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19 December 2017 Entry: "Judging"

This year I was invited to judge the Flambard Poetry Prize with fellow poet Rebecca Goss. The prize is for new writers, who haven’t had a pamphlet or collection published, so an important first step for any aspiring poet. Flambard published my first personal collection Breath, which gave me an enormous boost, and bolstered my sense of self-worth. Also, giving a boost to new writers was the ethos of Diamond Twig press when Julia and I set it up, so I was delighted to be a judge on the prize.
It’s nerve wracking as the huge pile of entries sits waiting (each poet submits 5 poems) when you considered, as Rebecca wrote, ‘the effort and hope that went into producing that waiting stack.’ Yet we had to whittle that pile down to a first and second prize winner and 6 runners up. We had to be careful and ruthless. It was an interesting and enlightening activity.
We found we came up with the same shortlist of poets, so the final process went more smoothly than we feared, and Natalie Rees as second prize and Lydia Kennaway for first was a relatively easy decision.
Runner-up Imogen Forster’s poems travelled geographically and gave vivid physical pictures of landscapes and their inhabitants. They were tightly constructed, restrained and concise poems of place. In Two Rivers:
“This is the precise, specific
thing that fixes time and place,
singular, intimately observed.”
This could be Imogen’s description of her style and writing.
Another runner-up Joe Caldwell wrote moving memories of familial relationships. He displayed a variety of style and form, but all poignant and emotionally accurate as he showed us:
“grandad humming hymns while he polished
the photos of his children in graduate gowns
in vivid colour in faraway towns.”
His poetic images carried a lot of implied backstory. He also personified a hangover very effectively.
There was a sense of authority in 2nd prize winner Natalie Rees’s poems and they moved and intrigued and left a sense of mystery, of more to be discovered. Her poems drew the reader with punchy first lines into strong and confident writing that covered a wide range of subject matter, but all felt like real experiences with convincing detail:
“And we sit and do the crossword
over a pint in Collins’ bar
after the milk market
just before it gets busy”
Natalie’s first collection will be eagerly awaited.

First Prize winner Lydia Kennaway submitted a series of poems from a sequence A History of Walking - what an original idea! and the poems range over wide geographical and cultural boundaries. They felt knowledgable and yet wore their information lightly. Lydia took us on a journey of discovery. The theme that linked the poems gave them a coherence, and meaning was strengthened by rhythm and thoughtful line breaks, here in Sumo:
'Walking starts not in the feet
or the legs or the inner ear
but in the eyes.  
I want is the small, fierce
engine of mobility.’

A well deserved winner.

In a way, when we write we are judging all the time: appraising our words, our choice of line breaks or metaphors, keeping an eye on the overall shape and meaning, crossing out and rewriting as we go. Editing and being critical of your own work is a crucial part of learning the art of poetry or any writing. It’s one I’m still learning.

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