Ealing Autumn Festival Poetry Competition 2014

 

Constellations

 

George Szirtes’s Report

 

Main category

 

I have picked over a dozen very fine poems from the bunch and could have picked more. What struck me in some of the best of them is their sheer delight and skill, particularly with tough forms such as sonnets, terza rima and other rhyming stanzas. The forms themselves are old and weathered as is the whole practice of so-called formal writing so to make them new requires a high degree of wit and liveliness. When these work - as these do - you don’t feel the poem has had to be pressed into the form but, on the contrary, that they have sprung out of it - as if springing like that were the most natural thing in the world. People might think free verse (again ‘so-called’ because no real poem is quite as free as that suggests) is easier. I don’t think so. To get that right may be even more difficult because none of the possibilities is given. Everyone thinks they can do it but relatively few can.

 

But difficulty is not the point. A poem is not some kind of floor exercise with fixed moves: it goes on its own organic way. It arrives without having seemed to have travelled though, for the poet, it is the pleasures of travel rather than the glory of arrival. Arrival is almost secondary.

 

In this case the writers had a specific theme to think about. Theme, like form, may be considered either limitation or liberation. I tend to think the latter and my winner - which is in fact about limitation - Limitation under the Stars, prospers by it. Ideally we want a fine balance between thinking and feeling: given a subject, some thinking is unavoidable. But thinking with grace becomes feeling and this is what my winner has. It starts with an ‘Afterwards’, directs us to a desert, gives the moon a face with broken teeth, drops in a bit of Bunyan with the Slough of Despond and the much discussed political Third Way as well as the moon landing in the penultimate line. That is some distance to cover in fourteen lines and takes breath and grace, which this poem has.

 

I kept shuffling the top four or five around and it was very hard to split them so I have chosen three to share my second spot, Telescope is another spectacular gallop through coinciding worlds - ropes, cartographies, rocks, coal, the wars of classical Greece, Galileo, supernovas, Kepler - all part of a whirlwind tour of astronomy in terms of the telescope.

 

The truth is I enjoyed Constellations just as much. It is a variation on the Shakespearean sonnet as trawled through Wordsworth, elegant, not overawed by its poetic cousins, feeling its way through the lines with sensitive fingers yet at an energetic pace. And there is something beautiful and delicate about Light Lines, which is in what you might call free verse and has the light floating quality that the best such poems can have. It is straight down the line, humane, warm without sentimentality, ending a little firmly but not too firmly.

 

 

Ealing Autumn Festival Poetry Competition 2014

 

Main category

 

1st   Limitation under the Stars                      Alan Dunnet                

2nd  Constellations                                        David Sutton        

2nd  Light Lines                                             Emma Ormond  

2nd  Telescope                                              Andrew Wynn Owen

 

Commended

Insomniac                                                      Brigid Sivill                          

Embark                                                          Paul Jeffcutt                     

The Astronomer                                             Andrew Wynn Owen     

Pulled                                                            Tania Hershman                   

Autumn Stars                                                 Sue Moule                       

Summer of ’76                                               Noel King                  

Saved. Fished. Lost                                       Roger Elkin            

Lunar Sapphic                                                Claire Trevien             

 

 

18 years and under

 

1st   Romeo                                                     Alice Cattley         

2nd  Constellations                                         Jordan Maxwell Ridgway     

3rd   Libra                                                        Flora de Falbe     

4th   Constellations                                          Freda Maria D’Souza

 

Special commendation

The Bright                                                        David Serao

Among the other I particularly liked was Lunar Sapphic which is, naturally, written in Sapphics (11-11-11-5 syllables) and is, sharp, brief, and precise in its diction, I loved the chipped nail varnish and its contactless payment. Insomniac has a light breathlessness as it proceeds under cover of night. The sheer verbal music of Embark was very attractive to me (I myself have written something out of the same fascination). Pulled is a gorgeous poem about desire under the stars, the poem itself like a kiss, and Saved. Fished. Lost... does a striking job with its story telling in terza rima.

 

I could add something about others, in fact plenty of others, and was very pleased to meet them all.

 

 

18 year and under

 

It is very hard to compare a five or six year old’s poem with one by an eighteen year old and maybe one shouldn’t, but the very best of this group is right up there with poems by those in the general category. The winner, Romeo, is an astonishingly sophisticated and deeply felt piece of work. Consisting of two unrhymed quatrains, it sets out from the Juliet’s idea of Romeo being cut out into little stars. There is a touch of Plath in the first line, but the vision and control of diction after that is courageous and original, moving from blueprints through stained glass, free-fall, knife-edge, dust, poison ending with the final image of the face ‘braced like a cross’ on the sky. That summary won’t give you a sense of its clear glassy compression and coherence. Quite remarkable.

 

That doesn’t mean my other prizes were far behind. Two of them were called Constellations. The one that gets second prize is a beautifully worked sonnet, like Romeo, about love, full of intense but contained imagery. One should try saying it aloud for full effect, the sounds rolling and echoing each other. There are coiled slugs, bodies, needled skin, maps and mad tides to navigate and they are navigated with great resourcefulness and energy.

 

My third Libra is a delicately recalled account of time spent with a grandmother, flirting with the idea of the zodiac and concentrating on Libra, but really about the relationship between the writer and’granny’ and, just as importanlty, the relation of both to time and the stars. This too is rather gorgeous.

 

It would be great to have a huge wad of cash to hand around but praise will have to do. And since this is about praise I want to sneak in the other Constellations a poem about what had been a fear of the dark but which now finds us looking up at the night sky and remembering the writer’s father. I particularly enjoyed the first four verses of this, though the thought opens up in the fifth. Again a personal relationship or predicament finds a sense of scale in the bigger picture.

 

A special commendation for The Bright. Its writer is clearly much younger. The poem is hand written in pencil and is about the North Star. It plays with rhyme and shows what rhyme can do.In this case it leads us from the Big Dipper to a zipper, a trip I enjoyed a lot. Rhyme can take us into surprising places that seem odd and yet, when you look at them again, the place suddenly takes on a special glow so you want half to gasp and half to laugh.

Main Category

 

Limitation under the Stars

 

Afterwards, we said it was not much more

than a dry desert in a far off place.

We would have forgotten it long before

only the news kept on showing her face

 

short of a full nose and ears. Her broken teeth

were like those high statues pounded beyond

all shape. We felt sad concern but not grief –

let others sink in a Slough of Despond,

 

those who are closer to the action. Here,

it is business as usual. They say

she set herself on fire. I shed no tear

while making it clear there is a Third Way:

 

one small step, then one more, but not too far.

That is expedient under the stars.

 

Alan Dunnet  1st Prize

 

Constellations

 

We think they never change, but we are wrong.

Our skies were different once: four billion years

Even in the life of the stars is long.

See them, by some shifting of time’s gears,

Flickering like fairground lights, stars lost

Dulling to cold cinders, stars newmade,

The sky a-glitter like a thawing frost –

So these familiars too, so long arrayed,

Will alter. Yet, while life has eyes to see

One thing’s for sure: there will be those who trace

Their time’s celestial calligraphy,

Drawing bright legends on the heavens’ face

To tame the dark, for this is what we do,

With stories vivid, comforting, untrue.

 

David Sutton  joint 2nd Prize

 

Light Lines

 

Age crept into my hands

turned my skin to parchment

wrote extra lifelines on my palms

i am frail now

and you are insipid

street light

viscous, lies thickly

between us

 

charting is tricky

failing eyes lie

about your positions

shaking index finger

tracing indistinct lines

pointing out animals

myths and legends

shapes to younger minds

 

my shape bends

and breaks

time redefines it

but you still slip

into the outlines of our youth

i remember our history

and what i see in you.

Emma Ormond  joint 2nd Prize

 

 

Telescope

 

Collapsible contraption, this:

A modern metal telescope.

It opens vistas, lets abyss

Unravel through it like a rope.

Projecting altitude and slope,

It paints cartographies of light

Which, notedly, spring out of night.

 

The stars live by a different clock.

To them, a limestone stalactite

Drop like a deluge from its rock;

And coal, to them, is gelignite,

Impatient, avid to ignite.

The Siege of Thebes was yesterday;

The Punic Wars, a moment’s play.

 

This tool of trade, this legged antenna,

That shakes the grip of gravitation,

Protects its sect. Sent to Siena,

In papal-pushed expatriation,

Shrewd Galileo found a station

And settled with those-in-the-know

As astral impresario.

 

The start pass by so calmingly

You wouldn’t guess the blaze they nurse.

The supernovas charmingly

Explode in colour. They rehearse

The folk-dance of the universe,

Which moves in time, as people move

Along their pre-allotted groove.

 

Johannes Kepler, six years old,

Looks up from Weil der Stadt to see

A pristine comet’s tail of gold

Progressing unarrestably

From Magdeburg toward the sea:

He lift a toyful stick in hope

To represent a telescope.

Andrew Wynn Owen  joint 2nd Prize

 

Insomniac

 

at 3 a.m. opening the back door

before going back to bed

there’s the moon

a cold segment gleaming orange

in the bare branches

of an oak tree behind the barn

I never saw so clear before.

Drifts of blue cloud in the moon beams

give distance to the stars.

At first only one or two –

Nearly a morning star

and other late to leave –

and then I see

they’re all strung up

high a as human eye can see.

This icy morning

like so many other

stamped with the particular.

This moon, these stars, this barn.

Brigid Smith  Commended

 

 

Embark

 

Vostok,

Mirnyi, Hero,

Astrolabe, Beaufoy,

Terror, Porpoise, Coquille,

Jason, Erebus, Tula, Vincennes,

Peacock, Balaena, Bloodhound, Zelee,

Nimrod, Pollux, Terra Nova, Fram,

Discovery, Aurora, Gauss,

Scotia, Kainan Maru,

Polaris, Bjorn,

Endurance.

Paul Jeffcutt  Commended

 

 

The Astronomer

 

Euclidean in time and temperament.

His heart however held to different rules

And he was bound to follow were it went

As workmen are directed by their tools.

 

He planned new architectures of the mind

And manuscripts for trinkets run on hope;

He questioned how the world had been designed:

“Why should a cart run faster down a slope?”

 

His papers that survive hint at a prize

Beyond the usual, aimed at rearranging

What is. Of this, there’s no clue to the science,

 

Except that it involved the art of changing

Base lead to gold, an act of such defiance

And skill its doing would un-net the skies.

 

Andrew Wynn Owen  Commended

 

 

Pulled

 

Once, early on in my development,

some boy took me to the roof

to see Orion’s Belt, the Pleiades.

 

I listened, looked politely where he

pointed, but already knew – though

he had left the door ajar, and I

 

was not yet fully-formed – that this

had nothing to do with stars,

the tug of gravity.

Tania Hershman  Commended

 

 

Autumn Stars

 

Autumn stars are falling low

into the cold night.

Autumn winds

on the drought fields

yellow against the sky’s cloud.

 

The carnival snaked the town

proclaimed the end of summer.

the end of blistered heat,

the lowness of night

coming in, coming in.

 

School has re-started,

September is rich in rowan berries

bloodied against the roads.

The hunt trawls its hounds

into the early morning.

 

At night Autumn stars fall

low into my bedroom,

are caught in the dreamcatcher

my daughter made

from twists of reed and glittered thread.

 

I wake to find myself old,

held like a fly in the patterned web.

Sue Moules  Commended

 

 

Summer of ‘76

 

My piano teacher is playing catch-up term

this summer having had her baby son,

the whirr of a fan interferes with the metronome.

 

We rinse our lettuce

under the slightest trickle

due to dreadful drought.

 

The man on the news says

let the gardens die

to keep water in the human taps.

 

My cousin presents me with warped

French chocolate from her school tour,

it melted and hardened, melted and hardened again.

 

My Nan says she can smell

the burn of aviation fuel

from the jets that take-sky over her farm.

 

In the haggard by our house

raising tomatoes, my father says,

has never been better.

 

My father is beaming, photographs everything

and everyone, enjoys the fact that I am only eleven.

I will never be this happy again.

Noel King  Commended

 

 

Saved. Fished. Lost: the Saga of Pisces in Syria

 

…. began when Venus and Cupid, her son,

strolling by the banks of the Euphrates

heard deafening roars from the giant Typhon.

 

Hiding behind pollarded willow trees,

they glimpsed the writhings of hissing vipers

coiled around his legs, spied his fiery eyes,

 

and hundred-dragoned hand that reach the stars.

Fearing death, they threw themselves to escape

Typhon’s dreadful wrath into the water’s

 

turbulence, where a sudden upward scoop

from twin Syrian fish, Aphros and Bythos,

ferried them away to safety, a rope

 

knotting their tails tight together. It was those

twins Minerva fixed in the panoply

of stars as Pisces, whose eastern fish flows

 

spine-backed away, the western vertically

and, tying them, the bright star, Al-Rischa –

which accounts why for many a century

 

Syrians didn’t pick fish from this river

and even stopped drinking from its sacred

water. Yet, today, look how things differ:

 

men have become the fish, their crossed hands tied

behind backs, then hauled ashore – see Sagon,

Hassan, Nur, Mustapha and Mohamed –

 

while Minerva’s art and wisdom have been

gunned down by mighty Typhon, whose children –

Hydra, Cerebus, Chimera, Ladon –

 

chart on Earth their warlike constellations:

their stars, the stain of blood, the bullet’s kiss.

Saved. Fished. Lost. Now Allah’s loosed the Syrians,

 

Venus and Cupid’s world is smashed to bits …

 

Roger Elkin  Commended

 

 

Lunar Sapphic

 

To understand astronomy we observe

the following: the smudging of our mirror-

selves, analysis of brand, laying of bets.

The galaxy is

 

not chipped nail varnish, it’s contactless payment,

and we’re too analogue to deal with its waves.

The moon smirks at our hand-folded thought, our home-

fashioned predictions …

Claire Trevien  Commended

18 years and under

 

Romeo

                                    “When he shall die,

Take him and cut him out in little stars …”

 

Love mapped you out like a blueprint,

untouchable as stained glass. Balanced

between frame and free-tail, localities

are fine-tunes to a knife’s edge, swirling

 

dust like poison. Your hands hold

nothing more than light. Eternity

seems to lengthen, stares you smack

in the face on this sky braced like a cross.

 

Alice Cattley  1st Prize

 

 

Constellation

 

Still, there are days I find myself listing.

I am reminiscing you, missing you,

like a tightly coiled slug, untwisting,

blood fizzing with memories of us two.

 

Firstly, bodies sprawled out and heads nesting,

fingers tracing needled skin, mapping out

that constellation of freckles – half resting –

and blush surfaced as I skimmed that same route.

 

Secondly, maps scrolled out, pinned at the sides,

planning our tight-knit futures, creating lives

to be lived and followed closely; set guides

to contain mad tides when the time arrives.

 

Lastly, me – curled up and all alone –

picking at the stitching you had unsewn.

 

Jordan Maxwell Ridgway  2nd Prize

 

 

 

Libra

 

Sometimes I joke my grandma

is one day older than me,

and we play at being balanced.

 

Because we’re already written in the stars,

there is nothing to do but drink tea

from her zodiac mugs;

 

nothing to fix, nothing to prove.

Whatever I hold in my left hand

also appears in my right.

 

I am a slave to the scales.

To their cold round hands;

to their hard square digit;

 

to the two silver fish

born to deep in winter

to grasp what makes an equilibrium.

 

Sometimes, Grandma and I

pretend we understand our horoscope.

She wants to know that today

 

is a day of opportunities.

I want to know that I’m indecisive

so that I can be indecisive.

 

Spinning above us

is her past and my future,

exact in equivalence.

 

Flora de Falbe  3rd Prize

 

 

Constellations

 

I used to be afraid of the dark.

My eyes would dart around the room and see nothing.

No trace of where I was.

Leaving me so alone and disorientated.

I could make no distintion between the open and shut of my eyes

- Just darkness.

The darkness that was so tight on my chest.

The darkness that was so real but untouchable.

The darkness that was so horribly overwhelming.

 

But now…

Now the darkness is my refuge;

The stars my only comfort.

Lying on my back as a bitter breath of wind numbs my face,

I look to the sky.

 

I can remember my Dad teaching my brother the different constellations.

He didn’t realize I wanted to learn too.

But I didn’t tell him either.

To me, they are just stars.

And as I lie in the garden at two in the morning,

Seen only by the creatures of the night,

I can appreciate each star.

 

My inability to see the stars in the forms given to them by man

Open up the possibility of seeing them raw,

Alone.

Not part of a bigger picture,

But something independent,

Finally, something untouched by mankind.

When you take away the constellations,

You get something pure.

A spectacle for humans to look at, not with knowledge,

But with awe.

 

And it’s so beautifully overwhelming,

 

Freda Maria D’Souza  4th Prize

 

 

The Bright

 

The north star is very bright,

It turns north and right,

Part of the big dipper,

Every night it moves like a zipper,

It guides people to where they want to go,

I like to watch its nightly show.

 

David Serao  Specially Commended

 

Copyright 2016 Ealing Autumn Festival

Connect with us on