Report by Celia Livesey
‘Write a Maximum of 20 Lines’ – Blank Verse
Brian Evans-Jones works as a full-time lecturer of creative writing, teaching both for Winchester University and the Open University, and has held many writing workshops at the Discovery Centres in Winchester and Gosport.
Brian of course is no stranger to the HWS. He was a guest speaker in April 2012 when he described his work as the Hampshire Poet Laureate for 2012. During his term of office he developed the popular ‘Writing Hampshire’ website, mapping the county through poetry.
Before Brian gave his adjudication, he read aloud Hazel Donnelly’s entry for April as a tribute to a very talented writer who will be greatly missed. Those members and friends who wish to give donations to Asthma UK can find details on this blog page.
The first criterion Brian used to judge the entries was whether they were true blank verse. Blank verse is poetry written in regular metrical but unrhymed lines, almost always iambic pentameters. Unfortunately, most of the entrants didn’t follow the brief. Brian said that he had to put those that did follow the guidelines ahead of the rest.
1st Prize: Sue Spiers, Wiping the Slate Blank
This poem builds steadily to a really excellent ending – a final stanza that rises and rises in quality to a knock-out image in the last line. The impression left by just that stanza was easily enough to make it a strong contender, but it also does the technical side of blank verse well, and has plenty of memorable lines along the way.
So can you tell me what went through your mind
about the crash that crushed your cranium
at eighty miles per hour into a wall?
What made you risk your life and loss of limb?
A surgeon drilled the holes to make some space
for swollen tissue, limbic gland damage
that makes remembering the time too hard
and leads to rage or disruptive changes.
Medulla responses keep heart and lungs
in rhythm. Motor skills; finger to thumb,
some words to name your wife and basic needs.
The slow recovery of smile and frown
at appropriate times as you discern
correct responses. Wonder how you look
to other patients, do the scars stand out?
The ones you hold inside and can’t recall.
In dreams you grasp what consciousness restrains.
The man who hovers in the corridor;
that want-of-death was stronger than her love,
than frontal lobe perception of her faith.
2nd Prize: Sue Spiers, (pseudonym Lillian White) The Everywhere Woman
Although the iambic metre sometimes wobbles in this poem, the quality of the observation and the images are very good. The experience the woman is sketched out with precision and moving understatement.
She’s seen and unseen, an old crumble-sac
who everyone thinks they know but never
saw before. Her face is familiar
and easily forgotten. The white hair –
a trademark nobody recognises.
More passive to bland into the background
behind the loud and strident women who
demand attention, she sits in her skin,
occasionally smiling and nodding,
listening intently to the voices
rising above her own mouse-beige whisper.
She remains mute for her own amusement,
content not to contend ‘don’t I know you?’
One minute here then gone like a shadow
at midday whose shape you’re sure you recall
but can’t bring to mind, an outline that’s made
of mist. She will never be missed or mourned
for long but thought of as a dear old kind
you often met but can’t remember when;
the everywhere woman without a name.
3rd Prize: Clive Johnson, The Dancing Floor
This was the best entry in terms of getting the blank verse technically right. It presents a nightmare dance with images that are fun to decode.
Before a conflict that would scar me and
Destroy so many lives, I dreamed each year
I entered different rooms until I reached
The last, a fearful place of sacrifice
As yet unknown to me, inside a hall,
A dancing floor where flappers and their beaux,
The damaged of the first war and their friends
Unheedful of the next, tripped to a beat
That might have been a devil’s dance, the make-
Up on the women’s faces devils’ masks
That stirred in some a superstitious awe.
The partnering – a frantic sport to vie
For men among the suitors that were left –
Might be a satyr’s ritual to them.
It would enrage their forebears and provoke
A band of witchfinders to prick our skins.
Instead, a new and heartless creed beset
Us with its notions of normality.
We caught a fever in that long weekend
That spread from age to age to addle us.
Highly Commended: Jenny McRobert, Quill
This poem is a sensitive interpretation of Jane Austen’s craft. Its best images, such as the ‘corseted words’, are surprising at first but then come to feel ‘right’.
Highly Commended: Rebecca Lyon, Fossils
I like the understatement and restraint in this poem. It gives the feeling that beneath the apparently simple statements of each line, something of much greater significance in hidden, like the fossils themselves.
The prizes were copies of Fleur Adcock’s poetry, together with a signed Certificate of Adjudication.
In Conclusion: The competition secretary, Jim Livesey thanked Brian for the splendid job he did in adjudicating the April entries and presented him with a small token of our thanks.