East Coker Poetry Competition 2022
This year the poetic subject was ‘The Calendar’ and was left to the writer to interpret the theme in whatever way they wished.
Our judge was Graeme Ryan assisted by Annie Fisher.
Here is the judges report on the entries:-
Firstly, we enjoyed the responses to the stimulating theme. Thank you for inviting us to judge and be part of this evening.
The poems took us on many imaginative journeys. There was a rhymed evocation of the year’s cycle of moons, some of them taking their names from those of the American first Nation; a poem about what is evoked by each month as we experience their arrival and passing; a window opening onto Bruegel’s wedding feast; seasonal phenomena of the natural world; Beryl Cook’s Fat Ladies and other themed calendars; the tyranny and mystery of the calendar; heartfelt meditations on memory and time; the 2004 Tsunami as it affected a member of a family in Chennai – a poignant mark in time – and others.
A key part of the process was to read all entries out loud, before Annie and I finally decided on the two winners. Only by reading a poem out loud do you fully get to feel its cadences, the rhythm and hinterland of it, the voice it speaks with and the taste of it.
After several recitals of all of the poems and much discussion, we were unanimously in choosing our two winners, They are And Time Passes (by Maya Pieris) and Calendar with Ice Cream (by David Cloke)
And Time Passes is a sestina, a complex French verse form, difficult to pull off because the last word of each line in the six line verse follows a recurring pattern throughout the poem, with a three line envoi to finish it, using all the key words with a flourish. The key words in this case are: seconds, minutes, hours, days and months. The poet must weave variations to maintain drive and interest, give legitimacy to the keywords so they make sense within the whole and don’t become too obvious or merely ornamental. The sestina needs to take the reader on a journey into a narrative or series of moods or observations, and we felt the writer of And Time Passes managed this successfully, creating an almost incantatory feel with its voice as the year unfolds – with all its progressions, uncertainties and switchbacks in both human and natural time.
Calendar with Ice Cream is wry and self-depreciating, with a hidden punch. There is gentle humour in the bathos of picking out prosaic entries on a calendar eg August 31st Phone about gas cylinder, then expanding on four particular days in the year in all their ordinary distinctiveness. The rhymes help the poem speak engagingly and emphasise the personalities of the narrator and their companion. The comic touch of the recurring ice cream works well and is unforced (not easy to achieve). Above all the poem voices real humanity throughout – it finds poetry in the everyday – and the final lines create a very different mood, bringing the reader up short with a pithy and genuine reminder of our mortality. That depreciating simple line in the coda: ‘But then there are the blank days’ quietly summons a world of meaning and shows the poets skilful control of their material as the poem signs off – with a final wry reference to ‘ice cream’.
Here are the winning poems:-
And Time Passes and I shall make a book of those hours our memories of many seconds recording those long slow minutes minute moments that led to those rare days each meeting anticipated after endless weeks of moments sustaining the loneliness of months the shinning possibility of those months examined endlessly over the hours that led to those serried weeks weakened by the counting of every second of living through each next day life caught within each minute when I could still feel a minute and make it last a month and recollections of brief days hazy lingering over passing hours and then the vanishing seconds and that heavy weighting of the weeks bleak with the dark of those weeks of scudding cloud passing in minutes wind whipping up dried leaves in seconds swirling the green finery of past months a world hurtling out of control for hours and rain lashing for endless days and no longer the light summer shower of days of blue skies and sharp sun in weeks leaking bee drowsy warmth of soft hours flowering meadow and woodland minutes powering all sense and sensations of months into a raging torrent in seconds and then stilled, stopped in so few seconds and a return to a slow, leaden tedium of days glaze dulled, no shine of those months once more slipping back into dead weeks and the clock face counting the minutes to make up life’s inevitable hours past months no longer passing in seconds and long hours consumed by longer days and endless weeks not ending the minutes. Maya Pieris
Calendar with Ice-cream That was then; this is now The crumbs and drips of time. A chequerboard of squares and lines Little boxes all the same of life reduced to cryptic jottings. No hint of what the day became August. 31st Phone about gas cylinder We sat in the sun on the bench outside watching the sea and the passers-by and cars drift past by the old rope coils and ate our cheese and vegetable pie at a windswept table where a dog scratched and scratched at the grass nearby. Here on the moor of the Purbeck Hills we had parked our van by a council bin left out alone on the dusty road to be emptied later, then taken in. Then on to Swanage, down by the sea where we watched the gulls that swooped and spun and later, chocolate dripped unforeseen from ice-cream that melted in the sun 21st B&R lunch out It served its meals in a film set room with portraits and old maps and yet this mock grand Duchess of Cornwall strangely works, its regency palette softly woos the diners to its theme and each pudding comes with rich ice-cream 13th Lytes Cary Now we view the destruction standing where the dead grass lies. A couple of weeks before small Brown Argus butterflies like blown confetti flew here, jinking along the green way in that lush, flower filled meadow that today is just mown hay. And after, people slowly, like cattle to a stream came and went past where we sat and ate ice-cream 26th Lucy 7.30-8pm Her face on Skype, and the children eat breakfast with chocolate powder on top. Ollie dips his finger in the jar, caught brown-handed on a far laptop. We see that distant sun, rising red on mountains ten thousand miles away and the frosted grass and dank woodsmoke in New Zealand, on an ice-cold day. Here, it was hot: the end of summer and their winter seemed a far off dream. We sat on the lawn under the tree and (you’ve guessed it) ate deliciously cold ice-cream. *** But then there are the blank days, The squares that leave no trace that we ever lived or loved or ate ice-cream. David Cloke