Congratulations to all the winners! View the results and read the judges’ comments below.
Read all the winning poems.
Judge: Harry Ricketts
1. ‘Ashes’ Rachel Tobin, Pukerua Bay
2. ‘Cathedral of the Poor’ Frankie McMillan, Christchurch
3. ‘Swimming with Frame’ Rowan Teigel, Hamilton
‘A Familiar Voice’ Mary-Jane Grandinetti, USA
‘The Day Death Turned up on the Beach’ Bernadette Hall, Christchurch
‘When Gorillas Wake’ and ‘There Are No Horses in Heaven’ Frankie McMillan, Christchurch
‘The Monks of Tibhirine’ Kerry Popplewell, Wellington
‘The Alhambra Suite: Five Variations’ Jo Thorpe, Wellington
‘Henry James Riding a Bicycle’ David Mark Williams, UK
‘Five Minutes Peace’ Ruth Arnison, Dunedin
‘Visiting Akaroa’ Nola Borrell, Lower Hutt
‘Certain Numbered Streets’ Rose Collins, Lyttleton
‘Open Home’ Nicola Easthope, Raumati South
‘This is the Way of It’ Sandra Fraser, Auckland
‘It’s a Shame They Stopped Making Snifters’ Laurice Gilbert, Wellington
‘The Moral Geologists’ Lynne Kohen, Upper Moutere
‘Lexical Lucy’ and ‘Why Asterisks Are Evil’ Sunil Narshai, Auckland
‘Talk’ Janet Newman, Levin
‘Education’ Catherine O’Brien, Hawea Flat
‘My Childhood in the Rose Garden’ Trish Veltman, Raumati Beach
‘The Blues’ Laura Williamson, Cromwell
756 entries: is that a record? It was fascinating, demanding and rewarding to read such a pile of poems against each other. So, first of all, congratulations to all those who submitted poems, many of which I found moving and often technically impressive.
The process I followed was to read everything, creating three piles: Probables, Maybes, Noes. This left me with 48 Probables, 106 Maybes and 602 Noes. I then reread all the Probables and Maybes, reducing these to 35, then a further reduction left me with 23, which I ranked with considerable difficulty (and reluctance) into the three winners, the seven Highly Commendeds and the 13 Commendeds.
The entries naturally covered a great variety of themes and subjects. There were parental poems and grandparental poems (some very touching ones), travel poems, war poems, poems of love, loss, hope, faith and regret, literary poems, ekphrastic poems, comic and satirical poems (some good ones). There were very few protest poems but perhaps these aren’t sent in to poetry competitions. It was noteworthy that quite a number of the entries were set overseas and dealt with international concerns and/or situations. Most poems were in some kind of free verse (including a number of shape poems) but I was pleased to find that quite a few entries were in tough forms. There were several villanelles, an unrhymed sestina, a pantoum, even a ghazal. While some of these were a reminder that it is now considerably harder to produce a decent rhymed poem than an unrhymed one, a number used an elaborate form to great effect.
What was I looking for? No one specific element but certainly poems that sustained themselves all the way through. Many entries contained striking lines, phrases or stanzas but the poem as a whole amounted to less than the sum of its parts. The poems that held me most were those that maintained the sense of a consistent speaking voice, were in Auden’s useful phrase “memorable speech”.
In addition to the spooky ‘This Is The Way of It’ and ‘My Childhood in the rose Garden’, there were some neatly turned playful poems such as ‘Five Minutes Peace’ which jumped off from the Jill Murphy children’s books about the Large family, also the phrase-twisting ‘Lexical Lucy’ and the sales-jargon-skewering ‘Why Asterisks Are Evil’ and the lightly satirical ‘It a Shame They Stopped Making Snifters’. In a different vein, ‘The Blues’ cleverly but also poignantly (there’s no cure for the blues) set two columns of the same 20 lines parallel to each other but running in reverse order, and ‘Visiting Akaroa’ memorably evoked Blanche Baughan and her work.
These included the excellent trauma-haunted pantoum ‘A Familiar Voice’ and the equally strong villanelle ‘The Monks of Tibhirine’. Both forms are hard to pull off without padding or dud lines, but everything here formally and emotionally earned its keep. Other well-wrought, highly distinctive poems in this category also took the reader around the world: to Uganda in the surreal (but apparently true) ‘When Gorillas Wake’, to the Gobi Desert in the sacramental ‘There Are No Horses in Heaven’, to a New Zealand beach in the quietly uncanny ‘The Day Death Turned Up on the Beach’, to southern Spain in the adroitly scored ‘The Alhambra Suite: Five Variations’, and to England (presumably) in the splendidly Jamesian ‘Henry James Riding a Bicycle’. These seven formed a really strong cluster.
These three terrific poems couldn’t be more different in manner and method. ‘Swimming with Frame’ (placed third) loops off from advice to a class writing an essay about Janet Frame into a wonderful metaphorical swoop which is still (in a sense) about essay writing but much more about imaginative free fall. I loved the long confident control of the lines. ‘Cathedral of the Poor’ (placed second), about Gaudi and the Sagrada Familia, is much sparer, gappier, beautifully chiselled. Either of those two would have been a worthy winner but I settled eventually on ‘Ashes’. This was not just because it is a sestina (very challenging technically) but because the highly ritualistic repetitions of the form seem to me perfectly to complement while expressing the powerful emotion of the poem, creating a verbal shrine of mourning for the poet’s father. I also admire very much the way the poem’s tonal shifts catch how grief slips, slides, jars back. A small point but I very much liked the variant of ‘Rumi’ for ‘room’ in stanza four – very witty and apt, and characteristic of the poem’s intelligence in addition to its depth of feeling.
Rachel Tobin, Pukurua Bay
(a sestina for my father, Bill)
February leaps out of hiding. I wake
to a spinning room
and you fall backwards into the shrine
of your last breath;
sheep in the field of full moon prayer
are witness to your passing.
A gift, this manner of passing.
At Christmas you gave me your take
on the afterlife, on hedging your bets with church and prayer,
and the luck of Tom, who died watching sheep, with room
enough for pasture to lie back in and a harvest breath.
Two men I love are on the same shrine.
You are dust in a papered cask on the shrine
of the Buddha, rocked by a candle passing
its sweetness around. I’ll bet my breath
you never thought I’d take
you to a foreign altar in a sacred room
with forty silent lovers at prayer.
But it doesn’t matter – you’ve snuffed it! Your prayer
sings crimson like the flowers I pick each morning for your shrine.
My lover sits cross-legged on a cushion. He reads Rumi,
holds with two hands the skull of his passing
and considers where he will take
my clothes off later. Meditation is breath.
Grief carves granite into heart, breath inside breath.
Tomorrow, steeped in the brand of silence brewed by prayer
I’ll wing you in my arms at speed of sound, to take
you to the fields of your Kilchrohane shrine
where your father’s and your father’s father’s passing
are marked by stone and wild grasses of a salt-stained room.
Sound the gong three times; this room
is ringing with the fire of breath
pressing like blade to shoulder. You are passing
love and a father’s blessings to me; the prayer
you couldn’t voice at the foot of the other shrine
we shared. My friend sees you behind me. I take
Judge: Barbara Strang
1. First & Jeanette Stace Memorial Award: ‘between road and bay’ Katherine Raine, Owaka
2. ‘red zone’ John O’Connor, Christchurch
3. ‘bird’s hollow bones’ Zoe Harber, USA
4. ‘her prognosis’ Scott Mason, USA
5. ‘morning glory’ Nathalie Buckland, Australia
‘ragged mist’ Ernest J Berry, Picton
‘between rusting mine rails’ Nola Borrell, Lower Hutt
‘bus stop’ Kirsten Cliff, Matamata
‘a fork in the path’ and ‘over the bridge’ Laurice Gilbert, Wellington
‘night bus’ Catherine Moxham, Palmerston North
‘rainbow’ Marion Moxham, Palmerston North
‘lacing’ Patricia Prime, Auckland
‘signing the will’ Sandra Simpson, Tauranga
‘old convent’, ‘reading issa’, and ‘separated’ Ernest J Berry, Picton
‘painting windows’ Claire Knight, UK
‘mirror’ John O’Connor, Christchurch
‘one or two bruises’ Greg Piko, Australia
‘home late’ Cynthia Rowe, Australia
‘cauliflowers’ Sandra Simpson, Tauranga
‘Bastille Day’ André Surridge, Hamilton
‘summer evening’ Helen Yong, Christchurch
‘the hawk circles’ Karen Zelas, Christchurch
Judge’s Comments: Barbara Strang
I have just read through nearly 500 haiku many times. I had previously written on what I would be looking for as judge of the haiku competition*: “They will be written in the present tense, using any of the five senses. They will not state the message overtly, but by implication, using sense impressions. They will avoid abstractions, similes, personification and end rhyme. They will be pruned down to one or two images, maybe with an unexpected link between them…” and I continued with a list of guidelines for writing haiku, gleaned from the last page of Cyril Childs’ New Zealand Haiku Anthology (NZPS, 1993).
Most of us know these and other “rules” by now. But now I would prefer to say that I approached each of the haiku entries to this year NZPS Competition as a small poem. In common with longer poems I would hope to see beauty and freshness of language, assonance and alliteration, originality and even mystery. In particular I was looking for the ability to use a concise form to suggest a larger whole.
For every competition inevitably there is judgment. As a judge my opinion is personal and I will inevitably have my own biases. I know I like simplicity, originality and humour, and dislike vagueness and sentimentality. Also my own experience of life will probably lead me to favour certain topics.
But it is self-evident: every word must count in haiku, and some failed to make the cut by including too much material, perhaps only one word too much. Some were vague or abstract. Polysyllabic words are hard to incorporate and result in almost certain haiku death, in my opinion. Others told rather than showed. Sometimes what they had to say was obvious. Sometimes it had been said before, too often. In some a link between the two parts could not be perceived.
Haiku are varied and it is hard to compare one with another. Is a haiku which is sad more worthy than one which is a joke? I am not sure of the answer. In the end I went for clarity and originality of the imagery.
Among the hundreds I was gratified to find plenty with beauty, freshness, and a quality that cannot be put into words. I think it is to do with mood, and beyond guidelines and rules. It can only be grasped by reading many haiku.
I was interested that there were amongst the bunch some one line and concrete poems. As I must, I judged these on having something to say that went beyond mere form.
The first five prizewinners that I chose are fine well-crafted poems, and any of them could have been the winner. All of them are simple but manage to suggest much more; the words may be plain, but they work together smoothly and slip off the tongue; they all contain a sharp realised sensory image. And there is an economy of means – none of them wastes a single word. They are the ones which I consider most successfully avoid the pitfalls, and deliver the haiku moment in a satisfying manner.
The Highly Commended haiku are well crafted works with a sense of surprise. A good percentage of them take risks in form, and carry it off. Among the Commended there are some good senyru. Congratulations to all the prize winners.
I was reminded again that as well as being a challenge, it is such fun to write and share haiku. I would like to thank all the authors who entered for the privilege and enjoyment of reading their works.
between road and bay the old forest one tree wide
I found myself drawn to this superbly executed haiku for its simplicity, clarity, poignancy: and also its relevance, concerning the loss of native bush. Using plain words the writer has used the one line form to build emotional weight. Also there is an added concrete element in the form, echoing the sense.
red zone –
on an empty street
a light turns green
Here is another great haiku which also stood out for its clarity and simplicity; and relevance, concerning the Christchurch earthquake. Having witnessed this scene I relate to the writer’s image, but I think anyone would. The two colours give it a perfect balance of pathos and irony.
bird’s hollow bones
piled at the door
your thank-you note
This works as a classical haiku with its lovely image, but surprising with contemporary humour. The implication is that the thank-you note too may be hollow.
sea foam wobbles
in the wind
This also is faultless. I love this original image, which clearly presents an insecure state of mind.
clings to the tea tree –
his new girlfriend
This one is a traditional haiku in form, but contemporary in theme and humour.
Open Junior Section
Judge: Bernadette Hall
1st place: ‘to make today pass faster, I am building a time machine’ Rebecca Hawkes, Ashburton (Rangi Ruru Girls’ School)
1st Secondary: ‘crumble’ Maria Ji, Auckland (St Cuthbert’s College)
2nd Secondary: ‘Atarata’ Juliet McLachlan, Christchurch (Papanui High Scchool)
1st Primary/Intermediate: ‘Rain’ Lilith Sangrouber, Palmerston North (Cloverlea School)
2nd Primary/Intermediate: ‘Poverty is …’ Charlotte Shirreffs, Auckland (Mt Roskill Intermediate School)
‘Your Bruise’ Enya Beynon, Christchurch (Hagley Community College)
‘A Poem about my name’ Maria Ji, Auckland
‘Funny dogs’ Jack McCorkindale, Queenstown (Queenstown Primary School)
‘The busy and fashionable streets of New York’ Shreya Nair, Auckland (Auckland Normal Intermediate School)
‘Lost Mother’ Sophie van Waardenerg, Auckland (St Cuthbert’s College)
‘Sylvia’ Cecilia Xu, Auckland (Epsom Girls’ Grammar School)
‘Forest’ Phoebe Young, Wanaka (Mt ASpiring College)
‘Seaside Pilgrims’ Maria Ji, Auckland
‘Freedom’ Áine Kelly-Costello, Auckland (Pinehurst School)
‘To be a Wellingtonian’ Arthur Lafferty, Wellington (Wellington High School)
White heron trapped in oil slick’ Stephanie Lester, Christchurch (Kirkwood Intermediate School)
‘Ode to a match’ Lily Moss-Baker, Wellington (Queen Margaret’s College)
‘The trees rustle, the wolves / howl’ Finn Mueller, Wanaka (Mt Aspiring College)
‘Is love …’ Emma Neilson, Auckland (St Cuthbert’s College)
‘Hurt’ Madeleine Ross, Hastings (karamu High School)
Judge’s Comments: Bernadette Hall
It has been a pleasure for me to have a big pile of new poems to read, something to keep my head and heart cheerfully occupied on these wintery days. 156 poems came in from Secondary students, and 204 from Primary and Intermediate ones. In moving from the simple pleasure of reading and relishing to the more intricate work of assessing and ranking, I have had to call on my own resources of what I think poetry is. And what I think makes a good, strong poem.
I’d like to start with a quotation from a favourite poet of mine, the American, Wallace Stevens. In a long poem called ‘Of Modern Poetry’ , which occurs in his selected works published under the title of ‘The Palm at the End of the Mind’, he says of poetry, “It has to be living”. That is probably the quality I most admire in a poem. The experience of it as energy. I feel excited when I am drawn into that energy. And I feel refreshed as if, unexpectedly, a window has been opened up for me. Through that window I see familiar things transformed. And unfamiliar things made vividly present.
To prevent energy escaping from a poem, the poem itself must be well made. It’s a shame if the magic of a poem, the ability it has to create its own world, is destroyed by things like clichés. They suck up energy instead of releasing it. An excessive use of adjectives or figurative language (similes and metaphors) can have the same blurring effect. Some poems need taking in hand. They womble all over the place like a headstrong puppy that’s not used to being on a leash. They’re not sure in which direction they should be going. A writer has to make choices, that’s the essence of effective editing. All the parts of a poem must work and they must all work together. Like the parts of an engine. When everything works, the motor of the poem can really get going.
Wallace Stevens also suggests that a poem has “to learn the speech of the place”. I don’t think he’s talking about nationality or academic achievement or political point of view here. I think of this “place” as something we might call the imaginative landscape of each individual poem. Whatever occurs in a poem, whether it be lyrical or surreal or narrative or descriptive or comic, produces its strongest effect, I believe, if the poem is consistent within itself, if it is faithful to its own imaginative landscape. Then all the parts of a poem can move forward, working together with integrity. The result may be a poem that’s a complex, multi-storey construction that dazzles a reader. Or a few lines as simple and refreshing as a glass of water.
Now for the results.
I have awarded 1st place to ‘to make today pass faster …’ This is a beautifully constructed poem; it opens and ends with the building of a time machine. But in between the world has changed. This after all is an earthquake poem. There are shocks and after-shocks, there’s the possibility of being buried alive. A wooden window frame yearns to be a tree again; the sky falls, it climbs through a window. I admire the lightness of touch and the imaginative depth of this poem. The way it transforms experiences that many in the earthquake zone will recognise.
I enjoyed the variety of style and subject matter in the poems which I chose to be the runners-up. On the one hand there’s the poem ‘crumble’, an ambitious piece of work consisting of six contrasting sections. This is an attractive structure that allows for shifts in tone and stance. The result is a highly charged investigation of relationship. I admire the risk-taking shown in this poem, the emotional and intellectual range of it. There are mysterious lines here which continue to arouse my interest no matter how many times I read them. Where else might crumbled snow be read as part of the solar system?
And then there’s ‘Atarata’, which is a completely different kettle of fish. This poem is an excellent example of a writer’s sensitivity to the weight, the architectural shape, the musicality and the narrative movement that’s possible in even a very short poem. Every word is essential. There’s mystery here too. The lines shift like the sand and the wind. I find the final image to be profoundly moving. I think it’s that surprising word “drags” that has made its home in my mind – “water drags / over her hands”. I wish I could lay claim to that line myself.
Next there’s another beautifully fashioned little poem, ‘rain’. It’s hard to imagine any cleaner, simpler, more elegant piece of workmanship than this. There are no adjectives, that’s one of the secrets of its success, I suspect. The poem is constructed from stuff, the concrete nouns that make up our reality: rain, water, sky, dirt, mud, skin, hands. It is full of sounds and sensation. As for the line – “it goes pish pish on my skin” – how unique, how accurate and enchanting is that.
The final runner-up is very different in tone and texture. It’s called ‘Poverty is …’ and it’s the kind of social commentary that can easily slip into sentimentality or a rant. This writer however does not fall into those traps. The poem is very well controlled. There’s a pattern of repetition that bolts the scenes together. I enjoyed the use of colloquial language and quoted segments. There was also the excellent use of line breaks which slow the narrative down, so a reader has time to think. This thoughtful, compassionate poem has global as well as local relevance.
I want to offer my warm congratulations to those whose poems have been highly commended or commended. They are a wonderfully mixed lot. Some have a quirky, random humour. How could I ever forget the squashed face dog with his hot foot. Some produce images of great beauty – the beak of a white heron trapped in an oil slick is like a needle hanging loose from a quilt. There are daring lines of great emotional power – “I will not deny the damn honest truth of you” ; and there are lines such as “under all this make up / I am still a feminist” that ring with liveliness and wit.
And I also want to congratulate every single student who took the time to work on a poem and submit it for this competition. Poetry is clearly alive and doing well among you. Your work has given me much pleasure. I hope that the making of poems will be a lifelong pleasure for you.
Rebecca Hawkes, Ashburton, Rangi Ruru Girls’ School
to make today go faster, i am building a time machine
in my garage. it is only missing a few important pieces; the ones
that slipped between the gaps of your fingers
we were trying to keep them safe,
keep the future
[safe-as-houses but the safe houses rock
and rock and crumble and where are you
now, sliding under doors and floors and the frame
of the window moans and cracks and
says, i miss being a tree, tries to arch glass roots
down the sprung coil of your spine; your wings
meet the empty air where shelves should be,
crouched by the radiator for warmth even though
it is turned off; look out, the sky is falling,
it climbs in through the window, turns
the lights back on and stands on your feet
and then it’s stopped and you have not been buried alive
and it’s okay, you’re
safe and i am building a time machine
so that we have the option of choosing to never ever go back
Haiku Junior Section
Judge: Vanessa Proctor
Winner (Jeanette Stace Memorial Award): ‘tree falls’ Richard Ngo, Auckland (King’s College)
1st, Secondary: ‘hidden in the marram grass’ Leika McIver, Palmerston North (Palmerston North Girl’s High School)
2nd, Secondary: ‘inside the crevice’ Juliet McLachlan, Christchurch (Papanui High School)
1st, Primary/Intermediate: ‘rolling hills’ Ella Lamont, Christchurch (Fendalton Open-air School)
2nd, Primary/Intermediate: ‘beach café’ Laura Collins, Australia (St Bernard’s Catholic Primary School)
‘tuatara sings …’ Payton Anderson, Christchurch (Fendalton Open-air School)
‘round day moon’ Meaghan Collins, Australia (St Bernard’s Catholic Primary School)
‘panning for gold’ Harry Frentz, Tauranga (Tauranga Boys’ High School)
‘tiger worm’ Maria Ji, Auckland (St Cuthbert’s College)
‘wind’ Ella Lamont, Christchurch
‘12:52 I add the flour’ Lily Marris, Christchurch (Fendalton Open-air School)
‘autumn morning’ Lizzy Ray, Christchurch ( St Andrew’s College)
‘first blossom’ Anna Doak, Christchurch (Rangi Ruru Girls’ School)
‘across the fence’ Jackie Hazlehurst, Wanganui (Wanganui Intermediate School)
‘my horse breathes’ Sophie Lee, Christchurch (Rangi Ruru Girls’ School)
‘old wooden steps’ Leika McIver, Palmerston North
‘reflections in water brown green’ Richard Ngo, Auckland
‘the wild sea so rough’ Rafe Swan, Arrowtown (Arrowtown School)
‘winter wind’ Frances Ullrich, Christchurch (St Andrew’s Preparatory School)
‘sunset’ Toby Whata, Christchurch (St Andrew’s Preparatory School)
‘the huia sings’ Portia Baine, Hamilton (Sacred Heart Girls’ College)
Judge’s Comments: Vanessa Proctor
I should like to congratulate everyone who entered the Junior Haiku section of the New Zealand Poetry Society’s 2012 Competition. It was a real pleasure to read through all the entries. As I read, I was drawn into a wide range of experience and emotion. That is what poetry should do, share experience and elicit emotion from the reader. Some poems made me smile and I was deeply moved by others. Many of the poems’ perspectives were fresh and original which I found heartening.
It was a difficult task to whittle down the entries to the final few. My first criterion was that the entries needed to be in the form of haiku. There were many entries that worked well as short poems, but were not haiku. I was looking for a specific haiku moment expressed with a concrete image or images (i.e. something you can see, hear, touch, taste or feel). I wanted to be shown the image, not to be told about it. I was also looking for successful juxtapositions (placing images side by side for comparison or contrast) and a connection between the poet and the natural world.
As in previous years of this competition, many of the poems were written in 5-7-5 syllables. It is possible for haiku to be written in this way in English, but it is difficult to do successfully. Modern haiku is much freer and usually uses less than 17 syllables. Many of the 5-7-5 entries padded out their images with unnecessary adjectives. However there were a good number of haiku that were much more concise and effectively used one and two lines to present their images.
Some of the poems presented a story or were too subjective and others were metaphorical. Very occasionally it is possible to use metaphor in haiku, but once again, it is hard to do successfully. There were also generalisations about abstract things such as ‘life’. Haiku by its very nature needs to be specific.
The overall winner presents a specific haiku moment:
the motion of smooth stone
What drew me to this haiku is that it presents a very clear ‘aha’ moment in an unexpected way. The poem has movement, in this case the movement is the dramatic falling of a tree, but instead of the second image being about something expected, such as the noise of the tree crashing down or the canopy hitting the ground, we are presented with the way that the smooth stone around the roots breaks up and moves upwards. The smoothness of the stone is changed in this one moment. This haiku is not only effective, it is also innovative as its shape mirrors the fallen tree.
The first runner up in the secondary school category is also dynamic:
hidden in the marram grass
shift beneath me
The movement in this haiku works on different levels. The sand dunes are hidden in the marram grass that is rippling in the wind, but at the same time and at a deeper level, the very sand the poet is standing on is shifting, the movement creating a strong haiku moment.
The second runner up uses contrast and subtle humour. An every day item, the make up brush, which is a personal object and feels soft, is now used to search through a crack in hard rock for evidence of ancient life. This is an impromptu moment of fossil hunting, a situation where applying make up is no longer important.
inside the crevice
my makeup brush
searches for fossils
In the primary/intermediate section, the first runner up haiku is an emotive poem:
I blink away the tears
The crying of tears in this poem echoes the contour of the hills. We don’t know the situation here, the tears could be tears of happiness on returning home, or perhaps the persona has to leave home, or they may even feel the need for some personal space. The possibilities are intriguing.
The second runner up presents a more domestic situation, a grandchild at a beach café opposite his/her grandmother and the broad view of the ocean beyond the immediate scene. We are shown the images of the hat and the calm ocean and we imagine the close relationship between the family members, also remembering how relationships broaden out onto wider horizons.
view of the calm ocean
over my grandma’s hat
I very much enjoyed the journey the poems took me on and would like to encourage everyone who entered the competition to keep on writing.