Congratulations to all the winners! View the results and read the judges’ comments below.
1) Mother & Child John O’Connor, Christchurch
2) How worlds collapse Tom Dowling, Ireland
3) The Starlings Tim Upperton, Palmerston North
Anzac Day 2004, Kerry Popplewell, Wellington
Cabbage Tree, Marion Jones, Dunedin
dead wood, Suzanne Chapman, Australia
Feathers, Jeffrey Harpeng, Australia
Soundings, Nola Borrell, Lower Hutt
And with the invitations sent, Janine Sowerby, Christchurch
A woman of forty seeks the shore, Eleonore Schönmaier, The Netherlands
Bloody Cupid, David Ingram, North Shore City
Central Homes of my Grounding, Natalie Browning, Hamilton
Percussion Lover, Peter Wyton, England
The Servant, Robin Fry, Lower Hutt
The Snow-Sayer, Keith Westwater, Lower Hutt
task list for a day off from work, Sue Emms, Tauranga
West of Windwhistle, Ernest J. Berry, Picton
Wiggle, Angela King, Auckland
Judge’s Comments: Chris Orsman
Judging this year’s NZPS Open Competition was a more demanding task than I’d expected it to be. Firstly, it was impossible not to be moved by the kinds of life experiences that have found their way into poems, so many of which were heartfelt reflections that immediately engage sympathy, empathy, compassion. To keep continually in mind the demands of art, the “making it new” of real poetry, itself demanded a rigour that made the enterprise a real challenge for this judge. At the end of it all, I am happy with my selections, though the commended list could easily have been enlarged, and there was often a fine line (sometimes literally) between inclusion and exemption.
The cardinal sins of indifferent poetry are undoubtedly the same which crop up in any competition, anywhere. The use of lazy or clichéd language and imagery; lack of coherency in structure and in meaning; transparent attempts at mystification; and the too-frequent ballasting of last lines with significant meaning. Quite a number of poems began with real promise but were collapsed by pre-emptive conclusions.
The three winners, and the commended entries, speak for themselves. There is a range of verse types here, a variety of themes, but a quality that speaks of the health of poetry in New Zealand.
Mother & Child
-for Alistair Te Ariki Campbell –
round the edges
of the photograph time
is reclaiming you, still
for a moment in
your European shoes
& photographer’s back-drop –
your left shoulder
drops & the outsized
collar of your
dress leaves shadows
at the base of your neck –
a Polynesian face
at odds yet not at odds
with all of this
as if something in
the brown air said
that time’s irredeemable
& yours almost up
along the coasts
the rusting hulks
the tides & waves
lap about them
or crash about them
when the wind’s high –
& in the still air
their lights moving
slowly as if they’ve
done this for as
long as the lagoons
& sky can remember
– as long as the sand
& moonlight – which
curve toward the
south – the grey
acidic smoke of Otago
Teu, over thirty
years ago I rode
the waves of your
home islands as
the oarsmen struck
to the call of
a master standing
by the transom –
the breakers, surfing
in the reefs
to sheltered water. &
now I write
about your son who
turned the rising
mists of the south
to lighter & darker
shades, whose photograph
also stands beside
me – old man /
child – his outsized
collar too forming
shadows – his
eyes searching the
just above my right
shoulder. something there
How worlds collapse
When he was ten
He spent the summer with his Aunts.
Aunt Rose became his friend.
She was 24, wild, and laughed
About some old guy who fancied her?
One day, messing on the sofa,
She took his hand
And pushed it gently down
Her blouse, on to her left breast.
He thought it might be a new game,
Or hand on heart to swear an oath.
But she said nothing.
She just looked sad,
Like adults do when someone dies.
It only lasted seconds.
Then she removed it
And went to her room.
He sat and listened to her crying
For what seemed like ages,
Before he went outside
To find someone else
To play with.
County Kildare, Ireland
In maple tree and strawberry tree, whiteywood, macrocarpa
and pine, we found them out. In the thicket of the pittosporum
hedge, in eucalyptus and camellia, japonica and rhododendron,
in all that wide, wild acre we were poacher and gamekeeper,
noting the birds’ vanishings and reappearances, each new nest
bristling in the branches. The thrush’s, rough grasses outside,
and inside smooth mud; in the plumtree a blackbird’s,
with its speckled, green egg; thrown together in haste,
the sparrows’ anyhow slums, that in late spring gales
came calamitously to earth; and once a miracle,
a warbler’s delicate pouch stitched with lichen, quills
of the softest down, suspended by a thread. Still,
it’s the starlings I remember, the pair that returned to that gap
above the purple hydrangeas, between weatherboard and eve.
The same birds, we thought, but how long does a starling live?
For twenty years they came and went, flit and pause and up
into that hidden place, on bird business. Only the starlings
chose our home for theirs. The vastness and splendour
of their piecemeal activity, their lives’ long labour,
was revealed at last; we saw, in the murk of the ceiling,
that whole cavernous space filled, stuffed like a haybarn,
all their store piled high like gold. Let the starlings warn
of love’s propensity: never knowing when to leave off,
it builds and builds and builds, and enough is never enough.
1) wax-eye, John O’Connor Christchurch
2) emptying the mousetrap, Jeanette Stace Wellington
3) the creak… John O’Connor Christchurch
4) Christmas dinner – André Surridge Hamilton
5) exhibit Nola Borrell Lower Hutt
disinherited, Ernest J. Berry, Picton
drying , Catherine Mair, Katikati
first drops of rain, Anne Davidson, USA
manicure salon, Jeanette Stace, Wellington
op shop, Owen Bullock, Waihi
disused railway track, Sybil Robinson, Levin
first frost, Jim Kacian, USA
front door, Catherine Mair, Katikati
gulls preen, Lynne Frances, Raumati Beach
hide & ‘sneak’, Catherine Mair, Katikati
in bed, Helen Bascand, Christchurch
indian summer, Catherine Mair, Katikati
snowstorm, Dora Sharpe-Davidson, Christchurch
spring cleaning, Timothy Russell, USA
Judge’s Comments: Cyril Child’s
My thanks to the writers who submitted 692 entries in the Open Haiku Section for 2006. I have lived with their poems over a period of three weeks. Initially I looked for poems with fresh images; those that observed the ‘show, do not tell’ maxim; and those that, in effect, opened a door to an unexpected train of thought. A good number were put aside early in the period but not before each was read and studied on at least two different occasions. I gave most attention to the fifty or so that remained. I took time to let these poems mature in my thoughts, both conscious and subconscious. As time passed some faded, others emerged. At this stage I particularly looked for haiku with images that remained fresh on re-readings, haiku that were well crafted and those with lasting resonance, that quality that is the mark of truly excellent haiku. Nowhere among the poems I judged was this more evident than in the winning entry. In my view this is a haiku of the very highest standard. I’m grateful to the New Zealand Poetry Society for the privilege and pleasure of judging the competition, and pay tribute to Laurice Gilbert for her helpful and efficient organisation of the process.
on a twig
without breaking it
Wax-eyes are such energetic and indefatigable birds that it is surprising how delicate and ‘feather-light’ they are if we ever hold one in our hand – perhaps after the cat has brought it in, or one has flown into a window, and we try to help it recover. The poet gives us this sense of frailty, this lightness, with seven simple words, not a word too many, nor too few, not a word out of place. The arrangement of lines is well considered and the result is effective. We see the ‘wax-eye’ sitting on the twig-like second and third lines which, perhaps, bend a little but do not break. This beautiful haiku has stayed with me from the time I first read it many days ago. It is the achievement of a writer whose eyes, heart and mind are open to things around them; of a poet who knows the craft of haiku.
emptying the mouse trap
drop of blood
Ah yes, the mouse: that beautiful small creature with a strong sense of family and nurture, of doing its best for its children, of living in balance with other creatures. All qualities which we humans usually admire, but there’s a problem: the mouse wants to live in our space, share our resources. So we, even the most gentle of us, hunt it, trap it, kill it and declare good riddance. How many of us though would claim to never having misgivings when we hear the trap go off. After all, the mouse’s heart beats as does ours; it bleeds as we do. In eight words this Issa-like haiku sets a scene and observes one ‘tiny’ detail. Devoid itself of emotion, this haiku will stir emotion in those who read it and let themselves take it in.
the creak in the wood pigeon’s flight
The wood pigeon is a colourful handsome bird, a fast and athletic flier – so much so that its ‘creak’ seems out of place. At times, we may not even notice it, there is so much else about the bird to admire. But creak it does and this poem stirs our curiosity. Where does the creak come from? Surely not from any unoiled joint. Perhaps from the movement of air across its wings? If so, are there other flying birds that creak? If not, why not, we may ask. There are things to ponder here, as in all good haiku. The writer presents this moment of observation simply in six words, eight syllables, no verb, no adjective, one line, with appropriate triple spaces to give the reader a little guidance. This careful arrangement works well for this poem. Again, the work of a poet who knows the craft of haiku.
Christmas dinner –
she cuts crosses
into the sprouts
This seems to be a northern hemisphere Christmas when Brussels sprouts would be in season. A woman cuts crosses into the stems of the sprouts, perhaps as she always does, so they cook evenly. The poet notices this tiny part of the dinner preparation and senses the special link it might have to this day of Christian celebration. Maybe the woman makes a special effort this day to get the crosses neat. Maybe this dinner is a much looked forward to family reunion. Yet, maybe too, this woman is preparing a meal she will eat alone. Perhaps she remembers very different Christmas days. This poem shows us a door and invites us in: come, sit at my table.
the tuatara stares
at the class
With only a glance this haiku could easily be bypassed: the response to it could so easily be ‘so what?’ A little more attention is rewarded. Brought to the classroom to be exhibited the tuatara, with its dark and wide-open-eyes and stern-looking countenance, stares at the class. Perhaps so penetrating is the stare that some in the class avert their eyes. The tables are turned, the students feel as though they are the exhibits. What goes through the tuatara’s mind, what does it understand about this new experience, this new environment? We begin to see the world through the tuatara’s eyes. In seven words, twelve syllables, the poet sees a scene and records a simple observation without emotion, comment or judgement. More than that first glance is well rewarded.
Open Junior Section
1) Phobia Emily Adlam, Diocesan School for Girls, Auckland
2) Beside Her Window Kirsti Whalen, Epsom Girls’ Grammar School, Auckland
3) Falling Short Maria English, Samuel Marsden Collegiate School, Wellington
Confetti, Mengyun Rao, Epsom Girls’ Grammar School
The Fiddler and His Cat, Claudia Mason, Raumati Beach School, Kapiti Coast
Le Français, Emily Adlam, Diocesan School for Girls, Auckland
Photograph, Alisha Vara, Rangi Ruru Girls’ School, Christchurch
Simon, Astrid Gulliksen, Home Schooled
Bats in the attic, Lucy Smith, Fendalton Open Air School, Christchurch
chemistry 101, Jess Fiebig , Papanui High School
Cometh what may, Tarquyn MacDonald, Hillmorton High School, Christchurch
Four & a half months, Alisha Vara, Rangi Ruru Girls’ School, Christchurch
Little Pink Boat, Bridget Moss, Samuel Marsden Collegiate School, Wellington
The Midnight Cat, Catherine Stevens, Samuel Marsden Collegiate School
Mischief the cat, Claudia Mason, Raumati Beach School, Kapiti Coast
The Night, Bonnie Brown, Wakatipu High School
Prehistoric Past, Michael Eden, Arrowtown Primary School
Sometimes I want to be a tree in a small bus station, Frank (Seok Hwa) Hong, Auckland International College
Judge’s Comments: Anna Jackson
“I do not like the stars / hanging great and silvery from the echoing / rafters of the school hall” begins the third verse of the prize-winning poem. It is a wonderfully particular image, and I like the way such a beautiful image is presented here as frightening. Many of the most interesting poems I read were not about the person writing but were poems about someone else, a friend or someone observed. “Phobia” starts out imagining the kind of Roman girl who might be called “Phobia” but is really a wonderfully clear-sighted, comic self-portrait, or portrait in the first-person. The character portrayed in this poem is as vivid as some of the great heroines of fiction – I’m reminded of Jane Gardam’s Jessica Vye, in A Long Way From Verona. But “Phobia” is at the same time very well shaped as a poem, with its three seven-line verses each representing a surprising turn of thought. It is even punctuated almost impeccably, which is something I like very much in a poem.
“Beside her window” is a compelling portrait of a girl, Isobel, and at the same time an intriguing portrayal of a complex relationship, or feeling for Isobel on the part of the poem’s speaker. The complex extended metaphor of the girl’s identity as a tapestry, or embroidery of self, is returned to again and again in different ways, so that in one verse she is represented with even seams, in another with “frail endings”; and the relationship itself in one verse represents an unpicking, a complication, and in another verse is portrayed as a tidying up of loose ends, a stitching together. While the status of the relationship is uncertain, the two people are both clearly defined as individuals, with Isobel’s fingernails surprisingly unbitten despite her tangled hair and her habit of cutting class, and even the speaker defined not just by the interest in Isobel but by the nicely inserted detail of the green eyes.
“Falling short” is a small and perfect poem, which concludes with the teacher having to admit, “Maria doesn’t have hr head in the clouds / It’s the sky that’s in the wrong place.” The poem puts the sky in its proper place, and Maria in her proper place in relation to it. The teacher, too, is put in her place in the poem.
These three poems stood out as prize-winning poems as soon as I came across them. But there were a number of other poems which were also strong contenders for one of the three prizes, and which could well have been given a place. All of the highly commended poems were seriously considered for one of the three places. “Confetti” skilfully uses the tab key and @ symbol to portray the drama of pre-wedding nerves, the tension and love between two sisters, and the tension and drama of their relationship with language. It is a brilliant poem. “Le Français” also portrays an interest in words that goes beyond the ordinary and suggests this poem too has been written by someone who, like Jane Gardam’s Jessica Vye, is destined to be “a writer, beyond all possible doubt.” “The Fiddler and his cat” has such a rhythm to it that it sounds like it is already a classic. It should be in every book of nursery rhymes or anthologies of poetry for children. “Simon” is almost like a short story, or a chapter in a novel, it presents such a complex and detailed portrayal of the character Simon and his “Simon look.” The attention to this single moment is very moving, a celebration of what thinking can look like from the outside, something rarely observed or celebrated but here presented as worthy of “nuclear fireworks.” “Photograph” was another poem that I found tremendously moving, and at the same time admired for its craft and poise. It captures how urgently nostalgic a photograph can make you feel, and gives just enough detail to suggest why the speaker might be so nostalgic for a time when “it’s okay.” The poem reads as if it could be a very potent charm or spell, with a power equal to the photograph.
“Photograph” is one of the many poems I read that I hope will be given to the person described or addressed in the poem. Many of the poems which were not considered for the shortlist of potential prize-winners would have a tremendous value as gifts, far beyond the value of any prize they could be awarded. I hope baby Skye reads the poem that celebrates her birth. Many of the short-listed poems I thought should be published, since I can imagine poems like “Falling Short” and “A Fiddler and his cat” being read by generations of readers. But many of the other poems I read should really be given to the one person they belong to, who will never love a published or prize-winning poem as much as the one written especially for them.
I loved reading all the poems that were sent in. The ones I have selected for distinctions though really did stand out very dramatically from the rest. It was very easy to select these poems – they selected themselves. Out of nearly 600 entries, these stood out with vivid imagery, quirky ideas, memorable characters, powerful feelings, an unusual use of language, or, often, a combination of some of these features. I hope these writers will keep on writing. I want to read more of what they write.
- Phobia is a word that annoys me.
- It sounds like a Roman girl’s name
- and I can imagine myself, mistakenly,
- writing merrily away about the myth of
- Jupiter and Phobia. And besides
- the Roman girls never had any backbone.
- Just look at Lucretia.
- I am afraid of falling things
- but phobia is the wrong word for it,
- a word too scientific, too precise for
- a recurrent child’s nightmare of watching,
- as something crashes down on me,
- as a tree falls in the forest
- And I do not like the stars
- hanging great and silvery from the echoing
- rafters of the silent school hall
- I will not sit underneath them.
- The irony of being killed by a falling star
- does not escape me; but it would be
- poor comfort.
- Emily Adlam
- Diocesan School for Girls
- Beside Her Window
- Isobel may sit and think
- beside her window.
- she may look at the sky and see words,
- see the blackbirds trilling metaphor
- and the seagulls
- flying through tunnels of verse.
- she may see cars and boys and postcards
- and just a little more than teenage love poetry –
- an image, a pause, an unpicking
- of her even seams and hemmed memories,
- echoing a stitch of experience,
- of salt-stained memoirs, edged with discomfort –
- And she writes beauty anyway.
- she has reasons, why she doesn’t come
- to school but can twist paper into artworks.
- her nails not bitten but her hair hung melancholy
- around her face, tangled in an elusive explanation
- a series of similes through which she elaborates her absence.
- and I, green eyed, would stitch her together as a tapestry.
- cut short her frail endings and
- leave her without tardiness or talent,
- without empty, mocking street corners and then embraces
- that cross my cross-stitch.
- just a midnight I don’t need to covet,
- a sequin, an unravelling thread
- and a memory
- of a little more than a teenage love poem.
- Kirsti Whalen
- Epsom Girls’ Grammar
- Falling Short
- If only
- I could reach
- Just a little bit further
- I’d scoop up a piece of the sky
- and wear it on my head
- like a hat.
- My teacher would have to say
- “Maria doesn’t have her head in the clouds,
- It’s the sky that’s in the wrong place”.
- Maria English
- Samuel Marsden Collegiate
Haiku Junior Section
1) empty house, Sophia Frentz, Tauranga Girls’ College
2) for a day, Shenan Stanton, St Andrew’s College, Christchurch
3) dark alley, James Popu, Wellington College
4=) one cover, Shenan Stanton, St Andrew’s College, Christchurch
4=) brick, Alice McIntyre, Ilam School, Christchurch
I look in a rockpool, Rebecca Carey, Burnside School, Christchurch
I pass the finish, Luke Mannis, Paparoa St School, Christchurch
kite , Sasha Cran, Ilam School, Christchurch
snow , Hannah Ban, Fendalton Open Air School
sweating , Harry Frentz, Tauranga Primary School
An old woman’s, Chloe Palmer, School for Young Writers, Christchurch
delirium, Charlotte Trevella, Rangi Ruru Girls’ School, Christchurch
foggy morning, William Davidson, Christchurch Boys’ High School
koru in, Nick Crawley, St Andrew’s College, Christchurch
lemon blossom, Sophie Frentz, Tauranga Girls’ College
low tide, Harry Frentz, Tauranga Primary School
The rope breaks, Alexandra Manson, Ilam School, Christchurch
snowy morning, Simon Bilsky-Rollins, Ilam School, Christchurch
sunset, Edward Davidson, Christchurch Boys’ High School
tornado, Caitlin Wood Ilam School, Christchurch
Judge’s comments (Catherine Mair) and Winning Haiku
The first impression I had when I was reading through the 915 entries was the high standard. There were some really terrific haiku. I would have been proud to have written many of them. Naturally there was a seasonal influence but here were many haiku written about a wide range of subjects with impressive maturity. A lot has been learned over recent competitions and many of the more obvious flaws weren’t evident. For instance, many writers have grasped the intrinsic nature of haiku: that it is more than a simple description, that it understates rather than tells everything, prefers not to use metaphors and similes or too many adjectives and doesn’t personalise nature.
In many cases a wide range of feeling was skilfully portrayed by using concrete imagery rather than the writer telling the reader how to feel.
Occasionally I put aside a haiku which had too familiar a feeling. It is absolutely necessary to read widely if you are to grow as a writer but a judge looks for that special ‘voice’.
Thank you all for taking part and making my job such a challenge by submitting so many excellent haiku to choose from.
fills the cemetery
This beautiful haiku resonates on several levels and is amazingly mature. There is something haunting yet redemptive about the empty house and the sun-filled cemetery. Repetition of ‘e’ gives this poem a lovely musical quality which is a perfect part of the whole. Thank you for this haiku.
for a day
the day lily
Not a wasted syllable. In seven syllables everything is achieved. A delightful example of conciseness.
a man with a knife
making a sandwich
The first and second lines set up a horrible expectation of violence so the third line is not only unexpected but is a huge relief. I enjoyed the feeling that this mischievous writer had the last laugh.
The repetition of ‘one’ creates an absolute of winter and isolation. Very elemental.
my house in snow
This haiku cleverly suggests diametric happenings. The snow is falling and at the same time, the snow ‘brick by brick’ is piling up the walls of the house.
Apart from the seriousness of judging, it’s a lot of fun to read pieces like the two below…
sometimes the teachers
(I have taken the liberty of setting it out in three lines which I think is more effective than the original…School
sometimes the teachers learn things)
My vehicle ages
My pistons have stopped thrusting
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