Blue Nib Chapbook competition: Notes from our guest judge Helen Mort
Trying to choose between poetry pamphlets is very different from choosing between individual poems. When I judge a single poem prize, I often feel like I’m doing the literary equivalent of speed dating: I’m waiting for a piece to come along that will sweep me off my feet, create an instant but lasting impression. Judging pamphlets feels like a much slower, fuller process – to extend my tortuous and inappropriate analogy, it’s the fifth or sixth or seventh date. As I read and re-read these submissions, I found I was getting to know them like characters, like people. It’s a cliche to say it, but this was a difficult task. All the entries felt substantive and engaged with an impressive breadth of material. I was stuck by how outward-looking all the collections of poems were, how they refused insularity, self-pity and narrow focus. The entries which I gravitated to all had a searching intelligence to them, all showed a commitment to using poetry as a way of interrogating and understanding the world.
We can not thank Helen enough for her diligence. Samples of our winners work will appear in issue 38 of The Blue Nib which is out on the 15th of June 2019. The Chapbook will also launch on the same date. The winners have all been informed and there prizes are winging there way to them. Details of the winners and the highly commended poets follow.
First prize: Pat Antony.
Place and people are inextricably linked in this evocative collection of poems. They bristle with observational details that a less skilful writer might miss – a man pedals night into day, the moon is scrawled with the arpeggios of an accordion player. Each voice here is convincing and urgent. Memorable, exact and compelling.
About the winner.
Pat Anthony writes the backroads, often inspired by soil and those that work it. Using land as lens she mines characters, relationships and herself. A longtime educator recently retired, she holds an MA in Humanities Literature, Cal State, among others, poems daily, edits furiously and scrabbles for honesty no matter the cost. She has work published or forthcoming in Cholla Needles, Heron Tree, Nature Writing, Quail Bell, Third Wednesday, Tipton Poetry Review, The Avocet, The Courtship of Winds, Open Minds Quarterly, Orchard Street Press, Passager, Red Wolf Journal, Snakeskin, Awkward Mermaid and others.
Second Prize: Mike Farren.
From the first poem in this collection, I was intrigued and hooked by the strange confidence of the work: ‘Antennae’ suggests we should plug antlers from the forest floor to the sides of our heads. The pieces that follow are richly sensory – ‘summer smells of money’, the body is a quarry. Alert and attentive writing, poems suffused with an original language for memory.
About the first runner-up.
Mike Farren is an editor in academic publishing from Shipley, Bradford. His poems have appeared in journals and anthologies, including The Interpreter’s House, The High Window, Strix, Riggwelter and Valley Press’s Anthology of Yorkshire Poetry. His debut pamphlet, ‘Pierrot and his mother’ was published by Templar Poetry in 2017 and in 2018 he was one of the ‘canto’ winners for Poem of the North. He is a member of Beehive Poets and Wharfedale Poets, publishes under the Ings Poetry and Yaffle Press imprints and co-hosts the Rhubarb open mic in Shipley.
Third Prize: Sharon Flynn.
From the first, these poems feel like recipes, full of rich details and imperatives. In one piece, surgery before pain relief is described with a clarity that makes the reader shudder. Visceral and haunting, unabashed and sharply observed, full of found material curated with skill and emotion, which is no mean feat.
About the second runner-up.
As a child, I used to listen to my father lecture on the History of Anaesthesia; these poems are part of a response to those memories. I have been squeezing reading and writing poetry into the corners of my life for several years. Despite my expectations, recent retirement has not yet provided enough time for either of these activities!
Helen chose six highly commended poets as follows and in no particular order. Work from our winners and commended poets will appear in issue 38 of The Blue Nib out 15th of June 2019.
Diarmuid Fitzgerald – I was intrigued by the narrative arc of this collection and the way it charts a walking journey through landscapes the poet makes unfamiliar through bold description and metaphor – at night, ‘the sky is a black skin stretched over the forest’. Fear is ‘a jackdaw voice’. Subtly surprising work.
Diarmuid Fitzgerald was born in 1977 in Co. Mayo. He grew up in Co. Cork. In 1999 Diarmuid gained a BA in History and Geography from Maynooth University. In 2000 he gained a MA in History from Maynooth University. Diarmuid lived in Japan for three years. In 2007 Diarmuid gained a Post-Graduate Certificate in Education (Primary) from the University of East London. He now lives and works in Dublin as a primary school teacher.
Jennie E. Owen – This pamphlet is full of confident, disconcerting voices. In one poem, the narrator meticulously describes the process of painting the dead, capturing ‘the pink in the lips of memento mori’. Poems of family, loss, tenderness and our everyday white lies.
Jennie E. Owen is competition winning writer and has been widely published in anthologies, magazines, and online. She is a teacher of Creative Writing and lives with her husband and their three children in Lancashire.
Jonaki Ray – These are poems which chart the way we can feel – in Seamus Heaney’s words – ‘lost, unhappy and at home’ all at once in the world. Dislocation, integration and the strangeness of family life are brought to the fore, often with dark humour.
Jonaki Ray was educated in India (IIT Kanpur) and the USA (UIUC), and is now a poet, scientist, and writer based in New Delhi, India.
Jonaki was nominated by Zoetic Press for the 2018 Pushcart Prize for short fiction, and by Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre for the 2018 Forward Prize for Best Single Poem. She is the winner of the 2017 Oxford Brookes International Poetry Contest, ESL, and has has been shortlisted for the 2018 Gregory O’Donoghue International Poetry Contest, the 2016 International RL Poetry Award, the 2016 Oxford Brookes International Poetry Contest, ESL, and the 2016 Writers’ HQ International Fiction Contest.
Jean Tuomey – These poems ‘cross cut’ between the present and the past, between different historical situations, illuminating them with compassion. They delicately walk the border between the outside world and the inner life of people, telling of ‘unfinished times’.
Jean Tuomey, a former teacher, trained with the National Assoc of Poetry Therapy in te States as poetry facilitator. published n Crannog, Crossways3, Fish Anthology. Poetry Ireland Review, The Stony Thursday Book.
Katherine Goda – Aching explorations of new parenthood and the process of nurturing a new life, presented with sentiment but without excessive sentimentality, charting how love can feel ‘unset’ in our homes.
Katharine began writing poetry a few years ago as a way of capturing the extraordinary moments in ordinary life which would otherwise be unnoticed. Her work has been published in two Forward Poetry competition anthologies, the YorkMix blog and the anthology Play (The Broadsheet). She has been short-/longlisted for The Interpreters House, Algebra of Owls and Riggwelter. Awards include ‘highly commended’ (Otley Poetry Prize) and ‘commended’ (Settle Sessions Competition).
Ugonnaora Owoh – These poems dance a step ahead of he reader, unsettling and bold. Words leave someone’s mouth like smoke. A grandmother eats the bible. Language is slippery and interrogated. These poems aren’t afraid to take up space on the page, to experiment with form.
Ugonnaora Owoh is a writer and poet who is interested on the themes of war, terrorism, family, injustice and historical facts that evolve around my country.
His works has featured or are forthcoming in The pangolin review, Existere journal of York university Art, Selene quarterly and else where.