2010 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

1st: Johanna Aitchison, Palmerston North; 2nd: Maryrose Doull, Auckland; 3rd: Lynne Kohen, Nelson. Highly Commended: Carmen Downes, Wellington; kimbala, Rangiora; Frankie McMillan, Christchurch; Kate McKinstry, Wellington; Kerry Popplewell, Wellington; Atif Slim, Auckland. Commended: Johanna Aitchison, Palmerston North; Jenny Clay, Auckland; Siobhan Harvey, Auckland; Trevor Hayes, Wellington; Lynne Kohen, Nelson; Marion Moxham, Palmerston North (2); Janet Newman, Levin; Nick Williamson, Christchurch.

Judge’s Comments: Vivienne Plumb

It’s been a fascinating experience judging the 2010 N.Z. Poetry Society Competition. Ultimately it has made me think quite deeply about the process of writing that is then complimented with the process of reading.

In judging, I was looking for poems that said something a little more between the lines, that told us stories and that also told us interesting things about living in New Zealand and being a New Zealander.

The prize-winning poem ‘jun’ written by Johanna Aitchison does this and more. It tells a story about being a New Zealander and living overseas and feeling foreign, and at the same time it plumbs the depths of that most serious and complex of subjects: life and death. Each stanza of the prose-like poem takes us closer to the final few words which offer a punch to the reader. The poem feels audacious and risk-taking.

In second place ‘Oh Asia’ by Maryrose Douall is a small haiku-like piece that contains a sly, almost secretive humour with its own special take on the N.Z./Asian perspective. It offers only five lines (although the title feels like a sixth) but packs a lot into its svelte frame. It’s a topical piece to read, knowing that China is presently N.Z.’s biggest trading partner.

Finally, in third place we have ‘Giraffes’ by Lynne Kohen a poem that poses itself as a piece about giraffes when it is really a poem about being human. It is this metaphorical grace that I like about it, besides the lovely language of the poem as it addresses the loneliness of being a two-legged animal. The last stanza ends the piece on a vigorous and positive note.

I was surprised to discover how many of the entries were a celebration of nature, of the N.Z. landscape and the elements. Other popular topics included ‘what is a poem?’, and pieces written about people who have gone away or have passed away.

Bumblebees featured in about a dozen poems although there were few about animals, other insects, or fish (only dolphins got a really good mention). Birds generally appeared as part of the landscape, and there were many sunrises, sunsets, beaches, bits of bush, and clouds. Siobhan Harvey’s ‘the gifted nephologist goes to school’ (Commended) is a lovely, unique take on the subject of clouds.

I encourage writers who may already be preparing for next year’s competition to consider some more mundane or even domestic subjects. The more particular a writer’s work becomes, the bigger a statement they can actually manage to make. The poems I selected for Highly Commended and Commended were most often chosen for their particularly N.Z. subjects, which I felt celebrated our own particularity, our absolute southernmost of the southern hemisphere, our true Kiwi-ness.

Another influence I felt affecting my choices was that of rhythm and rhyme. Poems such as ‘Gap’ (Commended), ‘Run your hands’ (Commended), and ‘Distractions’ (Commended) all featured great rhythm which I enjoyed, and rhyme that was easy, natural, and unlaboured.

When writing for next year’s competition I encourage writers to think about their titles. Titles are important signposts for the entire poem. They should titillate a reader’s imagination. The title of the winning poem is one word, but a strange word that makes you wish to understand more. Then you discover that title word is the most important one in the whole poem. The poem begins and ends with that one word ‘jun’ and I liked the cyclical feeling that produced in the piece.

A final element that writers should also consider is the poem’s beginning and its end. The first line and the last line are important. I enjoyed the first line of ‘Giraffes’ – ‘they come out of the fleckered trees’ – introduces me to this crazy word ‘fleckered’ which I love. I have already mentioned the ending of ‘jun’. This punchy last line sold the piece to me.

Beginnings tell us where we are about to go – what kind of transcendental adventure will the poem take us on? And the end is where we leave the piece, where we say goodbye. So will we remember the poem or not? The farewell line can make sure we do. Some other good endings featured in ‘Trap’ (Highly Commended), ‘the accordion players’ (Highly Commended), and ‘from the office of a stage one tutor’ (Commended).

Overall I have thoroughly enjoyed the judging experience and the small windows of poetry offered to me in so many pieces of writing.

Please, everyone, have another go again next year, as it is the writing that is the most important. Whether anyone wins anything or not dulls in comparison with the fact that you wrote the piece, you typed it up, and you submitted it – that is the brave work, the creative work, the wonderful work.

So do it again. (And again and again.) Best wishes to all of you who entered, Vivienne Plumb.

Haiku Section

Judge: Tony Beyer

Winner of the Jeanette Stace Memorial Prize, 1st: Quendryth Young, Australia; 2nd: Patricia Prime, Auckland; 3rd: Quendryth Young, Australia. (Regrettably, there were insufficient entries in this section to cover the cost of five prizes, and only three were awarded.) Highly Commended: Mariana Isara, Christchurch; Sandra Simpson, Tauranga; Barbara Strang, Christchurch; André Surridge, Hamilton (3); Eduard Ţară, Romania. Commended: John Bird, Australia; Helen Davison, Australia (2); Seren Fargo, USA; Margaret Grace, Australia; Claire Knight, UK; Ron Moss, Australia; Vanessa Proctor, Australia; Elaine Riddell, Hamilton; Sandra Simpson, Tauranga.

Judge’s Comments

Regardless of subject matter, the wit of haiku is dry, its emotion parked well outside the actual physical presence of the words in the poem. But those words are the poem. All the author can do is assemble, refine and supply them to the reader who will make what he or she can of them. There is no room for editorialising or steering the thoughts of the reader. If the experience of the poem is not enough, nothing else will be, either.

With these fairly seasoned views in mind, I was delighted to be given the challenge of reading and appreciating the enthusiasm expressed in this year’s gathering of 470 haiku. Not all the authors of these poems have quite achieved expertise in the genre yet, but I very sincerely urge every one of you to keep at it. Though a judge may seem like someone who should be consistently accomplished, writing well is a tough calling for which the apprenticeship never really ends. Sometimes I think that writing haiku well is even tougher than that!

While enjoying many of the haiku, I was most impressed by those which placed me in a genuine situation or environment, then made me see in ways that may not have occurred before, or enlarged the scope of my perception. Good haiku result from accurate observation of both the subject and the words chosen to enact a response.

Open Junior Section

Judge: Lynn Davidson

Overall winner: Nalini Singh, Wanganui; 1st runner-up (secondary): Nalini Singh, Wanganui; 2nd runner-up (secondary): Rowan Woods, Auckland; 1st runner-up (primary/intermediate): Phoebe Barrett, Whakatane; 2nd runner-up (primary/intermediate): Fergus Beadel, Christchurch. Highly Commended: Emily Draper, Auckland; Sophia Frentz, Tauranga; Charlotte Guy, Auckland; Kate Loveys, Auckland; Leika McIver, Palmerston North; Isabella Tayler, USA (2). Commended: Rosie Bolderston, Christchurch; Charlotte Hall, Arrowtown; Roanna Lin, Auckland; Alex Rainbow, Arrowtown; Nalini Singh, Wanganui (2); Isabella Tayler, USA; Marina Vivas, Christchurch.

Judge’s Comments

It has been a pleasure reading the poems for the New Zealand Poetry Society International Poetry Competition. I have read over 400 poems! I have laughed out loud at the funny poems, I have been moved by others. I have been drawn into the world of hedgehogs, gold prospectors, grandmothers and birds. I am impressed at the originality and freshness of many of the poems. There were some ambitious poems that haven’t quite got there (yet) so didn’t make the final cut, but that I read and re-read, impressed at the risk-taking, the complicated forms, the daring and confident use of language. Some poems that I thought long and hard over had a particularly good image or idea, but the rest of the poem didn’t quite live up to those lines. It was difficult to judge and pick just a few winners.

The poems I have chosen have some of these things in common:

• They feel finished. They have a sense of being complete and also focused. They stay with the image, subject or feeling right to the end of the poem.
• They are often poems that make the ordinary seem extraordinary.
• They use our usual language, but they make the very most of it. They don’t drift into vague language or ‘purple prose’.
• They make all (or at least most) of the words work for their place in the poem! Each word should be there for a reason. Good poems seemed pared back until only the most important remain and these words feel like part of the ‘machinery’ of the poem.
• They contain a word or an image that is surprising and also just right for the poem
• The poet has thought about where to break the line
• They have a strong beginning or a strong ending – some have both.
• They contain some kind of music – repeating sounds or flowing lines, a rhythm that seems to work with the subject matter of the poem.

Secondary Students:

The overall winner is a compact 11-line poem called ‘Ice-Skaters’. It combines clarity of image, great forward momentum and flow and a certain mystery. Nothing is over-explained but much is suggested. There is a bigger story ‘shimmering’ at its edges. And that story, for me, is the story of the narrator, the speaker in the poem who is watching the ice-skaters.

The opening line is strong and intriguing, ‘They are Swan Lake; they are the Russian’. But on the next line ‘ballet, for all I care – they are, in tight black’ and the narrator starts to tell us what the ice skaters are for her. What they look like, and, quite wonderfully, what they sound like, ‘…the one-legged glide has melted/ into a separate song of serpents’ in the image, serpents, and in the repeating ‘s’ sounds, you hear the hiss of the skaters moving across the ice.
Alliteration and assonance provide sound and visuals in this poem, the reader can ‘see’ the movement of ‘their hips swirl/ sideways’ and ‘flying on a film of/ white’. I like the edgy sound of ‘tracks looping’ which could suggest music as well as movement. This is what a good poem will do; it will offer possibilities, each one adding something to the poem.

I wonder why the knees are ‘thrust terribly/ inward’ but even though I don’t quite know, I love the word ‘terrible’ and have a sense that it is linked to the beauty and grace that the narrator is describing. Beauty can be ‘terrible’ because it is sometimes short-lived, or because it makes us vulnerable or suggests our own (perceived) deficiencies.

The poem, like the ice skaters described, moves gracefully to its ending, where the skaters are caught in the moment that the narrator has been ‘wondering/ over’ (fabulous line break here). She holds them there for us to see, the two skaters ‘fused at leg and spinning/ mouth, in arabesque, like unraveling stars.’ Unraveling stars is a perfect simile here – suggesting celestial stars but also celebrity stars. ‘Unraveling’ is a bold choice and it suggests very clearly the look of what they are doing in spinning together like that, but also the possibility that there is another unraveling going on.

It was very difficult – almost impossible – to rank the next several poems after ‘Ice Skaters’. They are original, mysterious and technically assured. However, there is an emotional resonance and a well handled quirkiness that helped me to decide on ‘the jug beside the windowsill’ as the first runner up. It is a very simple story, of a mother putting marigolds in a jug on a wooden windowsill, but, again, it has a bigger story around it, a story of love and tenderness and vulnerability. It uses simple language, the opening line is almost plain and matter-of-fact, ‘my mother kept her wishes in a jug’. But as the poem progresses we learn how much is invested in these flowers, which are really ‘wishes’. The writer suggests that wishes that are too often worried at may disappear, and she does this very skillfully using the metaphor of the flowers in the jug. There are some lovely images, the surprising ‘sharp/ green wings’ that are the marigold’s petals, and the ‘scented’ water in the jug. Real and surprising at the same time.

‘By The Pines’ is second runner-up and, although there is, for me, a slight confusion over the change of speaker in the central stanza, I thought the voice in this poem was surprisingly mature. The poem is telling an important story about a relationship and the healing power of making something useful and enduring, e.g. ‘…it helps/ to know my plans aren’t cracking, caving,/ crushing like eggshells under these tools.’ There is music to those lines, they flow, content and rhythm together.

Again, this poem isn’t over explained and it takes us, the reader, inside the experience. We see, hear, smell and feel what is going on. The complicated human dramas are implicit in the poem, not explicit. We get to see what they feel like, rather than have them explained to us. I am left with this poignant image of the basket left outside the door with the first egg in it – full of promise.

Primary/Intermediate Students:

The first runner up is a poem about a hedgehog, although one of the things I really like about the poem is that this is never actually stated. This poem takes me into the world of the hedgehog. It shows me how hard it is to be a small, prickly, short legged creature. A creature rather uncertain of its appeal, as it asks ‘What do you think of me?’

There are plenty of clues as to what this creature is, ‘a walking pin cushion’ ‘a spiky chestnut’ and ‘a round burr with spikes’. I like the look and sound of the word ‘burr’ – it is specific and accurate and also sounds lovely.

As I said, this poem shows me what it feels like to be a hedgehog, the effort of carrying such a heavy prickly body on such stubby ‘shaking’ legs and ‘little paws’. Everything in the poem seems deliberate – the description of the hedgehog’s day and the details that are included, like the ‘crunchy snails and slimy slugs’ and the ‘leafy burrow’. All of this paints a very vivid picture.

The title, ‘Such a Hard Life…’ is like the first line of the poem and seems to tip us into the poem. The poet has used repeating sounds, alliteration and assonance, to give the poem music and flow, e.g. ‘waddle’ and ‘walking’ ‘wriggling and rolling’. I enjoyed having the experience of ‘being’ a hedgehog when I read this poem.

The second runner up is a small poem, and is missing a title! However, this six-line poem paints a big picture using simple language. It describes vividly a lonely place, the ‘whistling woods’ where nobody goes and where ‘Trees huddle for warmth’. The first three first lines of the poem evoke this lonely place. The image of trees leaning as much as they can towards each other for warmth is a lonely picture. Also, this description suggests that a strong wind may have blown the trees into a ‘huddled’ shape.

The second three lines of the poem show the sun going down past this lonely place. I like the line ‘The great sun goes down’. The use of the word ‘great’ is powerful. It sound huge and important, but the poet is using very simple language to create this effect. Then this ‘great’ sun ‘whispers in the blue sky/ It’s quiet up here.’ The fact that the ‘great’ sun ‘whispers’ suggests it is also a little afraid of this lonely place. In six lines the poem shows us something about loneliness and also about nature and possibly how the sun sets on isolated places as well as happier, busier places. Perhaps this is more than the writer intended! However, when you present a strong image like this, using precise, simple language, you leave the way open for the reader to experience the poem themselves.

I only wish I could have awarded more places for the poems I read. I hope you all keep writing poems and sharing your work with the world!

Haiku Junior Section

Judge: Karen Peterson Butterworth

Winner of the Jeanette Stace Memorial Award: Ashleigh Goh, Christchurch. Secondary – 1st: Harry Frentz, Tauranga; 2nd: Hannah Ban, Christchurch; 3rd: Daniel Maier-Gant, Christchurch. Primary/ Intermediate – 1st: Ashleigh Goh, Christchurch; 2nd: Brenna Quinlivan, Christchurch; 3rd: Sophie Marris, Christchurch. Highly Commended: Chanel Feala, Christchurch; Harry Frentz, Tauranga (2); Sophia Frentz, Tauranga; Georgiana Gall, Christchurch; Sophie Marris, Christchurch; Oscar Wilson, Christchurch. Commended: Frances Campbell, Christchurch; Bridget Craig, Christchurch; Harry Frentz, Tauranga; Eleanor Hurton, Christchurch; Juliette Newman, Christchurch; Tarbon Walker, Auckland.

Judge’s Comments: Karen Peterson Butterworth

Reading these young people’s 1302 haiku (1183 primary and intermediate, and 119 secondary entries) was enormous fun. Wild nature was ever-present, and human nature prominent, sometimes wittily presented in senryu, and often treated with wisdom and insight. Recurring themes included Anzac Day, schools as prisons or boot camps, teachers as torturers, pupils as stampeding animals; and – a difficult theme bravely tackled by several secondary students – death.
I looked first for evidence of haiku moments, and then for the best expressions of these in words. What is a haiku moment? To me it is the recognition of a wider truth underlying something briefly observed through one’s senses. The best haiku tell about this experience in enough words for the reader to envisage it, and not a word more. It is no accident that many of my choices are two-line haiku, although these were a minority of those submitted.

Over one third of this year’s entries did not convey a haiku moment to this reader. Some great haiku moments fell short when the poets added their own explanations of the meaning. Multiple shades of meaning lie in each haiku awaiting readers’ discovery, and the writer’s opinion can only block or limit this revelation. My interpretations of the place-getting haiku are given below, but only to explain why I chose them. Each poem is redolent with other meanings.
One opinion piece made me laugh out loud. The Japanese haiku master Issa was free with his advice to living creatures, but this poem advises a fairytale character, and was not based on observations made during a brief moment. Nevertheless I’ve given it a special commendation as a ‘wayward’ haiku.
Many entries were illustrated, some beautifully. Sadly, none of these contained a haiku good enough for an award or commendation. Some would have made the grade if the haiku had been able to stand alone independent of the information given in the pictures.

Some entrants wrote their haiku in three lines of five, seven and five syllables. This is much harder to do in English than Japanese, and is no longer thought necessary in western haiku. Where it was done well, I gave the writer extra credit for mastering this difficult form.

Tips for next year’s entrants: First find your haiku moment, by noting it when it happens, or searching your memory. Avoid vague words like ‘nature’, and cliches (over-used words) like names of jewels. In the best haiku, there is much more depth than a comparison between two images. This extra something can’t be described. The best way to grasp it is to read many published haiku, especially competition winners. The web pages at http://www.poetrysociety.org.nz/haikunews will help you find these.

Primary and Intermediate Haiku

First place and over-all winner:

spring water
I sip the daffodil

‘Spring’ has multiple meanings here. There is assonance and contrast between ‘sip’ and ‘spring.’ Words which a less instinctive poet might have used, like ‘yellow’, ‘cool,’ and ‘perfume’, have been left to rest beneath the surface of the poem. The words flow musically and ‘sip’ is ambiguous – does it mean a literal sip from the daffodil? Or a sensory sampling of season, water, and/or daffodil? The poet leaves us room to envisage both.

Second place:

Snowy Night
Lamb at the window

The brevity of this haiku makes the images stand out starkly – warm versus cold; living creature versus impersonal natural force. Compassion alongside thankfulness for comfort.

Third place:

the missing piece

This poem suggests all the untidiness and futile searching we find in human life and the natural world, and also the remaining mysteries that fill the gaps in our knowledge with wonderful stories.

Secondary haiku:

First place:

lengthening shadows
a snail crawls
across the urupa

How long will it take this tiny creature to make it all the way past the shadows, and the writer past loss and grief? Yet there is a feeling of comfort in the presence of the spirits of dear ones who have passed on. This is enhanced by the choice of the word ‘urupa’ rather than ‘cemetery’.

Second place:

Toddler’s feet
Polka dotted socks

The fresh gift of walking is celebrated with joyfully-patterned socks. The word ‘polka’ suggests the family’s inward dance at the sight, and the child’s future potential for dancing.

Third place:

Twilight footsteps
my companion

Whether these are the writer’s own footsteps or a companion’s, they are reassuring company at a time of impending darkness, literal and figurative.