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Sentinel Poetry Book Competition 2019 Results

Sentinel Poetry Book Competition 2019 Winners & Judge’s Notes

We are pleased to announce the winners of the Sentinel Poetry Book Competition 2019 judged by Noel Williams as follows:

First Prize: Peter Branson – Marrowbones

Second Prize: Naomi Sterling – Class, Dismissed

Third Prize: Ruth Calway – The Wey and the Wye

Here are the judge’s notes on the collections:

Marrowbones by Peter Branson

Quite clearly at least 90% of the poems in this collection merit publication as individual poems, as the Acknowledgements attest. The voice is strong, disciplined and expertly controlled. The work is clearly of serious intent, addresses its subjects with some force and along the way is able to produce muscular lines of gritty strength. It stands every chance of succeeding as a published collection. The poet has a masterly command of language, with some clever and very effective phrasing, and a very good sense of rhythm and structure, albeit within a limited range of forms. This includes quite a facility with rhyme although in some instances the desire for form, especially for rhyme, can force over-simplification.

Several of the poems also adopt a conversational voice which makes them quite approachable.

Over the collection as a whole the work is sensitive, intelligent and well-informed, even erudite on occasion. The poet is able to navigate difficult issues in a restrained, sensitive and intelligent way. I found the poems dealing with natural subjects probably the most engaging, especially those where tension exists as the virtues of particular birds are set against the threat of their decline or extinction. It also seems to me that these are the poems where the poet’s imagination is given the greatest liberty, producing, for me, some of the most striking of results.

What appealed to me most in this collection is the imaginative range of its imagery, even where the voice is relatively colloquial or direct. Familiar or apparently limited subject matter can be lifted through the poet’s different way of seeing, potentially illuminating it in new light or, occasionally, bringing joy merely through the expression of that image: “huge flocks / of tuning forks”, “the tumbling sky your exercise machine”, “jackdaws drift / crow-high like ashes from a pyre”. These examples, and many others like them, delight me in their wonderful, fresh aptness.

Class, Dismissed by Naomi Sterling

I think this collection has much to recommend it. There’s no doubt the subject overall is very worthwhile and also, if a little surprisingly, somewhat unusual. The snapshots the poet gives of classroom life, the traumas and challenges for teacher and child, are by turns illuminating, touching, questioning, testing and even disturbing. The language as a whole is approachable, everyday, accessible and consequently particularly readable and easily appreciated.

There is no doubt in my mind that the poet is intelligent, empathic and able to capture significant moments in the world she is reporting on. As well as offering some dramatic moments, she can find moments of wry humour or pathos which work more gently. Where the poems are most effective is when they represent the direct voice of characters, especially the children, many of whom speak with convincing directness off the page. Sometimes the difficulties of the children are represented with real poignancy, almost certainly because they are sympathetically noted and accurately reported.

A version of this collection is certainly worth publication, for its subject matter is telling, its accounts are given with serious and compassionate intent, and it can achieve a wide range of tones: shock, irony, drama, pathos to deliver very direct and very human impact. I found this a very engaging collection.

The Wey and the Wye by Ruth Calway

This is a collection of strong images and profound feeling, delivered through some beautiful moments. The core poem is driven by personal events of deep emotional significance, many of which are bound to resonate with readers. Very occasionally, perhaps, it delves too far into mystery for a reader to follow, leading to occasional overstatement or obscuring abstraction, but even in these few instances, there’s a continual evocation of the mythic power of natural forces which drives the verses along. The language carries a deep sense of engagement with the natural world, especially in conveying the drive of the two eponymous rivers, with their punning connotations and their metaphorical significances. I get the feeling of a poet strongly connected to the landscape of river and tree, bird and woodland, finding emotional or spiritual connection with all around her.

The Wey and the Wye is a heartfelt work, carried by a strong emotional voice which many readers will find a compelling experience.


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