The 2017 PENfro poetry Competition: The Results

PENfro Poetry Competition Judge’s Report

It was such a pleasure and privilege to be invited to adjudicate the PENfro Poetry Competition (English entries) this year, and to read and ponder on the hundreds of poems, themed around myths and legends, that were submitted for consideration.

Greek myths were by far the most regularly revisited and reworked, and I particularly admired those entries in which the classical subject-matter was given contemporary relevance. In one poem, for example, Demeter’s curse on the earth, causing it to be barren following her daughter’s abduction, is used as a metaphor for environmental devastation, while in another, Icarus, flying too close to the sun, is sensitively recast as a struggling addict. Amidst the many poems tackling dark themes such as abduction, rape and ecological degradation, it was also refreshing to come upon an occasional humorous entry, such as the poem featuring a sailor-luring siren embarking on a solo singing career.

My shortlist of twelve poems contains several that are traditional in form and at least one that would work brilliantly as a performance piece, thanks to the poet’s skilful use of repetition and sound patterns. All twelve poems share a successful marriage of form and subject-matter: on my initial read-through of all the entries, I was keen to see evidence of each poet having given careful consideration to this aspect of their work. Why, for example, should Blodeuwedd’s transformation into an owl be written in free verse? Why plump for quatrains when exploring gender politics through the lens of Penelope’s long wait for Odysseus? And why might a villanelle be an appropriate form in which to express Sisyphus’ ceaseless, futile labour?

The Winning Poems
Third place – Fable #8: Hare Contemplates God by Sally Douglas
I love this original take on the age-old folkloric symbol of the hare gazing at the moon and welcome the opportunity to reward a poet who’s willing to take risks with voice and language. The image of the moon-gazing hare can at times perhaps feel a little remote but in this poem, it’s earthy and physical, rooted in a vivid and immediate sound- and smellscape. I enjoy, too, the precision of language, the poet’s use of dialect words and the way in which even a single word like ‘quick’ contains several layers of meaning.

Runner-up – Icarus Considers his Dad’s Feather Fixation by Roger Elkin
This poem is beautifully crafted in terms of form, the feather-related language is rich and resonant, and I also appreciate the use of half, rather than perfect, rhymes to create dissonance and inspire an unsettled feeling in the reader. This rhyme pattern foreshadows the disaster that will ultimately unfold in spite of Daedalus’ meticulous planning, and acts as an ironic counterpoint to his confident assertion that all will be well.

First place – Medusa Cuts Off Her Snakes by Victoria Gatehouse
I found myself being consistently pulled back to this poem throughout the judging process. Many entries attempted to shoehorn a myth’s entire narrative into forty lines, while those that tended to be most successful focused on a single incident and/or approached the myth from an entirely fresh angle, as is the case with this expertly structured poem. I admire its sinuous shape on the page, the periodic use of monosyllables and sibilants to create a sense of threat and discomfort and, most notably, the poet’s poise and assuredness as far as the pace of the poem – and the placement of pauses – is concerned.

Susan Richardson

Susan Richardson3So these are the winning poems as judged by Susan Richardson in our 2017 competition:  

FIRST:  Medusa cuts off her snakes by Victoria Gatehouse

SECOND: Icarus considers his Dad’s feather fixation by Roger Elkin

THIRD: Fable 8# The hare contemplates God by Sally Douglas

Here is Victoria Gatehouse’s poem:


This is runner-up Roger Elkin’s poem:

RogerElkin Icarus

And this is third-place Sally Douglas’ poem:

Hare Contemplates God

The shorlisted poems were (in alphabetical order):

Bear as Talisman – Phoebe Tsang
Byzantium – Sally Douglas
Cinderella and, by extension, all other stories – Tom Sastry
Fable #8: Hare Contemplates God – Sally Douglas
Growth – Janet Lees
Hallowe’en Cat – Janet Lovell
Icarus Boy – Kathy Miles
Icarus considers his Dad’s feather-fixation – Roger Elkin
Lost for Words – Roger Elkin
Medusa cuts off her snakes – Victoria Gatehouse
The Selkie Wife – Victoria Gatehouse
The Teesdale Furies – Mary Jane Holmes

Congratulations to all who have made it thus far (and commisserations if your title isn’t on the list). All shortlisted poems will now go through to the next round of judging and the Winner, Runner Up and Third Place will be announced at PENfro on September 9 at 3pm.  All Shortlisted poets will also be invited to read their poem at this event.  Click here for details