Cardiff International Poetry Competition
CIPC11 Judges Adjudication
By Don Paterson and Philip Gross
It’s fair to say that we both found judging the Cardiff International Poetry Competition a wholly pleasurable experience – not least because it quickly became clear that we both delighted in exactly the same things, which made the process of narrowing the entries down to a shortlist of sixteen or so merely very difficult, as opposed to completely impossible. There were perhaps fifty poems we could have commended or awarded prizes to, and in the end we settled on these eight for one reason alone; we wanted to read them again. And again. In addition to their wit, craft and genuine feeling, these poems were also ‘ones we hadn’t heard before’ - whose strangeness or newness never felt like wilful difficulty or mere novelty, but doors into new imaginative territories. We reread those poems for our own pleasure and enlightenment, and out of sheer curiosity and intrigue; these were simply the words we most wanted to take away with us. We hope other readers will find them as
1st Prize - The Naked Quaker and the Burning Boy
This is a witty, sharp – and for all its ludic excess – rather profound meditation on what passes, and what is forgotten. The momentum of its big lines and big sentences give it a wonderfully urgent intensity, while the sinuousness and muscularity of its syntax compel the reader’s attention. It also has a beautifully patterned music that’s barely consciously registered, and all we were really aware of was being swept along by the mad drama of it all. But the poem is held together by its tight lyric weave; a less expert poet might have found the diversity of their material simply pulling the poem apart. This gives the whole poem a wonderful inner tension. The poem also seemed to grow and change with every reading, a sure sign that its parts are connected to one another in sophisticated, fascinating and rich ways.
2nd Prize - hornets
This was, as they say, a ‘grower’; we watched the poem slowly move up the pile with every rereading. It takes a while for the careful precision of the poem’s music, the deadly sharpness of its images, and its almost allegorical intensity to become apparent - but in the end, the poem achieves that little miracle of invoking its subject, of naming it with a demonic accuracy that seems to summon it up: it’s hard not to believe these damn things are actually in the room with you. A beautifully controlled and understated piece of work.
3rd Prize - The Animals All Knew, Without Saying
This is one of those poems whose success lies in its rhetoric, and we were won over by its singular tone, its sustained note of utter self-conviction, the odd line-breaks that enhance the sense of a voice itself near to breaking - and the sheer nervy, reckless bravado of its leaps and landings. This is a poem whose own idiom seemed to deepen as it pursues its strange logic; it wasn’t a pleasant place to be, perhaps, but it was a dramatically compelling one, with an atmosphere that was very hard to shake off.
The surreal mise-en-scène of this poem is very well achieved; it’s impossible to say if its dislocations lie in the mind of the speaker, in the quietly nightmarish reality it depicts, or somewhere in between. ‘What does the poet mean by this?’ was a question we asked again and again, but always in fascination, and never in impatience or frustration. The poem is all the more effective for its tone of deranged calm - and becomes creepy as hell as the horrible irony of its title is slowly unpacked.
You might think this poem was going to be a piece of whimsy, but it grows unexpectedly, suddenly and beautifully in its variety and ambition as ‘the wish’ itself is given a voice - and a none-too-comforting one at that. The poem has grand litanical urgency and insistence to it, and pulls off that admirable trick of having a familiar word wholly reinvented and redefined before your eyes.
It looked, initially, as if this poem would amount to no more or less than the sum of its fascinating parts; but as we reread it, its secret project seemed to become clear, and the poem opens out into a terrifically interesting piece of work. The voice here is splendidly compelling, with all the poem’s arcane or obscure references becoming part of the point - a way of enhancing what we can know of the psychological state of the speaker.
22 March, Working in an Office on Berners Street
What can one say about a poem that just works? The poem is a winner for reasons that are hard to ascribe to much more that sheer cheek and native wit; every time we got to the end of the poem our smiles grew wider. This a quick, lean and sharply witty piece, disproving in one neat stroke the widely-held belief that all poets are miserable; quite simply - it cheered us up no end.
Goth Persephone's mother asks her to do the messages
Behind its big, breathless song, this poem has a quieter, quietly knowing voice: one that pursues its ends without letting you know too much that it knows it’s knowing. We were swept along by the speed and lightness and unconcealed joy of this poem, all the terrific detail it gathered in its headlong rush, and left strewn or flapping in its wake.