2014 Poetry Competition - Results!

Buzzwords Open Poetry Competition 2014 – results
Thank you for supporting us with your entries; all proceeds go towards enabling guest poets to read at ‘Buzzwords’ reading series.  Please scroll down for winning poems and judge’s comments

1st Prize:  ‘Hands’ by Anna Beecher

2nd Prize: ‘The Outing’ by Pat Borthwick

The Gloucestershire Prize:
 ‘Ladies' day at Cheltenham Races’ by H. V. Goddard

Titration’ by Ruth Aylett; ‘Meanings’ by Margaret Gleave; ‘Foreign Office In-House Style Guide’ by. Josh Ekroy; ‘The Poet’s Deaths’ by Simon Williams; ‘The Lemon Game’ by Mark Pajak

 The following poems, while not winning prizes, were picked by Jonathan Davidson for Honourable Mentions (in no particular order):

Parcour by Jenna Plewes; Weaver by Helen Hail; Notre Dame, Easter Day, 1962 by Stuart Nunn; 6.00 a.m., 1/1/12 by Leslie Tate; Culbone by Stephen Carroll; A Woodcutter in the Alder Groveby Iain Jenner; Postscript by Roisin Kelly; Next Up by Ken Evans; Uses of the Body as a Source for Phrase and Metaphor by Roy Marshall; Why You Should Get To Know Me by Vishvantara Lewis; Timeline by Margaret Beston; Your Book by Catherine Edmunds; Flanders' Silent Tunnels by Julie Fulton; Going Home by Maria Taylor; So Bracing by Pat Borthwick

Judge's Report:
 It was with some trepidation that I took delivery at Cheltenham Spa railway station of a box of over six hundred poems, en route from Bristol back to my home in the Midlands. In this dense block of paper - A4 and several inches thick - was the hard-work and hopes of hundreds of poets. I am happy to say that I read them briskly with a great deal of anticipation, knowing that I had absolutely no idea what I was to find. There is a real pleasure in reading poetry presented anonymously and in the course of judging it never once crossed my mind to consider who these poets were: it was the poems and only the poems. I read haphazardly to avoid accidentally reading a succession of poems by the same writer, taking poems from the top of the pile, the bottom of the pile and just diving into the middle. Every poem I read with close attention, of course, and increasingly as I got to my final fifty I read poems two or three times, leaving them a few days between each reading. 

 Those I have given an Honourable Mention to just kept snagging in my mind, each with their own distinctive quality. I warmed to the solid simplicity of the diction of poems like 'a woodcutter in the alder grove' and 'Flanders' Silent Tunnels', while the wit and accomplishment of poems like 'Meanings' and 'Uses of the Body as a Source for Phrase and Metaphor' was pleasing. 'So Bracing' was packed with gorgeous detail, but had just sufficient detachment to avoid sentimentality. In fact the detail was so rich and vivid that the past becomes considerably less enticing as the poem progresses. All the Honourable Mentions were poems that delivered on their promise and struck a balance between the authorial voice and the instinct of the reader to hunt out meaning. There was also poignancy and wry comedy and thoughtfulness.

 The Commended Poems revealed themselves by giving more with each reading. They were all extremely well-written poems, completely aware of what they are doing with the language and with the experience of the reader. They were difficult to get out of my mind - and bear in mind that by this time I had read over six hundred individual poems. 'The Lemon Game', for instance, is chillingly direct, with the simplest of language used to communicate the complexity of a child's experience. It is a poem that shares the brutality and viciousness of its theme and will not let go. 'The Poet's Death' (for Pete Morgan) uses an almost comedic style of story-telling but manages to wrong-foot the reader as its point of view shifts disconcertingly. The suggestion that when one poet dies 'We all move up one' is both darkly comic and illuminating. 'Foreign Office In-House Style Guide' dissects the duplicitous use of language by politicians and diplomats. It reminds us that nothing is neutral, or rather that the more carefully studied the neutrality the greater the likelihood of sour intent. ‘Meanings’ was another poem that used one register of language (or indeed language, these were Latin names) to release meaning from another, and very cleverly done. My final Commended Poem, 'Titration', sent me to my Concise Oxford, although I had already read the poem several times before deciding I needed an exact definition. It is a perfect example of a 'specialist' word (I'm assuming, it is certainly not in daily use in my world) being absolutely right and allowing a very powerful poem to find itself. The diction is sparse and unforgiving; the narrative is almost a storyboard, and the poem finishes with the colourless uncertainty of the life it describes. 

My Gloucestershire Prize winning poem, 'Ladies' Day at Cheltenham Races' was a fable that began with farce and finished with dark revelation. That it is set in what probably presents itself as a glamorous occasion for the great and the good only makes it more powerful a poem, and suggested that - as poets have always known - everything is not as it seems. When money opens the door, morality goes out of the window, as it were. 

My Runner Up poem, winning the 2nd Prize, was 'The Outing'. This is a poem of great restraint, very carefully leading the reader towards a moment of revelation and all the more powerful for biding its time. Details - and there are so many - are incredibly important; they gather resonance on repeated readings and allow the final line - a more well-crafted line it would be hard to find - to slip into our minds with awful clarity.

The winning poem, winner of the Buzzwords Poetry Competition for 2014, is 'Hands'. It is unashamedly about age and life and death. It is perhaps specifically about our English experience of aging, how reluctant we are to face our futures, to talk, to say what we mean. The poem very certainly does say what it means, but from its first stanza, tellingly beginning with the word 'Embarrassed', to the prosaic detail of the last stanza ('dust settles... the worn band of the ring'), it speaks with a cinematic clarity; unhurried but harrowing for all this. Most importantly, where other poems spoke eloquently about their situations, this was a poem that felt written on the behalf of its future readers. It quite simply forces one to think about one’s life, to assess and consider, to confess and perhaps to take action. Not many poems do that.
 Jonathan Davidson

The Poems

1st prize:

by Anna Beecher

Embarrassed at his fingernails, trying to pick
the muck off hands that gathered eggs
to wrap instead around her small palms,
smile floating shyly above the handshake.

Later hands shaking and the kiss,
her wiping a crumb from his lips
fingers tracing thighs beneath
her starched skirt and smell of her hands
on him, like the sheets they folded, fresh.

Her index ran from his forehead to nose
gently removed a fly from his eyeball
and they slid rings
down the barrels of each other’s fingers,
him still with mud along the creases.

Lines deepening as palms are moulded
around the soft backs of babies’ heads.
Once as five fingers folded around his one
he glimpsed his own father’s hands
disappearing into gloves

The slap, when the children were in bed
which happened once and stopped time,
remembered in red, in the fingers bitten back
running through the hair no longer
tracing each other in wonder.

Wrinkled hands ceased to interlace,
wrapping themselves instead
around coffee cups for warmth
wool spooling around her thin fingers,
illuminated and old under the lamp
skin shrinking from the bones on the backs
of her hands.

When his fingers found hers again
there was a cannula at the elbow crease.
Her pulse was frantic
fragile as those first fumblings.

In the absence of her voice
her hand replied,
like the baby taking his finger
A scrap of life squeezing away doubt

And now when he reaches into the urn
to take her out in handfuls,
dust settles in the space between the skin
and the worn band of the ring.

Runner up:

The Outing
by Pat Borthwick 

I’m trying on necklaces and can’t decide
between the plaits of black Venetian beads
intertwined around my throat like snakes or

the homely sea green and peacock felt ones.
The gallery owner knows women’s ways,
is patient and particular. Has taste.

You can’t miss his white belt with its buckle -
a large silver stetson, his emerald shirt, how
it casually chimes with his lime green glasses

or should that be the other way around?
I’m happy either way. He reminds me
of another man I knew, an only son,

my best friend, until tides drifted us apart.
John would help choose my jewellery. With
nimble hands he would fasten my bracelet

or necklace clasp. Tilt the mirror. I loved
his cliff-top cottage in Robin Hood’s Bay,
his row of teapots on the high shelf,

all their spouts pointing in the same direction.
I could never live with anyone, he’d say. Imagine
if I found a pot put back the wrong way round.

Once he asked if I’d visit his mother with him.
I remember her face, her writhing hands
when he broke her the hardest news –

(his father, still at work down the potash)
why she would never have grandchildren.
We all wept then, and for different reasons.

Endless cups of tea. A crocheted tea-cosy.
That lady in a pink crinoline. Round her neck,
a tiny embroidered choker in stranded silk.

The Gloucestershire Prize:

Ladies’ Day at Cheltenham Races

by H.V. Goddard                                                                       

The enclosure’s full of fascinators
trembling. The main event, says the local rag,
is the well-known Queen Mother Champion 
Chase: by evening all the bars are filled

to capacity, not a taxi to be found for love
nor money, so a party of six men jump 
at the offer of a car from a bouncer
awesome, it’s a stretch limo, pile in giggling 

like kids as it speeds away.  Squinting through 
a pixellation of alcohol they realise belatedly 
that in the long rear seat there’s a brick shit
house of a man with his arm round a young  

girl, out of it, she looks so out of it, and 
he asks you want some snowflake? Hell. 
Nah, don’t do it mate, but thanks, her head’s lolling, 
neck loose as a baby’s falling out of its 

sling, conker eyes sliding, whites blaring
like the sclera of a bolting mare – and
the car's heading the wrong way. Horses 
in this race are required to be aged five 

or older to qualify.  Keep cool. Blag. Just
drop us here, we want the other side of town. 
You wanted snowflake this good stuff, hard
to get, trouble to get the man’s wrist is thicker

than the girl's thighs under her ridden up skirt
why’d you call if you don’t want snowflake, you fucking
wasters? You messing? The long-nosed car’s pushing 
past unfamiliar street signs, the wine's

turning back into water inside their veins, fear
connecting them like strings of mushroom roots
we just wanted a taxi no sweat we’ll get out  
here fewer lights, fields The 3,200 meters race

comprises twelve fences over its course
knuckles rise and dip on a fist like a line
of Cotswold hills you owe you pay you assholes
their shared tributary thought maybe

we should then we could get away thank Christ
thank Christ blue police lights slue them ram them
into the kerb every man's prostrated, spatchcocked
arms up backs, cheeks split open shoved into

gravel, questions drilled in by different men dealing
scum strip lights searches blood tests computer checks 
a cell. Next morning they’re believed, freed, informed 
that the snowflake/girl combo’s a sweet earner, ramps

‘em in both ways Jesus, who would? she's fifteen
and trafficked, but in a year she could be reclassified
as a sex worker and a twenty-nine year old man finds
himself bowing his head watching what must be

tears on his black and white kitchen floor, guilty
of nothing but knowing that he’s been saved,
that for him it will be OK. This race attracts
£350,000, the largest prize of the day. 


5 Commended poems (in no particular order):

Foreign Office In-House Style Guide
by Josh Ekroy

“Proportionate is an emotive word” - Philip Hammond, Foreign Secretary

Blockade is a member of the family of bl- words eg bladder, 
bloat, blow, bubble, which denote increase in size 
Bombardment is from the medieval Latin bombarda
a mechanical engine for throwing mostly harmless stones
Displaced, Displacement derive from the devalued currency 
of therapy-speak and thus obsolescent
Does Not Look Good On Television is a jocular interjection
which should only be used informally and in private 
Drinking Water contains a fused participle and is therefore misapplied
Hospital, School, Mosque are just three of many euphemisms 
for the lid of a terror-tunnel (cf infrastructure)
Human Shield is hybrid Latin and Anglo-Saxon 
(cf scyldan - to protect - from Beowulf) a useful 
description of any innocent civilian (qv) 
Infrastructure is a modern coinage combining infra 
meaning below, (cf. terror-tunnel) and structure 
meaning to build above and therefore a contradiction, a deception
Innocent Civilians is journalese, encompassing
a multitude of aggressive implications
Occupation as any schoolboy knows, is from the Latin,
the gold-standard of toneless diction, meaning job, employment
Operation Protective Shield is a dignified nomenclatural form 
encapsulating the means by which a victim nation 
defends itself against overwhelming odds
cf Operation Defensive Pillar
Safe Haven is a shop-soiled phrase, thus grey in colour
Shrapnel derives from General H Shrapnel 
who invented this shell during The Peninsular War 
Strafe is from the German - as in Gott strafe England!
a common Teutonic salutation in 1914 and thereafter 
meaning God punish England! - which of course He did not 
Terror-Tunnel, Terror-Tunneller are hyphenated compounds
whose semantic value is unlikely to alter over time 
Women and Children is a cliche, unacceptable stylistically

The Lemon Game
By Mark Pajak

Wet yourself in Tesco. Mum’s finger bullying your bladder
until the hot purse pops wet in your jeans on the fruit and veg isle.
She tuts and it sounds like a slap. She shakes her head. Dangerous.
You are five years old and together you are buying lemons for the lemon game.

Walk a stranger’s distance behind her all the way home. It’s the stink of you
she says, jeans a honey-rot blot catching stares like wasps, cold as nappy rash
when you reach the flat. Sit still on the kitchen floor like a rabbit
put your eyes front, corners on her. Here is a sweet apple sweet-thing she says
drops down a lemon green and yellow like an old bruise.

Palm it up in a bite
wax-skin bursting, wetting you chin to chest, your mouth mulling the red taste
its soft clod nothing like an apple’s crunch but she studies your face
referees your face pours over your face like scalding kettle water.
                                                                                           You know the rules.
                                                                                                        It must not screw up like a fist.
                                                                                                        It must not screw up like a fist.



by Margaret Gleave

Though you know every Latin name
ranunculus   urtica   lythrum
for me it's the fairytale world of Goldilocks;
the letting loose of purple strife and urtica just nettles me.

My Jacob's Ladder reaches all the way to heaven;
my pansies are pensées, not violae;
and thrift, clinging to cliffs, means look after the pennies;
paints the coast more vividly than armeria maritima.

Though I can name Old Man's Beard, Traveller's Joy,
I picture Santa and a countryside stroll.
And when I say monkshood, wormwood, love lies bleeding;
snapdragon, baby's breath, pis-en-lit - I'm not thinking of flowers.

The Poet’s Deaths

(for Pete Morgan)
by Simon Williams

The boat docks, maybe a trawler or something bigger,
                                a ship. No Matter.
                                Down the plank, between
the tied hull and the jetty, comes the poet
                                wearing a hat without a bobble
and carrying a rucksack like you had at school.
The poet comes, whistling a tune he collected
                                from a proper sailor.

Along the quay, with the smell of gutted herring
                                and diesel oil mixed in the
                                sun risen air, it’s 8 o’ clock,
he walks with five tenners in his pocket. A man with
                                a real job, who spent his money
in a club till 4, drives a forklift round the corner of the
gutting shed, loses control, pins the poet to the wall,
not under the arms.

The poet goes into a bar. This isn’t a joke.
                                He sees a friend, another poet,
lifting a glass of Heavy.
‘Have you heard about MacNiece?’ the poet asks,
                                ‘he died today.’
Later, they will talk into the evening as the pints go down,
as the light dispenses with itself. For now, ‘Good,’ says the friend,
                                ‘We all move up one.’

Two poets round another’s life up, till time is called,
                                push the door,
                                take separate directions.
The poet, that by now we know and love, walks home
                                by the canal, hums MacColl.
A freak tsunami, wake of some hemi-headed narrow boat,
washes him into the water. He can’t swim. His friend
                                moves up another step.

The poet gives a reading in some Glasgow pub
                                speaks of grey mares
and disreputable shirts,
speaks the words that might be song, the music
                                curling through them so.
He wears a white jacket, keeps his shoulders back.
Most of his audience is attentive, there are grunts of
                                approval as each poem ends.

A big man, late arriving from the bar downstairs
                                stands up at the back,
                                shouts ‘That’s not poetry!’
That old chestnut, thinks the poet, will it be the lack
                                of rhyme, perhaps the metre?
He has the wherewithal to put down hecklers,
but this small death is resurrected. The man continues,
                                ‘Poetry’s awful.’

by Ruth Aylett

A drop at a time from the burette,

known into unknown

waiting for the giveaway colour change
titration on a quiet afternoon.

She wanted to be a boy.
Drip drip drip
Pink pink pink,
Princesses, ribbons; smile.
Pretty dresses, don’t get dirty,
tidiness, helpfulness,
the good wife always…

She looked a mess, climbed trees,
wrestled with her younger brother;
went topless on sunny days
in the woods, wore jeans.

Because they were fourteen
Because they were a gang
Because women gag for it
Because it was easy.

She had never learned how to scream.
Dragged under a young oak
a good one to climb
branches touching the ground
making a green tent
enough of them to hold her down.

When they got the jeans off,
puzzled, found she had
no hair yet, could not respond
to their fumbling attack,
unformed and terrified.
Conferred uneasily.
Let her go.

A drop at a time from the burette,
known into unknown
the whole world in a colour change
titration on a quiet afternoon.

Closing date: midnight on 17th August 2014

Sole Judge:  Jonathan Davidson
who will read all entries
Closing date for entries. Midnight, 17th August 2014
1st prize-£600.   Runner-up- £300.          5 x commended-£50 each.
The Gloucestershire Prize- £200. (for Gloucestershire residents only).

Postal entries:
 Download entry form and postal instructions here

Entry fees: Postal entries; £4 per poem or 3 poems for £10. 
Email entries will carry a surcharge for PayPal & printing costs:
One poem £4.35, two poems £8.70, three poems £11 

Email entries:- please go to the bottom of this page for how to enter by email.

Proceeds of the competition will be used to fund ‘Buzzwords’, which is the longest running and most respected regular poetry gathering in Cheltenham.
"A warm, intelligent - and going on the evidence of the floor readings - a very talented group, Buzzwords was a great venue for reading and listening." - George Szirtes

Rules of Entry.
1.     Poems should be no longer than 70 lines.
2.     No translations are accepted.
3.     Poems must not have been previously published in print or on the internet.
4.     Entries must be clearly typed on single side(s) of A4 paper in a clear font e.g. Arial 12    point. No curly or obscure fonts please.
5.    Please leave a resonable margin on the paper so that it is legible when printed and kept in a file.
5.   Handwritten entries will not be considered.
7.   Entrants’ names should not appear on the poems. An entry form or covering letter or email should accompany all entries and contain name, phone number, address, email address and titles of poems entered.
8.     Entries for the Gloucestershire prize should mark their poems with ‘GL’ in the top right hand corner.
9.     Gloucestershire, for the purposes of the competition, includes South Gloucestershire
10.  Entrants may enclose an s.a.e. marked ‘Results’ for postal notification of the prize-winners or state in their cover letter/email that email notification is preferred.
11.   Results will also be published on the Buzzwords Competition Website.
12.   Prize winners will be contacted by October 2014; winners will be welcome to read their poems at the next ‘Buzzwords’
13.   The judge’s decision will be final and we regret that no correspondence will be entered into.
14.   Copyright will remain with the competitor, but Buzzwords reserves the right to publish the winning poems on the website, or to use them in publicity, for 12 months after the results are announced.
15.   Poems may not be altered after entry.
16.   Cheques should be clearly made out to ‘Cheltenham Poetry Cafe’.

On-line entries: Please pay for your entry by the paypal button below.

Your entries can then be emailed to us at: buzzwords.poetry@gmail.com

Please send all the poems you are entering  in a single file, with each poem on a separate page (use page breaks).

Please attach the poems to a covering email giving:
a) name, address, telephone number
b) number of poems submitted
c) your Paypal email address if different.
d) the titles of your poems
e) please make sure the attached file has just your poems and their titles, but no identifying information.
f) please send the email to buzzwords.poetry@gmail.com
      g) please let us know if you would like to be kept informed of future competitions

Number of Poems


  1. Is a pdf file okay?

  2. can the poems submitted be under consideration elsewhere?

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. When is the next competition, have i missed the 2015 comp?

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