Sheila introduced Dr Nasser Hussain and invited him to give his adjudication of the 2017 Poetry Competition. Nasser began by talking about his own work, producing copies of his first published poetry collection and reading samples therefrom. His second collection is to be published in 2018. These later poems have moved on from his first collection as he has become more interested in the process of writing rather than the finished product. In his latest pieces of work he is testing what can be done by twisting language to do things it doesn’t normally do. He is asking himself, ‘Can I communicate in a new way?’
After talking about his work Nasser turned to the competition entries. His intention as an adjudicator, he said, was to help rather than to appear harsh; his critique is the beginning of a discussion rather than the last word. He had looked at the poems with five criteria in mind:
use of language
strength of concept
As he talked about specific poems he made the following general points.
• Avoid sentences of a single word
• The subject matter has to work literally as well as figuratively.
• Allow your reader’s imagination some freedom by being slightly ambiguous
• Plain/direct/clear speech is preferable to ‘fancy’
• Beware of using clichés or easy images
• Use contemporary language and forms for contemporary subjects (‘the writer must speak to their moment)
• Might the writer need to pay more attention to form?
• Is that form appropriate to the poem?
• It is good to create a disjunct between reality and imagination/fantasy
• Does the page need to be filled? Shortness, simplicity and truth can be just as effective. Don’t be afraid to cut.
• It is important to be aware of the audience when writing pieces ‘to’ people
• Is the concept suitable for poetry?
Having commented on the individual poems Nasser announced the winners as follows:
• 3rd place – Ian Gouge with ‘The Light of our Lives’, a poem about a fragment from outer space that had once glowed to light up the lives of the couple who had found it but had now lost its glow
• 2nd Place – Elizabeth Spearman with ‘Summer Visitor’, a poem about a summer visitor arriving in her garden
• 1st Place – Susan Perkins with ‘Gerunds’, a poetic reflection on communication.
Due to an oversight the trophy was not available for presentation, but Nasser was photographed congratulating Susan on her win. The winning entries were then read. Susan prefaced her reading with an explanation of how the poem came to be written. In Elizabeth’s absence, Nasser read on her behalf.
Susan thanked Nasser for his adjudication.
Unable to be present at the adjudication of the 2017 Mini-Saga adjudication (see below), Maggie was delighted to receive the trophy from Phil this evening.
Jill Freeman began by explaining that she was there because the Competition trophy had been donated by her mother. Unlike many in her family she was not a writer herself but more of a story teller in the oral tradition. She went on to detail what she was looking for in her adjudication, concluding by summarising her thoughts in a mini saga of her own.
After the introduction Jill gave her individual comments on the nine competition entries and announced the results as follows:
• Joint Second – Phil Cook with ‘Maybe or Maybe not’ and Carol Mayer with ‘Early Electric? Save Your Breath’
• Winner – Maggie Cobbett with ‘Couple Separated by Heartless Social Workers after Sixty Years Together’
In Maggie’s absence Jill was unable to present the trophy but a suitable picture of her with the runners up was taken for the website.
The nine entries were then read as follows:
• Carol – ‘Early Electric? Save Your Breath’ – a reflection on the fact that successful electric traction predates diesel
• Phil – ‘Maybe or Maybe not’ – a punning reflection on the current uncertainties in the UK political scene
• Maggie (read by Sheila in Maggie’s absence) – ‘Couple Separated By Heartless Social Workers after Sixty Years Together’ – a civic dignitary responding to the newspaper headline of the title gets the opposite response to that expected when he arranges for the couple to be reunited
• Claire – ‘Metamorphose’ – a reflection on the life cycle of an insect
• Caroline – ‘Heart’s Desire’ – the breakfast-time reflections of an unhappy king
• Julie – ‘The Morning After the Night Before’ – a woman who has seduced one of her staff reminds him sexily that he mustn’t be late for work
• Janet – ‘The Reluctant Muse or Love’s Labours Lost’ – a dialogue in which a woman refuses The Bard’s advances
• Sheila – ‘Going Bye’ – a golfer misses his wife’s funeral to play in a key competition match
• Peter H – ‘Worldchange’ – the impact of a caveman accidentally discovering fire
Jill then rounded off her adjudication by telling the story of a short story competition she tried to enter but was thwarted by not putting enough postage on the envelope.
Sheila expressed the Group’s thanks to Jill for her adjudication.
Sheila introduced adjudicator Janet Gleeson, explaining that Janet had had a career in journalism, working mainly as a news journalist in the North East and Yorkshire.
Janet began by saying that, having read the entries, she was pleased to have accepted the invitation to adjudicate this competition. She then confirmed some details of her adult life as a news journalist. Turning to the competition entries she said that she had been looking for something that was an interesting read, that kept the interest going throughout and which held her attention from start to finish. She said that she liked to find passion in the writing. In her own writing she liked to include quotations and suggested that this was something that all writers should consider.
Following her general introduction Janet gave her comments on each of the individual entries.
Summing up she said that, in addition to the use of quotations, the following points were likely to help in making a good article:
• Using personal experiences
• Using research
• Getting all the material down quickly before thinking about polishing it.
Sheila then invited Janet to announce her choice of winners. These were:
• 3rd place – Phil Cook with ‘Lucerne’s Lonely Lion’, a piece about the statue of a lion in Lucerne which commemorates the involvement (with heavy loss of life) of a Swiss contingent in the fighting that accompanied the French Revolution
• 2nd place – Caroline Slator with ‘The Vanity of Small Differences’, a piece about Grayson Perry and his work
• 1st place – Maggie Cobbett with ‘In Praise of Notebooks’ – a piece about her personal passion for notebooks, now and in her schooldays. This came with a side order of reflection on how the attitude of coffee shop management towards writers who commandeer their tables has changed since her youth
There was time before the break for Janet to talk about the way the newspaper industry had changed during her lifetime. She compared her own good fortune – being offered four jobs on completion of her journalism course at Darlington College – with the pressures that face newcomers today.
Better late than never! Lindsay received her trophy (see below) from Sheila.
Unfortunately, Lindsay Trenholme wasn’t present this evening to receive the trophy for her winning story, Openings. Adjudicator Gary Booth is pictured here with Susan Perkins, who came second. Also in the photograph and in joint third place are Janet Barclay with Sunday Treat and Joe Peters with Into A New World.
In welcoming Gary, Sheila recalled the helpful and encouraging comments he had made the last time he adjudicated for us, particularly about the importance for a writer immediately to capture the interest of the reader.
On this occasion, Gary began by saying that currently his main private reading was of non-fiction, but in the past he had enjoyed many short stories and was glad to immerse himself in them again, even though nowadays they had become the Cinderella of fiction. He had had to ask himself: What is a short story? What makes a good one? Besides the more mechanical elements of punctuation and the structure of sentences and paragraphs, important features usually involved the inclusion of only a small number of characters; some dialogue; the setting; and the knowledge that something will happen, so that the story builds up to its ending. A “moment of change” was often regarded as vital.
However, it was perfectly possible for good stories to lack some of those features, provided the writer found the right mix for the particular subject matter and achieved the right tone for the story overall and made the reader want to read it. Success could be achieved by exploring and revealing human nature or illuminating something ordinary in a different way.
Gary then handed out a brief summary sheet of the 15 competition entries and went on to comment on each, having attached his personal observations to each individual story. He said that he had enjoyed all of the stories and found them to be of a uniformly high standard. Adjudication had thus been a difficult matter, but after several readings he found that the winning entry and the runner-up were clearly in his mind. He had more difficulty in choosing between two stories for third place, so declared them jointly successful.
Susan then read her story in which various sources allow the reader to piece together the poignant history of an elderly man as he settles into a care home.
Sheila expressed the Group’s warm thanks to Gary for an enjoyable and instructive adjudication.
Andy began by saying that in general he despised poetry competitions because he felt that they are the antithesis of what poetry is all about. However he said that the entries in this competition felt as though they had come from a group that worked together. Particular features of the collection of entries that he liked were:
• The high craft level
• The plain language
• The use in many entries of binary organisation
• The use of alliteration
• The use of half rhymes and exact metre
Andy then went on to give his extensive comments on the thirteen individual entries before announcing the winners in reverse order as follows:
• 3rd – Susan Perkins – ‘Photophobia’ – a poem leading to the conclusion that nature as we see it is not nature
• 2nd – Phil Cook – ‘Where the North Wind Blows’ – a poem paralleling the effects of the Mistral and the effects of a new love
• 1st – David McAndrew – ‘Fixing a Memory’ – a reflection on the process of fixing a memory
Andy presented David with the trophy.
After the tea break the winners read their poems. There was then time for the following further entries to be read:
• Peter H – ‘Fiery Fantasies’ – memories of the days of coal fires and reflections on benign fires in earlier times
• Anna – ‘The Meadow’ – a poem written for friend who wanted to make a film about his meadow – describing the cycle of the meadow’s day
• Malcolm – ‘Jim’ – a fact based poem (almost a eulogy) dealing with memories of a deceased racing friend (read by Phil)
• Elizabeth S – ‘Legacy’ – a poem about the hidden legacy of a tree whose heartwood becomes the raw material for a violin maker
Sheila then invited Andy to read from his own work. He chose to read an extract from ‘Letter IV’ the latest instalment of a series of verse letters to the deceased poet Randall Swingler using a verse form derived from ‘Don Juan’. This letter updated Swingler on what is happening in the world, in particular the rising hatred of those outside the tribe (Brexit, Trump, Le Pen, etc.).
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