PENfro Open Poetry Competition 2016

2016 Results

The winners of the Poetry Competition are:

1st – (£300) Kathy Miles, Aberaeron, Ceredigion, with ‘Unexpected Guests’
2nd – (£125) Rachel Plummer, Edinburgh, with ‘The Woman who Married Indiana Jones’
3rd – (£75) Elsa Fischer, Bern, Switzerland, with ‘ex ossibus’

Guest judge Jonathan Edwards said:

“It was an enormous pleasure to be involved with judging this competition. PENfro was one of the very first festivals I read poems at, and Rhosygilwen is a very special place for readers and writers. Like all the best festivals, it’s the people who make it, and PENfro has some of the best.

“The standard of entries in this competition was very high indeed. In addition to those poems which made the shortlist, there were a number of others – about lamp shops, John Lennon, typewriters and the art of installing a piano in an upstairs flat, among other things – which were serious contenders for the overall prize.

“As with all competitions, it was the poems which most made me forget that I was judging a poetry competition and made me simply grateful to be reading such astonishing poems which emerged Jonathan Edwardstriumphant. There are poems here which have lived with me long after their first reading, come back to me when I’m driving or strolling, working or eating. There are poems which, when I first found them, perhaps late at night, the house rang with my laughter, my cheers for the writer’s achievement.

“The best entries are poems which deserve to be read widely, and I very much hope their success in this competition will grant them a large audience.”

Jonathan’s comments on the top three poems

1st prize
‘Unexpected Guests’
“This is a stunning poem, which would make a worthy winner of any competition. Originality in poetry is something which by this stage in human history is very difficult to achieve, but this poem has something I’ve never seen before. The subject matter is wonderfully dark and weird, and the poem inhabits the same sort of imaginative space as some of the work of writers like Simic, Sweeney and Stephen Knight, but is entirely this author’s own. The quality and care of the phrase-making and sound-patterning, with every clause being fascinating, is a joy. This is an accomplished and wonderful piece of writing, and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to read it.”

2nd prize
‘The Woman who Married Indiana Jones’
“This is a brilliant poem, which is simply unlucky to have been entered in the same competition as ‘Unexpected Guests.’ In many ways it’s a lost poem from Carol Ann Duffy’s collection The World’s Wife, and of course I’m a sucker for its title, but it’s the skill and generosity with which the writer handles the idea which carries the poem. Deeply funny and entertaining, it has something to say about the quiddities of modern relationships and gender politics, has artful phrase-making and a brilliant ending. The laughter which accompanies the reading of this poem comes partly from its humour and partly from the sheer joy of encountering a writer who has managed to bring such a beautiful thing before the world.”

3rd prize
‘ex ossibus’
“When poems go wrong, it’s often because they are over-ambitious, and here’s a poem which is an object lesson in how having one simple and original idea, and giving it a startling twist in its ending, can make for a brilliant poem. The initial listing, the cool and sophisticated tone of the poem’s opening stanzas, means that the gear-change which happens near the end, when we enter territory which is much more powerful and emotive, is really brilliant. This poem draws blood, doing exactly what poems should, and is the work of an astute and generous writer.”

The poems:

First Prize

Unexpected Guests
by Kathy Miles

The frog was quiet that evening.
He’d hitch-hiked through her lips a week ago.
Lazing on the lawn, sun slick on her skin
and the long brown sunbathe of her hips,
she yawned for a fateful, life-changing second,
and he’d slipped inside the warm nest of her mouth.

She tried everything. Garlic, lighting up a fag,
the hottest chillies on the Scoville scale.
All to no avail. He hiccupped a little
at Scotch bonnet, paused for a minute
at fiery curry, burped at biryani and vindaloo.

When she cleaned her teeth each day
his green skin gleamed in the bathroom light
as he hopped from wisdom to incisor,
poked her roots, gouged her fillings,
spat out Colgate with an outraged croak.

He was afraid of tumbling down
the long red swallow of her throat.
She felt him grip her tonsils
with his tiny slime of hands, stretch
in the moistened hollow of her cheek.

Now there is spawn beneath her tongue,
a female frog in her palate. Dawn brings
the wriggle of tadpoles, the long webbed
span of feet between her teeth, an army
of baby princes hopping along her gums.


Second Prize

The Woman who Married Indiana Jones
by Rachel Plummer

He claimed he was an archaeologist. I said listen,
mate, what archaeologist needs a twelve foot bull whip?
You must be into some kinky shit.
I said put that away, there's kids present.
And button up your shirt, you look ridiculous.

I thought it was nerves. The brag-babble
of first date jitters. But, if anything, it got worse.
By the time our anniversary rolled round
I'd started humouring him – Holy Grail?
Yes, dear. Just remember to shave off that scruff
before my parents get here for dinner.

I talked him into a tux for the wedding
though he insisted on keeping the fedora.

We settled down, became the talk
of the two-bit town we moved to, escaping
the city's rat race life – the man in the ludicrous hat, the wife
of that eccentric. The Joneses at number 5.
Really, it was useful. Gave me some space.

He still took off for months at a pop, for what
I presumed were affairs. It didn't bother me.
Not when he brought me back those puppydog eyes, that diamond
hard jawline, some fuck
ugly stones to prop on the mantelpiece.
Just what I always wanted, dear.

At night his hands burned. He wore the fedora in bed
and once, at my request, let me handle his big whip.
Alone behind the net curtains he touched me
as if I belonged in a museum, as if
I held the Ark of the Covenant between my outstretched palms.

Third Prize

ex ossibus
by Elsa Fischer

Jesus’ baby teeth;
the holy right arm of John the Baptist
and the hand of Saint Stephen;
Blessed Saint Francis’ sternum.

Saint Blaise’s foot with the rock crystal
toenails; and Teresa of Avila’s, from which
in 1969 some bones went missing.

Theologians say that grace remains
with every part, that arms in particular
manifest the healing power of union.

In Québec, long ago, I wandered among casts
and crutches hanging on the walls and pillars
of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, her ulna and radius
on the altar ready to intercede.

And now this: a shaving off my tibia
in a vial of formaldehyde,
my surgeon thinking I aspire to sainthood.


Just passing – John Baylis Post, Co Cork, Ireland
Unspoken – Kittie Belltree, St Dogmaels, Pembrokeshire
Bed Bath – Roger Elkin, Biddulph Moor
Love letters between a window and a door – Kelsey Granger, Camberley, Surrey
A Photograph of my Mother – Richard Lewis, Cardiff
Once the Spaceship in Close Encounters has Lifted – Angela Readman, Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne
Summer ’76 – Wendy White, Kidwelly, Carmarthenshire

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