. I enjoyed the hours spent reading your work and I hope you all will enter the 2015 competition.

Secondary Winners

My choice for the Jeanette Stace Memorial Prize (Overall Winner) and First Place, Secondary is:

7 years of drought
a single raindrop
disturbs the dust

I held my breath each time I read this haiku. Embraced in its three lines are ancient tales of earth’s weather cycles, seven good years followed by seven bad years. In our country this phenomenon is caused by the 3 – 7 year cycle of the El Nino and La Nina oscillations.

After a long period of drought, so much depends on this single raindrop. Will it be followed by another and then another, until the clouds burst and bring the drought to an end? Or, as can happen, is this one raindrop all there is?

The repetition of the ‘s’ and ‘d’ sounds builds up tension. The alliteration of ‘disturbs the dust’ in the third line gives a stroke of drama that makes this haiku stand out. When the moment came to choose the overall winner, I did not hesitate in my decision. Congratulations to the winner for a well-crafted haiku.

2nd Prize:

first light
the soldier’s
last letter

War was a theme that occurred often in the junior entries, no doubt, as this year is the 100th anniversary of the declaration of WWI. This haiku stood out on the first reading, and throughout subsequent readings it remained in the ‘placing’ pile.

I can picture the silver light as darkness gives way to dawn. The previous evening the soldiers would have been given their orders, to go over the top and attack the enemy at dawn. I imagine they all slept little during the night. Many would have used the time to write a last letter home by the light of a single candle. I commend the writer for concentrating on one soldier, who is aware this may be the last letter he ever writes. Once again, alliteration adds to this strong and poignant image. Excellent work.

3rd Prize:

flooded street
my foot ripples the clouds

Flooding was also a recurring theme in the contest. In this haiku the destructive power of nature is juxtaposed against the calm following the storm. The writer is drawn to go and paddle where one normally cannot paddle. The word ‘ripples’ carries weight. Consider, here, the widening circles as the clean up begins, the insurance claims are lodged, the heart ache of lost possessions that cannot be replaced, the hard work that lies ahead to return one’s life to some semblance of normality. This writer also uses alliteration to build a clear and engaging image. Well done.

Primary/Intermediate Winners

The haiku submitted by the Primary and Intermediate students easily footed it with their senior counterparts. In fact, if one analyses the results, they outperformed their seniors, but this could be due to the greater number of primary/intermediate entries received.

1st Prize:

early morning
a butterfly
the only noise

This is a delightful haiku that goes beyond human experience, our hearing being too limited to detect a butterfly on the wing. In the early morning calm, however, the thrush on my lawn that cocks its head to listen then pounces on a worm can, no doubt, hear a butterfly. The writer demonstrates an excellent understanding of nature, and has written a well-crafted haiku that I related to immediately. Congratulations.

2nd Prize:

always in a hurry             fire

What drew me to this haiku was the truth of it. My mind played re-runs of fires that devastate vast tracts of Australian bush every summer, consuming everything in their path. I could picture the tired faces of firefighters, the anguished faces of homeowners and farmers. In one single line, the writer has captured a powerful image. Well done, not only for your penmanship, but also for getting so much into one line.

3rd Prize:

Christchurch
a butterfly
rests on a brick

A haiku of place: Christchurch, a city that is not only suffering aftershocks from the 2011 earthquake, but has also been subjected to widespread flooding. How much more can the people take? The butterfly epitomizes that sense of fragility, and of the people’s need for a rest from these natural phenomena. The brick brings to mind that the rebuild is a slow process taking place brick by brick.

At least the butterfly gets to rest. I enjoyed considering the layers of meaning in this well written haiku.

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