2010 Stanza Poetry Competition RESULTS
Theme: Elsewhere

Judge: Sheenagh Pugh

Michael SwanWinner
Michael Swan
(Oxfordshire Stanza)

D A PrinceJoint Runner Up
D A Prince
(S Leicestershire Stanza)

Dorothy PopeJoint Runner Up
Dorothy Pope
(Harrow Stanza)

Sheenagh Pugh - 2010 Stanza competition judge Michael Swan is the winner of this year's competition. He wins a free Poetry Prescription and poetry books. Our runners-up D A Prince and Dorothy Pope also win free poetry books. All three winning poems will be sent to the Forward Prize judges for consideration for the Best Single Poem of the year. In addition Sheenagh chose ten commended poems by Andy Jackson, Anne Stewart, Emma Danes, Janice Flynn, John Elinger, Julie Lumsden, Kate Compston, Margaret Haig, Robbie Burton, and Sarah Westcott. All poems were sent in anonymously. In total, 197 poems were received from 119 poets.

Sheenagh Pugh (Judge, pictured left): "The theme of 'Elsewhere' is capable of many different interpretations. It inspired a lot of verbal holiday snaps, also poems about loss and grief. My three prize winners are not only poems I rated highly but also poems that genuinely addressed the set theme of in some way."

Sheenagh Pugh lived for a long time in Wales but has now moved to Shetland. She has published 10 collections of poems, a Selected and Later Selected and a book of translations, all with Seren. Her latest collection is Long-Haul Travellers. http://sheenagh.webs.com/

 

Winner: Michael Swan

Michael works in English language teaching, and has been writing and translating poetry for 40-odd years. He says "Poetry seems more helpful than grammar in making sense of a seriously confusing universe."
 

I Wasn't There

I wasn’t there.
It was certainly someone else
who looked like me.
 
The women crying –
I had nothing to do with that.
 
You mention a child
plagued by sad memories.
I repeat
I was not there.
 
Photographic evidence
is not admissible.
 
People took so much trouble
and all their efforts went for nothing?
I am sorry
but at the time
I was in Interlaken
or possibly Reykjavik
engaged on another matter.
 
My signature on the documents
is a forgery.
 
Disappointment,
a sense of being let down,
of not being loved,
of being lied to?
Yes,
such feelings
are indeed distressing
and my sympathy goes out
to those concerned.
 
My diaries for that period
show clearly
that I was elsewhere.

Sheenagh: "No other poem, to my mind, quite nailed the theme as this one did.  The voice in 'I Wasn't There' is citing alibis; like Macavity, he was always elsewhere when things were going amiss. 'I was in Interlaken/or possibly Reykjavik'. It is a while before we realise that he is in fact telling the truth, for all the good it is; he is a man who has done harm precisely by not being there for people who had a right to expect him to be, and the poem's grimmest irony is that he still has no notion of having been at fault.  This poem has a considerable back-story, much of which is quite properly not spelled out. The language is very plain, conversational; it resists all temptation to eloquence because in the context that would not be appropriate, but examine bald-looking lines like 'my signature on the documents / is a forgery' and immediately you begin writing the story, identifying the 'documents', because the voice and its narrative have told you just enough to draw you in."

Michael: "My poems are rarely planned in advance; they show up asking to be written, so to speak, often for no obvious reason. I draft them quickly, and don't usually remember the process at all clearly when I'm tidying them up afterwards. This one, written a couple of years ago, must have been triggered by one of those all-too-frequent moments when I remember yet another piece of destructive behaviour, and scream silently 'It wasn't me, I wasn't there, …' like a guilty five-year-old. The poem tries to capture the futility of these insane denials."

Joint Runner Up: D A Prince

D A Prince lives in Leicestershire (where she's a member of Soundswrite, and the South Leicestershire Stanza) and London. Her full-length collection, Nearly the Happy Hour, was published by HappenStance Press in 2008.

Jack

Every family has one somewhere on the tree,

slipping out late with a cardboard suitcase,

enough to pay his passage. Or slamming out,

cracking the plaster, waking neighbours

who keep silence, knowing their own.

Or one-day-doesn’t-come-in, and his girl

eyeing the calendar. Not great writers

the raw-skinned terraced lads. They know enough

not to look back: at the one photograph,

a musty wardrobe, the narrow bed.

Never buying a stamp for a postcard -

Statue of Liberty, or the Chicago skyline,

they leave all points of the compass possible.

Good with horses is how they’re remembered,

handy with a hammer. Their names come up

at Christmas, or as birthdays mount,

or in dreams where they never age.

The elsewhere of them is the one constant

among deaths and births; with no date to mourn

they will swagger back one day, bigger than life,

a knock on the door to complete the circle. 

Sheenagh: "I hesitated about my liking for 'Jack' because I am conscious that it has personal resonance for me; my family has more than its fair share of people who disappeared, one way or another, from the ken of their relatives. But this wry, rueful, sometimes tender account of the world's lost boys is acutely observed and realised in lively, well-chosen language, while its end, speaking (as if it were a reality) of the constant hope of those they leave behind that 'they will swagger back one day', is movingly effective; it deserves its place."

D A Prince: "Many of my recent poems have been exploring 'here' and 'there' so I was drawn immediately to the theme of 'elsewhere'. I'd been thinking about people who disappear, not for any sinister reason, but who just lose touch - and the effects on those who love them: unanswered questions, and how haunting they are. Here was my starting point. As the poem emerged through its various drafts I realised how this pattern runs deep in most families, and how long the questions last."

Joint Runner Up: Dorothy Pope

Dorothy has published 315 poems and self-published 2 poetry collections. Among many poetry prizes, she won The Hamish Canham Poetry Prize in 2007 for the best poem that year in Poetry News, and the 2010 Elizabeth Longford Rose Bowl award for poetry from the Society for Women Writers and Journalists.

Elsewhere

I bought a dozen of this birthday card –
two kittens, beautiful, “From both of us”
inscribed above the lovely photograph.
No use for these now. Time to face my loss,
 
give them to a friend whose husband’s there,
who nightly occupies the other chair.

Sheenagh: "I think 'Elsewhere' is what is generally referred to as 'deceptively simple'. It's only six lines, and the first three are a quite deliberately banal description of a set of birthday cards, a 'lovely photograph' of 'two kittens' inscribed 'from both of us'. The next three lines, which explain, though without stating the fact overtly, why the writer has no further use for the cards, are as laconic, universal and devoid of self-pity as a classical Greek epigram. The final line especially has a most telling image which, like the huge freight carried by the simple word 'other' works all the better for the contrast with the poem's opening. It's a poem that takes a huge risk and pulls it off. Its unobtrusive rhyme scheme, successfully mixing assonance, near-rhyme and full rhyme (again in a compass of only six lines!) also serves it well."

Dorothy: "No woman ever loved her man more than I loved Michael nor felt his loss more keenly or deeply but, when items like these cards surface, I'm sure it is important not be spooked by them. It is not clever to wallow. True love wears no badge of sentimentality and knows that  doing so is neither polite nor wise".

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