Beverley Literature Festival
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BEVERLEY FESTIVAL POETRY COMPETITION: JUDGE'S REPORT
There were just short of 1,600 entries.
The first reading was the easy part, yielding 200 or so items that had caught and held my attention for different reasons: emotional gravity, ingenious construction, some special quality of voice, surprise angle of attack, a single arresting line or phrase - anything that might cry out for at least a second reading.
One curious feature was the larger than expected number of poems in demanding forms: sonnets, villanelles (especially), sestinas, even a pantoum used bravely to address a subject of unmistakable emotional importance to the writer. Their relative absence from my final list suggests, however, that formal ambition was more often a constraint than a key to expressive freedom.
Next stage, and more difficult, was the establishment of a short list. After some reluctant hardening of the heart, I was glad to arrive at one as short as 45 items. By this time, I was in a mood to tell those 45 to go and sort out the winners among themselves, quietly and democratically.
So it was some days before I could return to the task, and then at least a week of daily shuffling, as I placed poems in new, obstinately unsatisfactory orders of merit. Contenders were dropped only when repeated reading had begun to show their weak points unignorably. The final thirteen - three main prize-winners and ten commended - were the result of a dance, in and out, of a slowly decreasing number, something like musical chairs. There are still poems I regret not having been able to include; some indeed that I wish I could have written myself; but I am happy that the following list is as strong as it is.
Third Prize goes to 'Wild Half-Can' by Ed Reiss, which establishes its starting-point in an allusion to Shakespeare, before taking off, with appropriately punchy low-life vigour, in a wholly modern direction.
Second Prize to 'Final Report' by Duncan Brewer, which not only avoids all the traps - clichéd sentiment, rhetorical excess - as it deals with a subject largely (and oddly) neglected by entrants to this particular competition, but also generates real tension through its superimposed metaphor before culminating in a truly bizarre vision of 'dwarf headmasters / danc[ing] their fury'.
And First Prize to 'Thessalonians' by Christopher North, which transfers the apocalypse to a suburban setting and thereby, with quietly achieved but genuinely unsettling effect, connects St Paul's imaginings to real and recent pictures that none of us will be able to put out of our minds.
The ten commended poems are: