We were delighted to have Andrew Motion, the Poet Laureate, as our judge for 2007. Here, without further ado, are his winners for 2007. The poems themselves appear below the results table, along with Andrew's comments.
1st, Short category
I saw her sway and I knew her
my neighbour, Henry's wife, with her zimmer
beside her, sway in time to the song --
Irene, where has your body gone
now the music is slim in your mind, and time
is under you, like the sea under the clean line
of a ship fully rigged, sails unfurled
and the wind playing in the sail, like you as a girl.
2nd, Short category
Where I See You
In the bedroom. Obviously.
Every time I walk down that path.
At the station in a cloud of steam,
on summer evenings when a blackbird sings
and I'm writing, thinking I've forgotten.
At the front door when the bell rings
and there's no-one there. By the fountain
where you waited on that bench.
On Twelfth Night, always on Twelfth Night
when I'm taking down the cards.
3rd. Short category
He has taken some trouble.
His hair is oiled and parted,
his empty sleeve pinned
and tucked in a blazer pocket.
Mendigo. It is like a benediction;
but it is clear from his level gaze,
from the jut of his chin,
this vigil with its paper cup of coins
is nothing but horror to him.
1st. Open Category
The Genius of Capa
I forget the month (January), the day (Thursday) and the time (3.03pm).
I park on Health Centre Road and walk in torrential happiness
through a series of push pull automatic doors.
The daily special is Honey and Ginger Pork with Noodles
and Murray Walker is enthusing about Villeneuve's thirty second,
forty-five second gap (was it him they had on This is Your Life last week?).
Happy to see me? I ask and your
very is very quiet very
The Naked and the Dead is reluctantly shut
and I try in my mind to blame Mailer for your mood
and I'm listening to the couple behind you
they're talking over each other and
neither seems able to finish their sentence.
It's at 3.07 that I notice my nearest fire extinguisher is located at the foot of the stairs
(adjacent to the office), and when we kiss
I can taste syrup sponge and can that be tequila?
then through the market place in Union South,
you resist the lure of stolen Kickers and Fred Perry clothing
and I see Laura Valentine
and I swear she's mouthing something
yes she's mouthing
or something similar.
At 3.12 we stand in front of "Loyalist soldier killed whilst stringing
telephone lines, Teruel (Aragon front) December 1937"
You insist that Robert Capa is the greatest photographer that ever lived
and almost in the same breath you destroy me utterly.
2nd, Open category
One night I asked him again.
He had the bed at the window,
I was over by the wall.
Between us a reading lamp discharged
a mustard light that we camped in
each and every night until sleep
pulled us down and away.
That night - and only once - his
sandbagged defences gave.
He sat up and held out an open hand
as if preparing to salute -
'Got me here' he said, pointing to the
fleshy mound beneath the root
of his thumb. Nothing more.
He lay back down and read.
I closed my eyes -
tried to imagine the screams and blood,
the whining shells; his comrades
scrambling through the sucking mud.
But I only got comic strip carnage -
speech-bubble zeppelins floating above
a scene with no real damage.
One night, ignoring orders, Grandad left
the line for good and faded into the fog.
I kept the light on just in case.
For months I held him as a still life -
a finger absently poised at his lips
preparing to turn the page; glasses at a tilt;
lamplight staining his face.
3rd. Open category
The Road to Bwindi
Our jeep jerks like a tin boat
down the mass of mud
that was the road.
The driver works the pedals,
curses wipers that won't work
as the low sky sucks up bruised light.
Rain assaults the valley like shells.
Locals run along the verge
with slick bare feet and plastic sheeting.
The ground spits, simmers.
One woman hurls a raffia basket
at the jeep. Green bananas
waggle past, the truck painted with
a rear-view blessing: In God We Trust.
An arm slung from its window
motions to a flat tyre. We stop,
step out, wait. Rain slows.
Scent respires from creases
in the valley. A teenage girl
comes close and studies
my face, hair, legs, as if
she must memorise them
then says I love you.
I stand very still.
Poetry is not a competition: that’s a truth to be universally acknowledged. But it’s also fair to say that poetry competitions are a Good Thing – for several overlapping reasons: they raise the profile of writing in general, they concentrate the minds of those who enter, and they give encouragement and material support to those who win. The Plough Prize does all these things with distinction, and it has at least one special merit as well. By having a ‘Short’ category as well as an ‘Open’ one, it encourages what should in any case be a necessary tendency in poetry: to distil.
What is necessary, however, is not easy – good brief poems are notoriously difficult to write because they are always tempting their authors into avoidance rather than suggestiveness, evasion rather than resonance. For these reasons, all the short listed entrants in this year’s ‘Short’ category of the Prize deserve some applause – they are, without exception, focused and yet at the same time expansive. Because I felt this mixture of forces especially strongly in Jason Watts’ ‘Irene’ I decided to choose it as my winner. It’s not the only kind of mingling that occurs in the poem either – there’s a conversational tone (‘where has your body gone’) as well as artfulness (those accumulating final similes), and a directness (to the theme of age-defiance) as well as a ‘sway’ (in the elliptical syntax of the first verse). All in all, it’s a smart and touching piece of work. As are ‘Where I See You’ by Carol Bromley, which is my choice for second place, and creates its emotional effect by wringing pathos from ordinary and familiar facts; and ‘Mendigo’ by Rob Hindle, which is my choice for third place and becomes memorable by using cunning simplicities of sound (those chiming assonances). I also particularly liked ‘Forth-Faring’ by Ama Bolton and ‘Comfort Me With Apples’ by Jane Williams. There’s a riper rhetoric at work in both these poems, but they’re saved from grandiosity by staying clear-eyed about their subjects.
Not all the poems in the ‘Open’ section of the prize were able to hold their note steady throughout their entire length. This means the entries were more uneven – more likely to descend into prosiness, and to compromise their imaginings with acts of bald thinking. Partly because he avoids these pitfalls, but more positively because his poem is witty and oddly-angled and individually-voiced, I decided to choose Jamie Crichton as my winner. Like a lot of the entries, his ‘The Genius of Capa’ deals with an intense relationship, but the surprise of the language, the joyous handling of familiar objects, and the energetic re-animation of well-worn language (in the final line, for instance) make it stand out. My choice for second place, Alex Porter’s ‘Still Life’ also grabs out attention (especially where the language is at once tight and natural, and avoids some of the more familiar tropes we find in the third verse); and so does my choice for third place, ‘The Road to Bwindi’ by Alex McRae. This is a poem which has the courage to remember a scene simply, to record it with all due accuracy, and then to let readers draw their own conclusions without telling them what to think. I also enjoyed Margaret Holli’s ‘Mondays’ for the pleasure it takes in finding the ordinary miraculous – though it might have seemed even more miraculous with a bit of editing – and ‘Second Generation’ by Caroline Price for being so agile about a certain kind of agility.
All in all it was a pleasure to read these poems. They cover a wide range of experience and reference, they have a satisfying sense of belonging within a tradition or traditions, and yet they are manifestly engaged with the here and now. Congratulations to the winners, and long may the Plough Prize continue.
All of us at the Plough would like to thank Andrew very much for being our Judge in 2007. We hope to bring him back to the Plough for another visit later this year - watch the website for details.
Best Local poem
Why aren't you writing anything Danny?
Danny is thinking of ideas
I can almost hear
Squeals and moans
From inside his head
As a rusty mechanism
Grunts into life.
Given the oil to lubricate
And make it chug into
Danny's ideas will burst forth
Like a cork from a birthday
Bottle of champagne
And they'll fizz and
Pop in golden glory
Like I knew they would
We could find