The Frogmore Poetry Prize Winners 2016
 


Adjudicators Report
and winning entries

 

How Firstly – thank you to everyone who entered their poem, or poems, to this competition; you’ve offered your work to a stranger, invited their judgement. That’s both generous and brave. I asked myself, before I started to read the entries, what I was looking for; what’s my definition of a really fantastic, memorable poem, a poem that deserves not only a cash prize and publication, but, if I had my way, an annual public holiday held on that poet’s birthday?.... And I come back to Emily Dickinson; ‘If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.' The best poems, for me, startle and discombobulate, offer no easy or cosy ‘answers’ to life’s greatest mysteries or injustices; are grounded in the poet’s own truth – which isn’t to say they’re factually accurate, but that the poet had to write that poem, as a poem; it would never have worked as well in any other form. I wanted to be not just reeled in, but unable to wriggle off the hook. I wanted to feel that the poet had, in writing this poem, brought a new and fabulous creature into being, and that without this creature, the world would be a less interesting and exciting place. I selected an initial long list of forty or so poems, and whittling that number down to ten was, frankly, excruciating. I read each one out loud, several times, listening for cadence and rhythm, for sound effects and surprises, asking myself if the top of my head was still attached. Finally, I whittled the list down to ten fantastic poems, all of which I wish I’d written, and all of which will, I hope, become part of a longer collection. Each offered me a fresh perspective; each drew me in to its own world, its own language, imagery and premise. Finally, though, the three top poems drew me back again and again, insisting that I read them in different lights, different rooms, at different times of day and night. All three winning poems require a certain amount of decoding – the necessity to ask, What’s really going on here? What lies beneath? ‘Cabbage on a Leash’ was, as a title, a wonderfully surprising and surreal image, and immediately plunged the reader into a series of challenging, resonant, audacious images, referencing the ‘real’ world, full of unsettling contemporary references,  but also the psychological disturbance of an individual narrator whose ‘state’ may be a metaphor for the madness of a world where politics and war have shattered lives. ‘Blackheath, Early Morning’ drew me in from the first, seemingly quotidian, lines, and then taking me, as a reader, on a dream-journey where a specific London borough at a particular time of day shifts between a philosophical discourse on ‘the miraculous in failure’ and why a river flooding a street outside transforms people. I loved the risks it took, and its boldness. ‘Calves On A Carousel’, though, was the poem which, from the first reading, did strange things to the top of my head. One way of reading it is to say that it describes calves in a field, before they embark on their final journey to the abattoir. Not a comfortable subject, perhaps, but also an ‘everyday’ one. And yet this poem dazzled me with its quietly devastating imagery – Wet dummy nose and silver dribble was so startling that I felt as though the calf was breathing and dribbling beside me. Each calf, initially compared with a Flybe-sized weigh cage becomes, by the poem’s final stanza, heroic, tragic, its fate stamped on my memory as surely as Their destination stamped on patterned/leather. This is an extraordinary poem.

Catherine Smith

                                                                                                         

          
 
The winner, and runners-up
CALVES ON A CAROUSEL (Eve Jackson)
BLACKHEATH, EARLY MORNING (Kate Ling)
arrow CABBAGE ON A LEASH (Catherine Edmunds)

Shortlisted entries
HALF-LIFE OF THE COCKLE (Kaddy Benyon)
CUT’N’DYE (Sharon Black)
SCENT (David Hale)
THE PARTY (Wes Lee)
THE WOMAN WHO LOVED SHEEP (Anthony Powers)
HER PORRIDGE (Andrew Sclater)
button MOSS (Natalie Whittaker)
   

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