The May competition brief was one to lift our hearts and minds and take us to our most joyous places:
Happiness – What is it and how do you find it? (300 words of prose or up to 40 lines of poetry).
Our kind adjudicator donating their time this month was poet and novelist, Claire Dyer. Speaking on getting involved, Claire said:
“Thank you for asking me to judge your competition. I greatly enjoyed spending time with the entries and think the topic is particularly well-chosen for these trying times.
“I was impressed by the range of writing styles, the forms chosen and the variety of lenses through which the subject of Happiness were viewed.”
The winners are:
First Place – Peter Duncan with The Happiness Indiana Principle
Second Place – John Quinn with Finding Happiness in the Park
Third Place – Damon L. Wakes with Happiness is a Warm Pig
Highly Commended – Gill Hollands for Lockdown Happiness
Highly Commended – Lynn Clement for Happiness is as Happiness Does
First Place: The Happiness Indiana Principle by Peter Duncan
“I liked this for the consistency and authenticity of voice, its solid beginning-middle-end structure and its originality.”
The small town of Happiness Indiana lies about three hours by automobile from Indianapolis. Leaving the Interstate, you head down long empty roads flanked by miles of level farmland and punctuated with lonely junctions. Some of these are unsigned, often making it difficult for the stranger to find Happiness.
Eventually the town rises up from the flat land. Driving slowly down Main Street, you spot a drugstore, a barber’s shop, a hotel. A modest white clapboard church stands here, too: practically unchanged since it was built by the town’s Danish Lutheran founders in 1821. During Fall (the best time to visit), sidewalks take on the appearance of golden carpets as the plane trees lining the streets shed their leaves.
The townspeople are stolid and uncomplaining, mostly working on the land and in businesses connected to agriculture. Life carries on here without incident. Some would even say they are happy. Happy in Happiness, they laugh.
Yet a few years ago, something curious happened. The Happiness High School basketball team, led by a new and enthusiastic coach, reached the quarter finals of the State Championships. For a whole week, the town was euphoric. Then glumness and despondency set in. People began to ask: What if we actually win? We’ll be on the map. This place will never be the same again.
Next Saturday, the team lost to a much larger school thirty miles distant. Relief swept through Happiness. The coach, who also happened to be a CUNY psychology grad, was intrigued by what had happened. After extensive interviews with local people, he published a paper in a well- known psychology journal. The paper concluded that there is no necessary relationship between success and happiness. And so the Happiness Indiana Principle, now widely known and used, was born.
Second Place: Finding Happiness in the Park.
“I liked the voice here, the apparent simplicity of the story that’s actually a multi-layered one about loss, life and love.”
It’s not every day you can say, confidently and irrefutably, that you have found Happiness.
God knows, as a hard working, just financially solvent and not totally visually repellent bloke in his late 20’s, I’d been looking for it long enough.
OK, I was contented enough. At work there was the promise of a big promotion and, one day, the possibility of making the board. I kept fit; this Saturday morning’s parkrun was part of my training for the London Marathon later in the year – I was running for Cancer Research. For Granddad.
Friends, or at least their girlfriends, tried to fix me up – blind dates bowling followed by a curry or a group wine tasting where everyone brings an unmarked bottle. I’d enjoyed those evenings and met some nice women. But there was no spark, no magic, no our eyes met across a crowded room.
Well, if it’s not instant then it’s not to be, that’s what Mum always told me. She met Dad when she took her Ford Escort in for its MOT – she said not many women had their own cars in those days – and that was that. They are the happiest couple I know, partners and lovers, still, after 30 years. Why would I settle for less?
The halfway mark of the run; I looked at my watch: 10 minutes, 20 seconds. My best time yet, leading the second group by some distance – the first group were way ahead, all running supermen who lived for Saturday mornings.
That’s when the brown labradoodle came bounding up, almost tripping me with its trailing lead, followed by the sound of a female’s voice shouting. ‘Happiness, hear boy, good dog.’
I grabbed the animal’s lead and together we jogged around the corner, towards the direction of the shouting. A tall woman, about my age, broke into a huge smile at the sight of her dog and me.
‘Bloody Hell,’ I thought, she’s gorgeous.
Third prize: Happiness is a Warm Pig by Damon L. Wakes
“For its brevity, humour and inventiveness.”
Have you ever seen a guinea pig? They’re like little furry beans. Their eyes point in different directions and they look faintly puzzled all the time. This is why guinea pigs are the official animal of happiness™, and why happiness itself is measured in gigapigs. These are facts. If you don’t believe them, give me fifteen minutes then check Wikipedia.
Thank you for coming to my TED talk.
“I have awarded two Highly Commended prizes: Lockdown Happiness, and Happiness is as Happiness Does. Both poems use rhymes well, are packed with interesting and specific details and have a nice narrative symmetry to them.”
Highly Commended: Lockdown Happiness by Gill Hollands
I thought shopping made me happy, card in hand I would feel a glow.
Fitting rooms were one comfort zone, Apple’s store kept me in the know.
I thought restaurants made me happy, dining on food someone else cooked.
Washing up was no chore for me, I always had a table booked.
I thought clubbing made me happy, bouncing among a mind-blown crowd.
Returning home late, ears buzzing, the music was always too loud.
I thought movies made me happy, it always made a special night.
With comfy seats, popcorn and treats,I thought I’d got everything right.
I’m changing my view of ‘happy’, now the world’s in a different place.
Fun palaces are all closed now. Different things bring smiles to my face.
All I’m buying is the food shop, there’s no-where else much I can go.
Friends keep me happy online now, glad Apple put me in the know.
I’ve found happiness in cooking, baking up a storm (or a stink).
Feasting on my new creations, we talk deep on stints at the sink.
We’re all making do with TV, get comfy and share out the treats.
Expanding because of the snacks, we’re happy exploring new streets.
Outside, the fresh air tastes cleaner, no drone of traffic blocking routes.
People smile, eager for long chats, happy with new friendships’ first shoots.
The garden’s a most happy place, delight in Spring’s emerging bloom.
Birds sing a chorus all morning, lyrics lifting away the gloom.
The lockdown should soon be over, old loves will come back to the fore.
This new life seems simpler, grounded, ‘happy’ not the same as before.
‘Happy’ can be fickle these days, hard to measure in every way.
Find your ‘happy’ where your love lies, seek little things that make it stay.
Highly Commended: Happiness is as Happiness Does by Lynn Clement
Daffodil heads nodding in the breeze
Tiny green buds unfurling new leaves
Five am singing signaling dawn
Walking the hills and lambs being born
Crashing waves on a red Devon cliff
That photo of dad, with his bad quiff.
Shimmering sun in a fresh blue sky
Smelling the scent of fish as they fry
Grandchildren’s smiles when you say ice-cream
Spotting a trout in a cold clear stream
Licking the salt off a sundrenched lip
Silvery sand and sneaking a kip.
Crisp orange leaves that come twisting down
Green forest carpet turning to brown
Johnny May speeding on left the wing
The Twickenham chorus when they sing
Hallowe’en costumes at the front door
Hunkering down with red wine to pour.
Designer snowflakes land on my nose
Pink fluffy socks that cuddle my toes
Hot-smoked Salmon in toasted bagels
Sunday lunch round the kitchen table
A bobbing bird with a bright red chest
The restful spa when I’m feeling stressed.
Happiness is as Happiness does
Out and about and hearing bees buzz
The wonders of nature in your sight
Family to hold close and kiss good-night
The smell of good food that brings them there
Limitless travel relished with care.
Glad thoughts of loved ones when looking back
The pleasure of sport, being a pack
A comforting home at the year’s end
Hope that we know is round the next bend
Happiness is as Happiness does –
And always done with ladles of love.