|The Frogmore Poetry Prize Winners 2013|
Adjudicating proved to be an absorbing – not to say obsessive task. Clearly, the entrants to this Prize are discerning readers of poetry. Even so, I sifted out a third of the 368 entries early on – poems with intense moments, but which were underworked. Then there were the remaining 240 or so poems. Frequent subjects were art, stone skimming, family, fishing, spiders, birds, plants, houses, travel, lovers, the internet and retellings of mythical and religious stories. I read the entries repeatedly, until I found poems that lingered through their energy and skilful writing. Waking up with a poem in my head and wanting to pull it out of the folder was a good sign.
In first place, 'Still Life with Lobster Pots' by Emily Wills drew me in with its precise observations of place – the shack retreats into its pelt / of marram and thrift, the tamarisks fray. Ultimately the poem becomes a meditation on memory using vivid imagery to express its complexity – for even this much remembering has claws. The fisherman mends the net but also the spaces for water to swim through, as both net and fish become metaphors for the catches, losses and dying of memory. Sophisticated use of syntax, enjambment, sound and imagery ensure that form and meaning are meshed in this fascinating poem.
In second place, 'Matryoshka' by Sharon Black focuses on the image of a Russian doll to evoke the longing for motherhood. From its wittily appropriate first line – I come from a line of strong women – to its double-edged observation of the nature of the doll, my body opening Caesarian-wide, the poem reveals the pain of being born, the longing to give birth – The only part of me that still remembers tenderness / is my birth wound, untreated balsa. Intense focus on one image enables the poet to explore a powerful desire with feeling but not sentimentality.
'What Paradise Means' by Wendy Klein (in third place) works on several levels – conveying the pleasure of seeing the tomatoes growing in the former Yugoslavia, anticipating their ripening and taste, and hinting at war and mortality, – too early for that ultimate red, the end of their growing. The poem suggests endings and new beginnings for a culture, a religion and individual lives in deceptively simple resonant language.
The seven commended poems are very different from each other. 'Talking to Lions' by Ciarán Parkes wittily plays with notions of language and our ideas of the foreign. 'Quality Street' by Emily Wills explores the pawning of personal possessions and the selling of sweets to conjure the emotional and material needs of a family after war. 'Census', a hugely enjoyable poem, by Christopher North exuberantly lists inappropriate documents sent in by a public hopefully contributing to the 'eternity' of the census. 'The Dispossessed' by Mara Bergman implies the mysterious drama of a fire, and of sexual rivalry through images of dolls saved from the mayhem. 'Oxygen' by Charles Evans is dramatic, grimly humorous and heart-breaking. 'When the Bees' by Frances Corkey Thompson impresses with its echo chamber sounds. In just nine lines we cross the globe and experience the connectedness of nature. The lovely 'Vastness' by Judy Gahagan meditates on the sea, anxiety and loss – the water's thousand hours of filling /shifting gullies, the deepening chasms – in a poem that is metaphysical, musical and moving.
Wow. I've been privileged to read so many intense perceptions of the world. Many congratulations to the ten shortlisted poets, whose work stood out in a strong crowd. Now I too need to stand by the sea and meditate on vastness.