Poetry (20 lines) Winners

Poetry (20 lines max): Winners

Winning Poetry Entries
(titles listed in reverse order)

All the comments below are from our judge, Rory Waterman. The Plaza Prizes really appreciate his support and expertise.

‘A poem has to be the most powerful thing you can say in the shortest space possible’ – so said Charles Causley, one of my favourite poets of the last century, though he rarely wrote very short poems, it must be said. Neither do I, though I love them, at least in theory. As Simon Armitage has put it, ‘The short poem, at its best, brings about an almost instantaneous surge of both understanding and sensation unavailable elsewhere’.

It’s intriguing how many of the poems that came to me were towards the competition’s upper line limit of 20 lines, though I don’t know what to say about that, other than that I would’ve liked to see a higher proportion of exceptionally short, resonant poems. Perhaps the very notion of a competition implies that pithier pieces are likelier to be thrown out. In any case, several of the poems I received were powerful little works of compression and inference, and the very best did indeed bring about an almost instantaneous surge of understanding and sensation. Very few were experimental, in the usual conception of that word, but several poets proved themselves to be pleasingly and often successfully innovative.’

Highly Commended (4th) – ‘How Every Day Begins’ by Jenny Pollak (AUS)

‘The first part of this two-part poem is a thoughtful but terse analysis of impetus – ‘the dog’s impetus to follow the stick. The tiny caterpillar, / which knows it must keep eating until something happens, / but doesn’t appear to know anything about flying.’ The second part, a monostich, turns this into apparent ars poetica, ‘In which the trick is learning how to put all of it into one sentence.’ I find this entirely alluring, but I can’t quite get to the heart of it: why would this all need to be in one sentence?’

3rd prize – ‘Rocking Chair Song’ by Julie Sheridan (SCO)

‘This is a loose, empathetic villanelle: ‘Rock back and forth on the brink of light. / If I promised you more it would be a lie.’ The setting is a safe house for girls in Guatemala; the poem is not in the slightest patronising, though of course it runs the risk of such an unfounded accusation, particularly as it leaves us to make our own minds up – a very unfashionable thing to do, but often the only way in which a poem can really nourish: ‘I could rewrite the lines of your lullaby, / say when the bough breaks the thunder will stop / but we both know that it would be a lie.’ Beautiful, with meaningful line-breaks.’

2nd prize – ‘Tiddlers’ by Mike Farren (ENG)

‘This is a vivid anecdotal poem, full of sentiment without toppling into sentimentality. ‘The net is the brightest green I’ve ever seen’, it begins – in apparent hyperbole, until we realise the speaker is a child of six, filtered through an adult’s sense of innocence and experience. The poem ends with a poetic staple – the child’s life is all ahead of it – but this is nicely undercut: the hemlock that ‘smells of wee’ is of course toxic, as the adult surely knows; ‘we’ve all our lives to catch’ the fish, but we don’t really.’

1st prize – ‘The Bat Cave’ by Paul McMahon (IRE)

‘This really is a beautifully evocative little poem. The first sentence rolls on and on, meaningfully and energetically enjambed (‘she / disappeared’, ‘blinded / in sunlight’ – from her perspective, suddenly), and the simple second sentence conclusively answers it, as suddenly as the cave seems to conclude the argument. Or does it? The final image is beautiful, but also forbidding: is this a portent? When I first read this poem, I liked it tremendously, but wondered whether there was enough to it – then it stayed with me, and I thought more and more about that ending and all it could mean. I wanted to read it again, and again. And that is why it wins: it is, conclusively, at least for me, so much more than the sum of its little parts.’

Well done to those poets who made the final cut. They will receive their prizes at our 2024 awards ceremony and their poems will be published in The Plaza Prizes Poetry Anthology in October 2024, along with all those on the shortlist.

The NEW Plaza Poetry Prize (60 lines) is open to enter. Judged by Tim Liardet. 1st prize: £1,000. Deadline: 29th Feb 2024.