And the winners are….
First prize (£300):
by Linda Burnett (Mansfield, Notts). (£300)
Second prize (£100):
by Rose Segal (Chipping Norton) (£100)
Anemones, Natalie Ann Holborow
Blood spats on the windscreen, Jacqueline Stearn
Chair, Sally Davis
Green-brown 1967, Sarah Nesbitt Gibbons
Puffin Húsavik, Christopher M James
Regions of air, Jack Hartley
So long as here is light there is song, Ricky Ray
Soil, Rory Duffy
Somewhere in Indiana, Ricky Ray
What Breathes, Catherine Edmunds
And if it snowed, Rod Whitworth
Ars poetica identity earth, Ricky Ray
Bluebells, James Morgan Jones
Blueprint for living, Steve Xerri
Carn-mor, Fiona Cartwright
Clattering, Phil Coleman
Coming around, Clare Potter
Death of a rose, Michael Brown
E15, Roddy Shippin
Elwyn Long-Hill, Chris Kinsey
Falling leaves, Roger Elkin
Intravenous, Christopher M James
Long division, Gwendoline Coates
Not our neighbours place, Sarah James
Sometimes when I drive I find it hard to focus, Andrew Johnson
The blackbirds have been cancelled, Ann Cuthbert
The robin, Mark Totterdell
The spirit of cows, Robbie Burton
Thursday, Beacon hill quarry, Robert Francis
Varieties of service, Ricky Ray
We are miners, Graham Meredith
What shows and what it might mean, Lesley-Anne Evans
Judge’s Report, Adam Horovitz
It has been a delight to judge the 2020 Penfro ‘Loving the Earth’ Poetry Competition, not least because it was so wonderfully hard to choose an outright winner. The process of whittling over 300 entries down to a longlist of 34 (I just couldn’t reduce that to 30!) took many days, much reading and rereading, and a great deal of reading aloud over and over when it got closer to the final 34. Many excellent poems, which needed only a tiny bit of work on rhythm or punctuation, fell at the last. With that in mind, I encourage all of you who entered but who didn’t make the longlist to take heart and keep writing, keep editing, keep sending things off.
It was harder still to bring that number down to the final 12 poems – all of the 10 Highly Commended poems present strong, and markedly different, arguments for their further elevation: the dense rhythms and striking imagery of ‘Anemones’; the exquisitely shaped ‘Blood spats on the window 1952 to 2020’, which is as much of a joy to read in fragmentary left to right order as it is to read in columns; the holistic musics of ‘Chair’; the beautifully direct William Carlos Williamsishness of ‘Green/Brown’; the sharply observed detail of ‘Puffin, Húsavik’; the delicate alliterative web of ‘Regions of Air’; the quiet euphoria of ’So Long as There is Light, There is Song’; the deft marriage of shape and spoken rhythm of ‘Soil’; the arresting, non-stop rhythmic swoosh of prose poem ‘Somewhere in Indiana’; the barbed whimsy of ‘What Breathes’.
All 10 are worthy of high praise. If one is judging a competition, however, one has to choose winners, however much of a wrestle it may be. In the end, I found myself leaning towards the two poems which, for me, wound themselves most deeply into the sensuality of the earth; the poems which felt most deeply connected to it, the most ardently loving.
In second place, then, is ‘After Gardening’, a spare and potently phrased poem that allows the reader the space to sink into the work of the garden and become a part of it. ‘The afternoon comes to a planting’ is the line that won me – so much physical work is palpable in these six words, without it ever needing to be detailed. To convey the hard work and ecstasy of a whole day’s gardening in three deceptively simple verses is no small feat.
In first place is ‘May Blossom’, a poem in three distinct voices, which veer between past and present, between the scientific, the superstitious and the sensual, without ever arresting the rhythm or the music of the poem. Not even the word ‘triethylamine’ could upset its sensual swing, nor its inevitable, ecstatic pull back to childlike wonder at the earth in spring. Indeed, it grounds the poem; as do the reported voices. They make what, in lesser hands, could have been a sweet but sentimental poem, sing out and strike a nerve.
( Linda Burnett)
First prizewinner Linda Burnett, from Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, is a Yorkshire-born former teacher. She has been writing poetry for the past few years. She has received prizes and commendations in several national competitions and has had poems published in anthologies for Sentinel and Milestones, amongst others, and online at the Poem of the North and Culture Matters. She has recently started an MA in Creative Writing at York St John University, which she hopes to finish in 2021.
May Blossom, by Linda Burnett
Second prize winner Rose Segal is a British writer, indie-folk singer, and 2018 graduate of the Creative Writing MSt at the University of Oxford, where she specialised in poetry about the natural world. She lives near an ancient stone ring in the Cotswolds with her growing family and menagerie. Find and hear her at www.rosesegal.com or follow her Instagram: @rosesegalwriting
After Gardening, by Rose Segal
We have a winner for the short story competition.
The winning story was BEING
The author was
This was the story
I am earth and I am sky. I am water from the cool mountain stream where the darting trout play in the rusty shallows. I am fire licking the dry gorse in early spring. I am earth and I am rock. I am tree with mossy boughs and bottomless roots and I am bird: hawk and wren. I am abhorred and revered; timeless and invisible. I am both young and ancient; my very existence is a scorned myth. I stay far above the valley where the monotonous fluorescent fields hum with machinery; away from the black snaking ribbon suffused with alien poisons, away from the farmyards and stone houses with their stink of humans and caged animals.
There is memory buried deep in my solitariness, memory suffused with smell, shrieking danger to my soul. There is much running. Only later do I feel the burning pain of my excoriated pads, the ripped claws. Driven by fear and hunger I run under the moon and hide by day, eating foul insects, carrion, maybe a mouse. Searing lights scorch my yellow eyes, urging me on. I leap banks and streams, taking no heed of bramble and thorn tearing at me. When I reach the hills I do not stop running; higher, higher, past the grey dinosaur- backed rocks, past the ancient quarries to the deep, dark recesses of the forest. There I rest on a bed of pine needles.
Hunger rules me and there is no prey here; creatures come here mostly to die. I must move now. Statued but alert, my ears twitching for the slightest sound or threat, I pause at the jagged edge of the treeline. It is close to nightfall and the shadows relax me. Loping between rock outcrops I flex my long thick tail and sniff the air cautiously. Then the waiting: haunches tense, crouching, watching, scanning the sky for birds; once they leave for valley roosts shrill alarm calls will not betray me. The ravens, feathers black as my sleek coat observe me beadily from high rocks. The first kill is swift and soundless. I drag the half grown lamb to the shelter of the rocks and tear at the sweet flesh, gorge my fill by moonlight uttering throaty growls.
I do not heed the rocks. Later I will learn to bow to their timeless power. The twisted hawthorn has flowered, the yellow gorse is pungent and good cover. I leap for joy and lay purring deeply in its cool cover, lulled by the buzzing insects. I awake thirsty and meander to the stream and, as I drink deeply, a strange sound and dangerous scent alert me. I raise my head ready for flight. It is male – a cub. My yellow eyes lock with his blue eyes; I see his pink open mouth a tail’s length away. He waves a paw and mewls, showing no fear. With one bound I leap past him and gather speed. In the deeper pool where I go to swim, I see him with others. I am mesmerised by their cubness; I yearn to play, but I dare not.
Summer makes me lazy. I hunt on the lower slopes; I am sometimes so sated I drape my kill in one of the twisted trees. After many hot days there is a night of terror; the hills reverberate and the black sky flashes fire. Then, a torrent. I circle, growling, snapping, sensing I am too far from the sheltering slabs of rock and the deep forest to run. I slink shivering to the shelter of a small stone building and curl my body deep into the thick hay. I have been here before, but never stayed. Steady small yellow eyes watch me, then vanish. I lick my paws, I sleep. I wake, tense, and sniff the air. I have been foolish, for now that dangerous scent is near, and it is no cub. I see the fully grown male approach on his hind feet, as tall as I am long, as pale as I am dark. He opens his mouth as I breast the stream in one leap, and the sound he makes echoes behind me as I melt into the gorse.
Summer wanes; the prey is harder to find. The moon haunts an ice white expanse. Autumn’s bounty has made me strong and I hunt only when I have to: rabbits and rodents. I need little. Spring returns and I know now I will never find a mate. Now, when I lay on the warm stones, I hear them humming. I see scentless beings, wrapped in animal skins carrying spears, singing. They vanish as I run through them. Sometimes they point at me and make signs, genuflecting. I expect their weapons to pierce my flesh, but they do not throw them. There are glowing fires in the distance, shifting place whenever I approach. There are sleek, lean hunting dogs too. I growl a warning; sometimes they whine and slink away, mostly they dissolve. There are females and cubs stooping over iron pots and grinding stones, their amulets swinging until they clutch them.
I can run farther, faster now; sometimes my paws become claws and I circle with kites, hovering on the warm air scanning for prey. There are thick oak forests below. I alight on a flat lichened rock and my birdness retreats. As I lap the cool water from the stream flowing from beneath the stone I become plant. My delicate red hairs await their insect prey, waving in the misty air. A rush of water dislodges me and I wash to the twilight of the oak forest. A rooting snout adorned with fearsome tusks sucks me up.
I am here and I am gone. I am forgetfulness and I am memory. I am darkness and yet I am light. I am the wild thing you will never tame.