Here, below, is the Judge’s Report from Jonathan Edwards which includes the shortlisted and winning poets of the Fair Acre Press Poetry Pamphlet Competition 2016.
I would like to take a moment though – to thank Jonathan Edwards publicly for being such a careful and caring Judge.
In the year following his win of the Costa Book Awards for Poetry I have been quite bowled over by the fact that not only has he found time to Judge this competition, to do it with such attention and close reading; but he also has been a valued member of the Maligned Species project – written two poems for the Poetry on Frogs ebook, one for the Poetry on Spiders ebook; and allowed us to record him for the Maligned Species series of podcasts.
Thank you, Jonathan, thank you.
I am really looking forward to more poetry from you in the future – and also in reading the current and future poetry by all the poets below. In celebration of Jonathan’s Report we have decided to create a PDF that features a poem from each of the shortlisted poets – and can be bought, for a £1, here.
Huge congratulations to the poets who have won this time – as Fair Acre Press’ editor I am already looking forward to working with you both on publishing your winning pamphlets – which will be in print for Wenlock Poetry Festival 2016.
There is a PDF available here: Recommended 2016 – which includes a poem from each of the shortlisted poets below, costing £1.
Anyway – over to Jonathan, Nadia x :
Fair Acre Press Poetry Pamphlet Competition 2015
‘You had me at the trampolining grandma’ is not a sentence with which I ever thought I would begin a judge’s report for a poetry pamphlet competition. But it seems an apposite way of beginning some reflections on the process of judging this competition, and not just because the trampolining grandma was one of the reasons why The Quilted Multiverse emerged triumphant in the category for previously published writers.
That surreal image of the trampolining grandma sums up much of the process of reading these poems. It was a joyous experience to read them, and it is the writers who filled me most with joy who had the best chance of making their way to publication in this contest. There were moments when reading these poems when I cried with laughter, or shouted out loud at an empty room, or punched the air, thrilled for a writer in their achievement. Because the standard was so high, admiration for what entrants had achieved became quite commonplace. Beyond this – beyond the excellent, original and formally honed work, the work which inspires deep respect – was, very simply, the work which inspired love, and it is this quality which sings out, from among the overwhelming number of wonderful poems, ‘Publish me! ME!’
For any trampolining grandma, though, there is a point when the earth sucks you back. As a judge, the only downside of this competition was the fact that I could only pick one winner in each category. The quality of submissions, the number of pamphlets which deserved immediate publication, was truly humbling. This isn’t the place in which to discuss this, but, if ever evidence were needed that there continues to be a need to develop poetry readerships, the very large amount of excellent work entered in this competition which should be published – and would be if only more readers were out there – would provide it. My own tastes mean that I value most work which is witty and accessible, formally interesting, imaginative and surreal, but also rooted in the everyday experience of ordinary lives. I like work which is one heart speaking to another (I think I’d also quite like work which was about speaking hearts – pig hearts talking to each other in a biology lab or something – that sounds fun!), which only lets the head interfere enough to deepen that emotional impact. But another judge would have made completely different choices, and there are very many writers who weren’t shortlisted on this occasion who will go on to have wonderful careers.
Published Writers’ Category: open to all, including those have previously had a pamphlet or collection published.
The Quilted Multiverse ~ Jill Munro
Under Surveillance ~ Michael Farry
Ecouté L’Indifferencé ~ Peter Knaggs
Circular ~ Meirion Jordan
Invisible Cities ~ Theophilus Kwek
Hornet ~ Mark Rutter
The standard in this category was very high, with a number of submissions worthy of immediate publication. Among the shortlisted entries, I would especially like to pick out Under Surveillance. This was a consistently strong pamphlet by a writer with formal control and a wide range of subjects. There were affecting poems about fatherhood and subtle and refined approaches to the villanelle and the sonnet. Best of all, in ‘The Gun’ and ‘Ages,’ this writer showed an ability to write truly brilliant poems. The quality of this pamphlet made the task of choosing just one winner in this category particularly difficult.
I would also like to mention Ecouté L’Indifferencé. In many ways, this was the most striking and risk-taking pamphlet in the competition. This poet is brilliant on the subject of work, writing out of some of the anger which fuelled writers like Robert Tressell and Alan Sillitoe. The pamphlet is also deeply, deeply funny and has a wonderful opening poem. The rawness and authenticity is a real strength here; I was gripped by this collection throughout and I very much hope we will hear more of this writer again.
In no small part thanks to that trampolining grandma though, The Quilted Multiverse emerged most strongly as the pamphlet the world couldn’t do without. The poem in which she appears, ‘The Quilted Multiverse of Gardens’ is an excellent addition to the genre of train poems. Where Edward Thomas heard all the birds of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire from a stopped train and Larkin saw just-married couples, this poet looks out through a stationary train window and sees that ‘brilliant blue trampoline,’ the ‘floral-aproned grandma…bouncing high.’ This is a poetry of such striking visual images, and also of good ideas – the wife of a man obsessed with Lego, a meditation on Virginia Woolf’s penchant for purple ink. The brilliance of its opening four poems, in particular, sang to me that this was a poetry collection the world had to see.
Unpublished Writers’ Category: open only to those who, up until the closing date of the competition, had not had a previous pamphlet or collection published.
Blueprints for a Minefield ~ Shauna Robertson
The Bends ~ Matt Barnard
From ~ Robbie Burton
Underlay ~ Marie Naughton
Milk ~ Jessica Mookherjee
Having just mentioned poems that the world should see, it seems sensible here to begin with the category winner, Blueprints for a Minefield. There are poems here, a voice, that the world cannot live without. Indeed, if the world knew these poems were in preparation, I am surprised it had the audacity to go on existing until they were published. The formal range – from sestina to prose poem to playscript to Oulipo-inspired textual experiment – is dazzling. Poems like ‘Lead Me on with My Eyes Blindfolded’ and ‘The Woman Who Married an Oak’ are laugh-out-loud funny, but there are also great ideas here – a speaker visited by the ghost of James Dean, for example – and emotive reflections on modern relationships. Above all, though, it is the astonishing originality of that voice – ‘If the hair could be blonder still and grown and grown until it transcends state lines,’ ‘I’m not against standing up straight so long as I don’t look too tall or too short or too medium or like a loudspeaker’ – which won the day. I feel very lucky indeed that this pamphlet was among the entries in this competition and I say shame on you, world, that this writer is as yet unpublished.
In the face of this competition, there were a number of pamphlets which deserved immediate publication and which were unlucky on this occasion. Among the shortlisted entries, I would particularly like to pick out ‘From.’ As the title suggests, this is an understated and spare collection of genuinely powerful poems; it takes a writer of real skill and maturity to generate such an impact through suggestion and restraint. There is a distinctive and assured voice here, and a poet who will achieve very much.
Lastly, I’d like to mention another wonderful pamphlet, ‘The Bends.’ Here is a writer steeped in the canon, channelling their influences to create excellent poems. ‘Please Follow the Yellow Line,’ ‘Stick People’ and the especially brilliant ‘A Lamp Shop’ were among poems here I will remember for a long time. Indeed, there were so many brilliant poems, in so many brilliant entries in the competition, only a tiny fraction of which there is room to mention here, that, as a judge, I can feel only immense gratitude for this experience and sorrow that, on this occasion, there couldn’t be more winners.