Poetry competition results 2015

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.

Read the winning poems from all sections.

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

Open Section

Judge: Harvey Molloy
1st Prize: Janet Newman, Levin: ‘Biking to the Manawatu River’
2nd Prize: Siobhan Harvey, Auckland: ‘The State House Considered as a Ghost’
3rd Prize: Wes Lee, Wellington: ‘Sand’

Highly Commended:
‘The Scarecrow Moon’ – Bronwyn Bryant, Auckland
‘Laniākea’ – Robert Stratford, Porirua
‘rocky shore’ – Sophie van Waardenberg, Auckland
‘On the brink of sleep no one calls his name’ – Frankie McMillan, Christchurch
‘Explaining Poetry to the Homeless’ – Siobhan Harvey, Auckland

Commended:
‘Once were elvers’ – Gail Ingram, Christchurch
‘American Gothic’ – Jeni Curtis, Christchurch
‘bad weather in may’ – Harrison Christian, Havelock North
‘The more I got drunk’ – Dave Nicoll, Invercargill
‘Renovations’ – Wes Lee, Wellington
‘Riverbed’ – Catherine Moxham, Palmerston North

Judge’s comments: Harvey Malloy

Kia ora tatou.

I was honoured to be asked to judge this year’s competition. Ten years ago I’d just returned to New Zealand after living in South-East Asia and I’d started to write poetry again after a long break.  I entered and won the competition and this gave me a great deal of encouragement to press on with my writing.  I promote the competition at Newlands College, where I teach, because it is the only competition I know which publishes an anthology of the best submissions.  This means that even if you don’t win then there’s a chance that you might be selected and published by the anthology editor – an editor who is always different from the competition judge.  Secondly, it is the only competition that treats young poets and adults equally.  For the last few years young poets from Newlands College have had their poems published in the anthology and I know the joy it has given them and their families. The real prize here is publication – isn’t that always true of poetry?

This year there were over 400 entries and I suspect that many poets who submitted work were at the start of their writing careers.  Many novice poets tend to overwrite or adopt arcane vocabulary or syntax – there were a few faux Shakespearean sonnets and many poems did not feel comfortable with everyday New Zealand English.  My tip for newbies would be to read contemporary New Zealand poetry as this will help tune your ear to the various sounds of today’s poetry.  My other tip would be the cliché that sometimes less is more.  A few of the poems I’ve commended are very simple and their directness and clarity add to their charm.

In terms of selection, then, getting the poems down to the top 40 wasn’t so difficult and I’m confident that any other judge would have made similar selections to my own. It’s within that smaller pile that my own taste came into play and in making my final choices I was looking for a degree of technical proficiency and control.  All three of the top poems offer reflections on landscape – yet I only realised this after the selection was made and it was not my conscious intention to choose according to subject matter. However, I’m delighted with the way all three poems complement and converse with each other.

I chose ‘Biking to the Manawatu River’ as the winner.  I like the use of the quotation that prefaces the poem; it’s here not for show but to clearly signpost the poet’s concern. The poem has great focus and restraint – it maintains a commitment to observation, a fidelity to the ‘eye’ mentioned in the quotation from Park.  Through description we see what might glibly be called our ‘environmental impacts’, but there’s also a personal, subjective mind present in “leaves like curled hair” and roots “wrenched up like memory”.  Nothing here is overstated or forced and yet an atmosphere of understated disquiet pervades – there’s  violence at every turn.

‘The State House Considered as Ghost’ is an accomplished poem that offers its own extended metaphor to the reader.  There’s real craft at work; not a word or comma is out of place.  The opening immediately displays a keen intellect: “Rooms robbed of electricity are a body/ emptied of power” can be read on many levels. It’s a cracker of a poem.

‘Sand’ also keeps its focus on land.  I like the conversational tone of the poem; the “not deliberately perhaps” and the “someone with a stick”, the “seemed like something”; all of this is tonally satisfying and nicely underplayed.

So, I hope that you enjoy my selection. Thanks to Laurice Gilbert, the competition manager, and to all the entrants. Keep on writing and keep on reading New Zealand poetry.

Haiku Section

Judge: Elaine Riddell
1st Prize and Jeanette Stace Memorial Award: Katherine Raine, Milton: ‘shifting again’
2nd Prize: Barbara Strang, Christchurch: ‘nor’west arch’
3rd Prize: Catherine Moxham, Palmerston North: ‘music box winding down’
4th Prize: Vanessa Proctor, Australia: ‘abandoned lighthouse’
5th Prize: Scott Mason, USA: ‘lost’

Highly Commended:
‘chainsaw’ – Jan Dobb, Australia
‘cattle herd’ – Cynthia Rowe, Australia
‘summer ends’ – André Surridge, Hamilton
‘war memorial’ and ‘funeral’ – Ernest J Berry, Blenheim
‘the heaviness of stardust’ – Katherine Raine, Milton
‘his final illness’ and ‘aftershock’ – Barbara Strang, Christchurch
‘wrapping the china’ – Catherine Moxham, Palmerston North

Commended:
‘a few things’ and ‘tuatara’ – Greg Piko, Australia
‘chimney’ – Marion Moxham, Palmerston North
‘pohutukawa’ – Jenny Fraser, Hamilton
‘leaves on the river-‘ – Sandra Simpson, Tauranga
‘news of her death’ – Katherine Raine, Milton
‘tattered page’ – Barbara Strang, Christchurch
‘once in frame’ – Scott Mason, USA
‘family tree’ – André Surridge
‘in dad’s effects’ and ‘mulberry wine’ – Ernest J Berry, Blenheim

Judge’s comments: Elaine Riddell

I greatly appreciated the opportunity to live, for a short season, with the 500+ haiku submitted to this year’s competition. It was difficult to keep away from the room where I had them sorted into groups. When I did go in, often for a purpose unrelated to the haiku, I always ended up reading a few before I left. Some first impressions were confirmed, others were not. Haiku were moved in and out of groups as I considered them over time. Finally I had to make decisions and it was not easy. I was pleased with the high proportion of good quality, publishable haiku.

What was I looking for? The qualities that got my attention were unexpected images and associations, the familiar seen in a new way, language that was concise and simple, haiku that didn’t tell me everything but left space for the reader, mindful observation captured with careful word choices and gentle humour where appropriate.

A small number of entries showed a lack of understanding of haiku as a form. Some contained too many adjectives or used simile and metaphor too directly. A few used ‘poetic’ words or verged on sentimentality. Others used too much punctuation, sometimes presenting haiku in complete sentences. These points are not intended to belittle anyone: we all begin with some misunderstandings. The best way to gain an understanding of haiku is to read widely in contemporary haiku journals. There are many excellent haiku journals online and often they also give guidance on writing haiku.

My warm congratulations go to those whose haiku have been selected for awards.

First place (Jeanette Stace Memorial Award): Katherine Raine, Milton

shifting again
three boxes labelled
driftwood etc

I was impressed by this haiku from the first reading. It arises from the common experience of moving house and a particular moment in that experience, but there is so much more. Why is the person or family shifting? Our societies have become very mobile. Sometimes we choose to move, sometimes it is forced on us by circumstance. We can feel like the driftwood, brought in by one tide, taken out by the next and deposited somewhere else. Using “again” strengthens the haiku. It makes me wonder whether the three boxes have been unpacked since the last move. Another good choice is “etc”, not normally used in good writing, but here as part of the label, it adds humour as we begin to wonder what else is in the boxes. I was led to think about human acquisitiveness, our urge to gather and collect. Often we think that we will use these things in the future, maybe for something creative, but shut in their boxes, we forget they are there and continue to collect more.

Second place: Barbara Strang, Christchurch

nor’west arch
the bones of
a ruined house

The nor’west arch and the accompanying nor’wester, a warm and tumultuous wind, suggest the Canterbury Plains, or Christchurch itself, as the setting for this haiku. I expect it is intended primarily as an earthquake haiku. I like the use of “bones” for the remains of the house. ‘Bones’ suggests something that has been part of a living entity and paired with “ruined”, I move to thinking of the house not just as a building, but as an embodiment of those who lived there. There are other ways to interpret this as well. The house could be an old building from pioneering days, out on the plains, its timbers lying in the grass, like the bones of animals, polished by the nor’wester – remnants of a way of life long gone. An unusual feature of this haiku is the preposition at the end of line two, but it seems to work here, complementing the disjointedness of the ruined house.

Third place: Catherine Moxham, Palmerston North

music box winding down

waiting

for

the

last

.

Both in choice of words and layout, this haiku cleverly captures the experience of being left ‘up in the air’ when the melody stops before reaching its conclusion. We are left waiting for an end that will never come. The long vowel sounds in “music”, “winding”, “down”, “waiting” and “last”, along with the sound echoes in “winding” and “waiting” help to convey the slowing down. The haiku is effective as it is, but is open for the thoughtful reader to ponder other life experiences, in which things come to a sudden end, leaving us up in the air.

Fourth place: Vanessa Proctor, Australia

abandoned lighthouse  a smudge of shearwaters

I like the simplicity of this haiku with its two juxtaposed images. The lighthouse has been associated with light. It is a human construction, now past its use-by date, overtaken perhaps by new technology. The shearwaters are associated with darkness. What a wonderful word “smudge” is to describe the whirling mass of dark seabirds above the surface of the ocean. The birds would have been there before the lighthouse was constructed and are still there now that the lighthouse is redundant. The lighthouse is not decommissioned, but abandoned. The first two words of the haiku contain hard consonants: /b/, /d/ and /t/, which gives an edge to the beginning of the haiku. The sibilance in the second half gives a softer sound. As shearwaters are generally seen out on the ocean, away from habitation in lonely places, this haiku gives me a sense of wild isolation. It works particularly well as a one-liner, with the words stretched out like the surface of sea, from which both the lighthouse and the shearwaters rise.

Fifth place: Scott Mason, USA

lost
in the wilderness
my cynic

The unexpectedness of the last line in this haiku is what makes it special. Usually when people are lost in the wilderness, search and rescue are called out to find them. Here the loss is beneficial. The haiku celebrates the healing potential of the wilderness, the capacity of the natural world to banish negativity, cynical attitudes, discouragement and all the ills that beset us in a noisy, frenetic, contentious and crowded world. There is nothing like a forest, an isolated beach, or a mountain top to strip us of cynicism and pretentiousness. The haiku expresses something profound in an understated way.

There was no clear division between the five placed haiku and the highly commended haiku. Similarly there was no clear division between the highly commendeds and the commendeds, nor between the commendeds and a handful of others which could not be included in the awards. It was a pleasure to be presented with such a large body of fine writing. A big thank you to all those who submitted work. Please keep writing.

Open Junior Section

Judge: Ruth Arnison
1st Prize: Grace Lee, Auckland International College: ‘Ginsberg’
Runner-up, Primary/Intermediate: Greta Balfour, Arrowtown Primary School: ‘Home’
Runner-up, Secondary: Anna Doak, St Margaret’s College, Christchurch: ‘My Brother Builds Whale Song’

Highly Commended:
‘The Value of Oblivion’ – Molly Crighton, Columba College, Dunedin
‘Studying Shakespeare’ – Leah Dodd, New Plymouth Girls’ High School
untitled (First line: “He will walk”) – Isabella Hadlow, New Plymouth Girls’ High School
‘Edelweiss’ – Grace Lee, Auckland International College

Commended:
‘Night Time is for Dreaming’ – Cherie Braakhuis, St Mary’s College, Wellington
‘All That’s Left’ – Samantha Jory-Smart, Burnside High School, Christchurch
‘Dad’ – Amelia Kendall, St Cuthbert’s College, Auckland
‘WillowSide’ – Angus Forrest, Arrowtown Primary School
‘Would you feel the earth?’ – Beth Cooper, Kilbirnie Primary School, Wellington
‘Stimpy’ – Lilith Sangrouber, Cloverlea School, Palmerston North

Judge’s Comments: Ruth Arnison

When the courier arrived with the competition entries I left the packet unopened on the kitchen table. I had garden plans for the afternoon. I was quite chuffed with my self discipline until I found myself turning away from the garden shed and retreating indoors for just a peek at the poems. I made a deal with my weak self, I’d read 20 poems and then get stuck into the garden. Maths has never been my forte – 124 poems later the weeds were breathing easy, all gardening plans had been abandoned for the day.

Or had they? This was a kind of gardening – pruning the poems, weeding out the weaker entries, transplanting the poems that deserved another chance and then carefully mulching the poems that were ‘stayers’. So conscience cleared I gathered up the poems for a second read. This time I placed them into one of three piles; definites, maybes and sorrys.

Poems which fell into the sorrys category were entries where the language, the subject or the treatment of the subject just didn’t excite me. The definites were an easy selection with a lot of wows, and amazement that these works of art were created by school students. The poems that gave me the most trouble were the maybes. I read and reread them making sure I hadn’t overlooked a gem. Then I left them for a couple of days, bundled them in with the definites and started the process again. And I was rewarded because I had missed a ruby.

Several poems got my heart racing with excitement but then they faded into a disappointing whimper. Maybe there was a soccer practice or Dad called you for dinner but endings are definitely worth time and thought. Some rhyming poems morphed into free verse as though the poet had run out of rhymes or just found it too demanding. Other poems rhymed but lacked rhythm and when I read them out loud they sounded flat. Reading out loud, maybe not on the school bus or during class, is definitely worth the risk of feeling stupid! You may find yourself automatically saying a word in a different order from the one on the page and you can hear it works better or you might unintentionally slip in an extra word which gives the poem that missing ‘fizz’. Never let a poem go until you’ve read it out loud.

Spelling mistakes, omitted punctuation, and problem apostrophes bothered me. I was upset to think that a moment’s carelessness had eroded a poem. But then I came down from my perch and decided that I couldn’t discard on that basis! So several sorrys were elevated to the maybes pile.

The Hayfever themed poems made me wonder if the class had been under attack and they were writing about an immediate experience. I’m sure I’ve now seen every word that rhymes with sneezes! Where was another class theme. The students used appropriate language, alliteration and created great visual poems. I enjoyed them immensely.

The poems tackled a range of subjects: the seasons, death, dogs, cats, gardens, betrayal, loneliness, buttons, anger, darkness, war… There were some very bleak poems which had me worried about you guys out there. I just hope they weren’t autobiographical. I was relieved to find some playful poems in the pack, a tooth fairy, a caterpillar, a cat and some me-themed poems.

The first placed and the secondary runner up poems shone like beacons above the others. Why were they special? Their titles were intriguing, their first lines just grabbed me and they held me enthralled right to the end. Well done. Separating them wasn’t easy – it involved a dissection. I opened them up, dug around, poked, prodded and then came up with a winner. Only by a suture, it was that close.

I’ve surprised myself by some of my choices and I’ve gone back and re-evaluated all the poems one final time for possible inclusion but in the end these were the ones that appealed to me.

First Prize

‘Ginsberg’- Grace Lee, Auckland International College

I was looking for a poem that made me call out, yes, made me want to share it, show off its brilliance, and brag as though I had made the most amazing discovery. “I miss you; that’s it, and everything.” Who could walk away from a first line like that? As I was reading Ginsberg I held my breath until the end hoping the poet could sustain the use of imagery, language, economy of words and YES she did. The days here are long. I’m counting the seconds against my heartbeat.

Runner up – secondary

‘My Brother Builds Whale Song’ – Anna Doak, St Margaret’s College, Christchurch

The title was promising and the poem fulfilled the promise. “My brother cycles to Paris….”, “My brother buses/ to Brittany…”. The poet had me googling Ar-Men and Grand Carinaux. A tightly written poem stripped of everything but the necessary. Another irresistible YES poem. “These bones are melancholy blue.”

Runner up – primary/intermediate

‘Home’ – Greta Balfour, Arrowtown Primary School. ‘Home’ is one of the Where poems. This is a confident, well crafted poem with wonderful imagery. ‘Home’ painted a perfect picture, “… fantails hop from branch to branch swinging their sweet sliding song.”

Highly commended

‘Edelweiss’ (Grace Lee, Auckland) – “come and teach me about angels.” was a close contender for a top placing. A very firm assured clear voice.

“He will walk” (Isabella Hadlow, New Plymouth) “… stir the gravel with one toe/ and close it.” This poem is a picture, every word played its part. Thank you for writing it.

‘The Value of Oblivion’ (Molly Crighton, Dunedin) – an original, well thought and beautifully set out poem. I’d like to read more from this voice. “… they screamed/ and burnt books in front of me/ so little pieces of knowledge fell as ash.”

‘Studying Shakespeare’ (Leah Dodd, New Plymouth) was the ruby I’d overlooked, a late entry to my definite pile. It wasn’t a sudden knock-me-out poem, but rather one that I appreciated more every time I read it. “Maybe underneath these monotone/ words are the ghosts of gold fuss and architecture”

Commended – in no particular order

‘Dad’  (Amelia Kendall, Auckland) – every time I read this poem I interpreted it slightly differently. Intriguing. “our laughter carves a river/ through the silence/ of tea.”
‘Would you feel the earth?’ (Beth Cooper, Wellington) – “Is yellow a daffodil?” Rich imagery, well planned.
‘WillowSide’ (Angus Forrest, Arrowtown) – one of the Where poems. “Where quirky quail scurry around…”
‘Stimpy’ (Lilith Sangrouber, Palmerston North) won me over with the line: “Llazy like a curled up sock” – a perfect description of a cat.
‘Night time is for dreaming’ (Cherie Braakhuis, Wellington) – a simple poem which worked for me with its repetition, lovely rhythm and rhyme.
‘All that’s left’ (Samantha Jory-Smart, Christchurch) – “I see seagulls in my hands” – this poem hovered in and out of contention. I finally decided it was a keeper.

Well done to everyone who entered. It’s been a treat, and a joy to read such great, heartfelt, sincere poems. Keep playing with words, make them your friends, and don’t ever stop writing.

Haiku Junior Section

Judge: Katherine Raine
1st Prize, Primary/Intermediate, and Jeanette Stace Memorial Award: Nicholas Sharr, Paparoa St School, Christchurch: ‘spring’
2nd Prize, Primary/Intermediate: Amelia Gordon, Selwyn House, Christchurch: ‘wild boar’
3rd Prize, Primary/Intermediate: Lily Pringle, Fendalton Open Air School, Christchurch: ‘winter morning’
1st Prize, Secondary: Stephanie Lester, Christchurch Girls’ High School: ‘the heart machine’
2nd Prize, Secondary: Anna Doak, St Margaret’s College, Christchurch: ‘pohutukawa’
3rd Prize, Secondary: Talioaiga Luamanuvae, McAuley High School, Auckland: ‘my writer’s journal’

Highly Commended:
‘global warming’ – Hugo Sudell, Paparoa St School, Christchurch
‘my pencil’ – Gloria Vlasin, Fendalton Open Air School, Christchurch
‘lightning’ – Finn Pearce, Ilam Primary School, Christchurch
‘frosty morning’ – Lily Pringle, Fendalton Open Air School, Christchurch

Commended:
‘darkness’ – Amelia Marshall, Selwyn House, Christchurch
‘wedding ring’ – George Persson, Fendalton Open Air School, Christchurch
‘ancient sun’ and ‘still life,’ – Paige Bowman, Heaton Intermediate School, Christchurch
‘spring’ – Lily Ellis, St Andrew’s Preparatory School, Christchurch
‘an island of plastic’ – Amy Wells, St Andrews College, Christchurch

Judge’s comments: Katherine Raine

One of the most amazing qualities of haiku is its ability to open us to the largest subjects with just a few words. My choices for the two first prizes show that a poet of any age can do this brilliantly – each of these haiku is placed precisely at the balance point between life and death. The most frequent theme overall was also a poignant one, environmental degradation and violence: nearly one quarter of entries. This proportion is reflected in the mix of my 16 total selections, as I feel the concerns of young people should be heard and taken to heart.

Haiku succeeds in touching us not only in its universal subject matter, but also with its imagination, immediacy and conciseness, with the way it can link the inner emotional realm with outer nature. Each of my choices clearly exemplifies one or more of these essential points. Sincerity, though, was perhaps my main criterion, ahead of technical skill. I looked for a sense of genuine feeling for the subject, not just a superficially ‘correct’ fulfillment of an assignment. All 16 of my choices touched me with the sharpness of the poet’s own significant experience. I understand that it can be difficult to ‘make authenticity happen’ in the classroom, so the teachers who guided their students along the true haiku path also have my heartfelt commendation.

This year the number of entries was lower than usual (31 Secondary, 125 Primary/Intermediate), but the quality was high. A large proportion of submissions demonstrated remarkable understanding of what haiku is and what it can do. There were at least 20 haiku that I felt deserved to be Commended, so my choosing process was really difficult. Thank you to all entrants for the honour and pleasure of sharing your work and your world. Keep on writing!

PRIMARY/INTERMEDIATE

First Prize and Jeanette Stace Memorial Award:

spring
the calf
comes alive

Nicholas Sharr, Paparoa St School, Christchurch

Just five plain words form a heartfelt drama. As well as presenting a profound subject, this haiku is technically perfect. With the skillful arrangement of words line by line, only the final word reveals that, Oh! This is the very moment life takes hold. No descriptive emotion words tell me what to feel, so the haiku is completely ‘open’ to me to discover my own feelings, the thrill, the relief, at the resolution of the suspense of the long moment before the calf shows a sign of life. Line 1 does much more than generally set the season – re-reading, I found that the energy of spring itself became the real subject, the returning power of the life-force that prevails even in the most difficult circumstances. To me, this is a great haiku, an inspiration for adult poets as well as younger people.

Second Prize:

wild boar
the gun shudders
in my hands

Amelia Gordon, Selwyn House, Christchurch

Two qualities working together make this haiku wonderful. The first is the use of an exceedingly vivid, yet subtle, key word: “shudders” (so much more powerful than “shakes”, for example). The second quality is ambiguity. This poem is so ‘open’ that I can’t know whether the gun shuddered because it was fired, or because of the shock of the sight of the boar (so much better than telling us what happened by writing ‘recoils’, for example). Each reader has the pleasure of mulling over the possibilities and creating a resolution for him/herself. The perfect verb just ‘makes’ this poem. It continues to resonate in me long after reading it – with its undertones of horror. I also really enjoy that, in the best Japanese style, the poet is left completely out of it, with the gun doing the reacting and emoting. Again, this is the real thing, far more than a ‘student’ poem.

Third Prize:

winter morning
I stir a rainbow
in my pot

Lily Pringle, Fendalton open Air School, Christchurch

I especially appreciate a haiku which links the grand happenings of nature with some little thing observed in the domestic realm. It is always a happy surprise to discover the elements working right in your own house, entering your own routine. This haiku is a most enjoyable example of this theme. The seasonal setting of line 1 allows me to picture a dramatic southerly gale outside… with its rainbow somehow also appearing where the poet stirs the pot – through imagination or through some actual iridescence in the pot? By showing just the action, the poem leaves me with the mystery of how this rainbow has appeared, so it is pure magic. The atmosphere is accentuated by the contrast of the ethereal colours with the earthiness of a pot. Rainbows as subjects can easily seem sentimental, childish or clichéd, but the lightness of touch here conveys a sense of real delight, and so avoids all pitfalls.

SECONDARY

First Prize:

the heart machine
walks
the lifeless sky

Stephanie Lester, Christchurch Girls’ High School

I had to give this haiku a few readings until the mysterious image took form for me – then it hit me really hard. (We can never know exactly what a poet intends to convey, though, so I am not sure that my reading is what was meant. But with haiku, the reader creates his/her own valid meaning.) What I ‘got’ is a bedside scene in a hospital, with the line of an EKG machine tracing a path on its screen. The tension of the slow rhythm of the patient’s heartbeat is indicated by the long space and single verb of line 2: this seems currently not to be an emergency, yet line 3 is deeply foreboding. The 4-1-4 syllable arrangement is a model of brevity. The chilling atmosphere comes in part from making the machine the subject, with no human presence, and in part from omitting any emotional words about a situation that must be rife with feelings. I feel haunted by the sense of a life suspended in the balance, under harsh circumstances. Other readers may have different understandings: this is a strength, and not a weakness, of the poem. The character of this haiku, with its detached coolness and the challenge of deciphering it, remind me of gendai, the current style of avant-garde Japanese haiku, just now coming into English. This is an impressively confident and sophisticated work.

Second Prize:

pohutukawa
I hang my stocking

Anna Doak, St Margaret’s College, Christchurch

Quite a few of this year’s submissions came in two lines (which is unusual in mainstream haiku). With this one, the format works particularly well. The two lines divide and thus contrast two realms, the natural and the human. Because of their difference, the discontinuity between the two images, I had to take a ‘leap’ from one line to the next and identify their underlying relationship, their links. This is fun for a reader to work on, when so much is not filled in by the haiku. I appreciate that the word Christmas does not need to be mentioned, leaving me to discover myself what is shared by the two different images. So I can enjoy for myself the season of late December, its ‘signature’ colours of red and green, and the feeling of being gifted with something valuable. For me, the meaning was created by the joining of outdoors/indoors/environmental/personal into a scene of pleasure. The straightforward simplicity and the play of contrast and hidden linkages make this a noteworthy haiku.

Third Prize:

my writer’s journal:
anorexic spine
from tearing out the pages

Talioaiga Luamanuvae, McAuley High School, Auckland

This witty haiku is a great example of word-play, based on the key word, “spine.” Puns are rather controversial among (too?) serious haiku writers, but the Japanese revel in puns. In fact, I have read that the “hai” in haiku means “joke, or fun, or unusual”. Here the pun is put to such good use to brighten the all-too-upsetting self-criticism that poets are prey to, with a sparkle of humour. Many of us can wryly identify with the skinny-notebook look and could benefit from a wee laugh at ourselves, too. This is a 17-syllable haiku, but not arranged as 5-7-5. I appreciate that the poet did not go into contortions to make the words fit the outmoded format – instead it looks fresh and contemporary with just the five syllables/two key words of line 2 centering both the form and the meaning.

Highly Commended:

lightning
the albatross
cries

Finn Pearce, Ilam Primary School, Christchurch

A note on this haiku: I am extending the usual format of the judge’s report here, to comment on this unusual submission. It seems to be based on a poem by the pre-eminent Japanese master, Basho:

lightning
a heron’s cry
stabs the darkness

Our poet brings this haiku into the New Zealand context by substituting an iconic native bird as subject. The fact that it is endangered adds an extra level of contemporary disquiet. In the traditions of Oriental poetry, it has long been common and praiseworthy to make one’s own version of a famous poem. The possibilities of this ‘fusion’ approach, interweaving the classics of Japan with present-day New Zealand, are intriguing. However, where the original haiku is less well-known, it could be a good idea to acknowledge the source (e.g. “after Basho”). Also, in an admirably rigorous spirit of conciseness, our poet has eliminated three of the seven words of the original translation, bringing it to its essence. What would Basho think??

Gallipoli Section

Judge: Harry Ricketts
Senior Winner: Josie Ashworth, Te Aroha: ‘Anzac Dawn’
Junior Winner: Joanna Li, Diocesan School for Girls, Auckland: ‘Do You Hear The Drums?’

Commended:
‘Missing’ – Keith Westwater, Lower Hutt
‘Ka Maumahara’ – Amanda Hunt, Rotorua
‘Five Feathers’ – Lydia White, Nga Tawa Diocesan School, Palmerston North
‘silence fills the air’ – Harry Thomas, Arrowtown Primary School

Judge’s Comments: Harry Ricketts

Congratulations to all those who submitted entries for this section of the competition. I was interested and moved by these often heartfelt poems.

A hundred years ago, it was extremely hard for those who served at Gallipoli to write memorable poems about the experience. Only a tiny fraction of the many poems and verses in the original The Anzac Book, composed by New Zealand and Australian troops on the spot and first published in 1916, are now more than period pieces of dubious literary quality. The distance of a hundred years has not lessened that difficulty; if anything, the difficulty has increased. This is partly because in the public consciousness the myth of Gallipoli has become so enshrined that only certain, generalized and mostly unexamined, responses (reverence for the men’s ‘sacrifice’, say, or dismay and disgust at the suffering caused) now seem acceptable; and there is a danger of commemoration turning into celebration. As a result, it is now not at all easy to write a Gallipoli poem which is not predictable, even clichéd, in both language and sentiment.

So, what was I hoping for and looking for? I was looking for poems which somehow managed to defamiliarise that all-too familiar mythic account. There are plenty of poems here full of sincerity and strong feeling, but these are not enough in themselves to make a resonant poem. The one poem which really stands out is ‘Anzac Dawn’ with its blend of exactness and suggestiveness. Through spare but precise detail (“clanking”, “Rusty command”, “ragged singing”, “crinkling”), this poem presents us with a vivid evocation of a contemporary Anzac dawn parade. At the same time, the poem encourages us to infer the gap between what can be seen and heard, and the events the parade is intended to commemorate: “as if to hear some distant, deeper tune/ some richer bugle played”. It is that “as if” which opens up the gap ‒ that and the melancholy refrain of the morepork. Most of the other poems in some way over-explained and over-described, told the reader exactly what and what not to feel. Two exceptions are ‘Missing’ and ‘Ka Maumahara’. ‘Missing’ is a shape-poem which cleverly creates a memorial cross out of the names of military positions at Gallipoli and New Zealand place names (the upright), and out of the names of those who died (the cross-piece). ‘Ka Maumahara’ depicts a later encounter with a survivor, again allowing carefully selected detail to carry the feeling: “the wero rimmed fire in his eyes”, “bent brass buttons on the old man’s jacket”.

All the general comments above about the difficulty of writing a Gallipoli poem naturally also apply to those in the junior section. The most effective (and sophisticated) poem is ‘Do You Hear the Drums?’. Here the mother’s slightly varied, ballad-like questions at the beginning of each verse take the reader through an imagined version of the dead son’s war experience before in her imagination returning him home: “Do you hear the drums, my child?”; “Do you hear the shouts, my child?”; “Do you hear the guns, my child?”; Do you hear my song, my child?”. The unstated answer of course to each of these questions is a ‘No’ which wants desperately to be a ‘Yes’. The form with its repeated structure reflects the mother’s attempts to work through and find a resolution to her grief. This builds up the pathos so that the almost bathetic line imagining his death (“The red will bloom like your watercolours at school”) and the simple line registering that he will never return (“And all the nights that will never be”) are very moving. “Five Feathers”, though more uneven, also shows promise ‒ not so much in the imagined scene, saddening as this is, but in the tone, particular in verses 2-3. I don’t think haiku really work for this subject, but ‘silence fills the air’ is definitely the best of those submitted.

Congratulations again to all the contributors.

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