Wendy Pratt wins for her poem ‘Red headed Children’. Poetry Society Members Victoria Gatehouse and Jean Atkin are runners-up, and Poetry Society Members Gareth Writer-Davies and Hannah Linden are Commended. Wendy also recently won the YorkMix Poetry Competition.
The judge was Helen Ivory:
“When judging a poetry competition, it becomes ever more apparent that a good poem is a well-made, stand-alone object. It needs not only to possess a heartbeat and the impulse that excited the writer to find words for the shapes in their head, it needs also, through the crafting process, to explore something the writer didn’t realise was in their head. This is the art and this is why poetry is difficult. And part of the art is making it look effortless.
My three winning poems do this in different ways. Third placed is The Tattoo’d Man, which sounds wonderful read out loud, resonant with half-rhymes and musical chimes as it is. The words could only have been packed in this order! I enjoyed the carnivalesque imagery of this poem and the final metaphor of the Tattoo’d Man, nightly reading his skin: his library of pain.
Second placed is Little Red – a ‘what if’ take on Little Red Riding Hood. What if the wolf was not sliced open by the woodman to rescue the girl? Girl would inhabit Wolf, grow visceral and animal; inhabit his skin. The alternative being the worst deathly fate – to stay on the path, collecting stones. This story has been taken on so many times; it was a thrill to find a new angle.
In first place, I have Red headed Children. The subject of this poem – the loss of a child – is of course a heart-breaking fact, but stating a heart-breaking fact does not alone make a powerful poem. The power of this poem lies in its understatement as it takes us through sightings of redheaded children in everyday places, who just for a second could be the narrator’s daughter. And then claustrophobia: ‘These ghosts/of four year old children come thick/ and fast, they are crowding me out . . .’ and then threateningly: ‘They corner me amongst the school dresses and corduroy coats.’ In the final image, a dozing child has explicitly become My daughter and the child’s mother is wearing the narrator’s dress and carrying her bag. The narrator’s life is given over to the child’s protection; is ‘draped over her like a sun shade. The woman’s whole life now, has become shade.’ For me, the implications of the sacrifice held in the simple words of this last image, resonate long after the poem has ended.
It is always difficult to pick winning poems from a shortlist of strong poems and I suppose this is where a certain amount of subjectivity comes in to the judging process. You are left with the poems that speak to your heart and take up residence in your head, as these have with me.”