|The Frogmore Poetry Prize Winners 2014|
The poems I selected all have in common excellent word choice, stunning imagery and surprise. Surprise in a poem is extremely important especially when you are reading 360 of them. Recurring themes were family relationships, love, loss, remembrance and because it coincided with the anniversary of the First World War a number of these cropped up.
Narrowing it down and weeding out those poems that weren't working due to weak structure, dull language, clunky rhymes and clichés was the easy part; it was the next shortlist and the next that took time, ensuring each poem got a thorough reading and one it deserved – the top three poems sing, the poets' voices strong and images sustained.
The first prize winning poem, 'Torc' by Lesley Saunders has precise, exquisite language; the word choice is perfect and the poet is completely in control. It is a tight, rich, well-observed piece that was always near to the top of my pile. The opening line, When they came to the place again, it was not itself instantly grabs the reader's attention and what unfolds is the story of Boudicca releasing the hare. I enjoyed the apparent ease of this poem, the cumbersome trundle of wooden wheels and the way the reader jumps from the unmentioned hail of arrows to the present day hail of blossom.
The first runner-up is 'For the Children' by Beth Somerford and begins with the line, our tale is tight-wound and continues unravelling generations of mothers and children in a story that loops like a mobius strip. It is the movement of this poem I greatly admire ? movement and intimacy linked together. Simple, yet complex and multi-layered; a truly visceral piece that captures the physical perfectly: it is the plait of umbilical cord, / like a twist of wet laundry.
Mark Fiddes' 'In the Valley of the Fallen' speaks of people gathering to remember the Caudillo, Refilling the quarried stone/ With their own skin and bone,/ Veined and quiet as marble and how a young boy runs free, kicking a ball, oblivious to ghosts. Prejudice and man's inhumanity to man is caught in the stone. It opens with dust waifs and closes with the sinister atmosphere of the Stuka wings and the calcite moment. It's a poem that makes you sit bolt upright.
The shortlisted poems brought with them interesting themes and well-developed stories, and one or two were only just pipped to the post. The poems are 'Open Plan' by Neil Elder, 'Wee wee hours' by Richard Hughes, Martin Malone's 'Truman on Ischia', Helen Overell's 'Shelter', 'Water Bearer' by Vivienne Tregenza and 'The Small Hours' by Josie Turner. There was a wide variation of styles, from the meditative to the humorous but double-meaning of 'Open Plan'. I loved the image in 'The Small Hours' of hang-gliders unsticking like moths/ from Scafell Pike, the specificity of 'Truman on Ischia' and 'Shelter', the quiet claustrophobia of 'Wee wee hours' and the imagery in 'Water Bearer'.