1st, Short Category 2009 - Gabriel Griffin


Like slaters that poke their heads
in and out of caves, they burrow blind
into a vast theological darkness, losing
the dried crust of their thoughts, bumping
into gods.

When they emerge they are
shell-less, slugs, no scales, no defence
of fur or hide; soft things, amorphous,
sticky still with dreams,
leaving shining trails.

Judge's comment:

I was immediately drawn into this poem by its first words: ‘Like slaters’-  I was impressed that this brief poem could tackle huge themes, the ‘vast theological darkness’, while balancing the description between saint and shell-dweller.

There was much which I admired technically in this poem.  It is held together, quietly, by alliteration and half-rhyme.  But it drives boldly forwards, in a marriage of sound and sense, with key phrases opening each line, and each stanza closing with a short phrase, brimmed with meaning.

‘Hermits’ seems to me a poem at the heart of its times, but one which will endure.  Its final phrase (planes’ vapour trails? the saint’s aura) lingers powerfully in the reader’s mind.

Alison Brackenbury

2nd, Short Category 2009 - Matthew Stewart

Instructions For Coming Home

Your fingers will have to trespass
through umpteen kitchen drawers. Let them.
The gas rings will purr. That's their sound.
Hack at a spud. Defy its eyes
with your knife. Crack eggs and watch them
splutter. You'll remember this smell
used to greet you at the front door.
Lever them free, the spatula
no less a tool than any spade.
Now confront the day, bite by bite.

Judge's comment:
I liked this poem immensely.  It is completely unpretentious but has the reader wholly in its power, because it is completely in control of all it does.  I was carried along by the confident chain of commands, colloquial tone and the stream of sound, smell, and memory.  For all its matter of fact tone, this is a profound poem.  I am still thinking about its provocative comparison of spatula and spade (home versus Heaney?). The poem’s excellent ending, ‘bite by bite’ leads on from breakfast to all the challenges of the day, family and life.  Commentators on modern poetry often worry about its difficulty; a worry which I sometimes share.  Here is a fine poem which I think would hold the attention of anyone who has ever cracked an egg or gone home: in fact, almost any reader.

Alison Brackenbury

3rd, Short Category 2009 - Stephen Boyce


My father had a brass field telescope
its shaft wrapped in black webbing
and a tiny eyelid at the viewing end
that slid aside revealing ships at sea,
swallows in flight, cathedral spires,
at night the moon and yellow stars.
A cap with a milled edge snapped
over the larger lens so that, folded,
the tube contained the whole round
world, and all the life I ever wanted.

Judge's comment:
I think this is an almost perfect short poem. It is beautifully matched to its subject.  The narrow  column of lines even looks like a very short telescope.  I was intrigued by the detailed description, both exact and imaginative: ‘tiny eyelid’.  The long vowels of the central lines, with their ‘moon and yellow stars’ give a lovely expansiveness to the sound.  This prepares the reader subtly for the expansion of sense in the longer final line, which opens up to contemplate ‘all the life I ever wanted’. This is a deeply rewarding poem, especially when read aloud.

Alison Brackenbury