2nd Prize Grey Hen Press Poetry Competition 2020

I’m delighted to have won 2nd prize in the Grey Hen Press Poetry Competition with my poem, Autun Cathedral, Magi

I haven’t got a picture of a grey hen so I’ve headed this post with a shot of my favourite cocktail bar, Ora, in Berlin.

A friend wrote to me about the poem, such a lovely description of Autun Cathedral that I include it here:

When I picture the interiors of Autun and Vezelay in my mind, imprinted there from a visit when I was 12 or 13, like many I think of soaring lightness. The narrow pale height of columns, like bunches of spilikins, stretching the ceiling up and away evoked a weightless rejoicing of spirit in complete contrast to the dark, heavy Italian interiors I was very familiar with. We had taken a leisurely journey down through Burgundy on the way to Italy in contrast to the usual mad rush across France and the impact of these two cathedrals is what I remember most.

“Here no one thinks of eight, of downwardness And how the roof desires it”

… to draw us past what the eye sees (the surface view) to complexity, to layered dimensions. To remind us of the physical reality, the forces and torques, the potentially devastating gravitational pull of the roof. Standing there you only think of lightness, an upward pull, an opening of spirit – that the ‘roof desires it’ incorporates that sense of spirit into the stone, making the roof not just a passive weight but a purposeful force, potential become a desired kinetic.

“The ruched counterpane, the three kings snuggled in” and they are, nestled up together. You can almost feel the angel’s finger on the back of the magi’s hand, like a mother gently wakening a child, wanting to tease them into awareness as softly as possible.

JUDGES’ REPORT: Rose Cook and Gill McEvoy

There was a bumper parcel of entries for this competition, almost 400 poems for Rose and myself to go through. Results here including poem texts.

We chose as winner Among your things for its deftness, poignancy, and craft in ‘showing not telling’.

Autun Cathedral, Magi was a delight to both of us, unusually it had a fund of cosmic awe and humour in it and was well handled.

What If was also very well done; the repetition in it enhanced the horror of the subject matter and sent shivers down the spine. Again, a very unusual choice of subject matter.

Subject matter varied hugely, including those about relatives, especially grandparents and aunts, to beloved landscapes, and issues of growing older. Because of the Covid 19 lock-down Rose and I could not meet to discuss choices, so all our discussions were done by e-mail. Even more interesting was that when Rose and I initially disclosed our respective lists of the top finalists we had no accordance in our choices at all! So, more e-mails saw us defending/ reconsidering our choices and at last arrived at a happy agreement on the final list and also on the commended and shortlisted poems.

Finally, it was very hard not to be able to award a prize to each of the Highly Commendeds; they were both strong poems and very well written. The rest of the short list too held some amazing poems, and I think that both Rose and I feel that this was not an easy task we were set.

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