Buzzwords poetry competition 2015

 With gratitude to Alison Brackenbury for all her efforts as judge.

List of Prize-winners, and Shortlisted Poems
We had 645 poems entered, so very well done to anyone whose poem rose through the pile! Please scroll down to see the poems and Judge's comments.

First prize:  Bikes Michael Thomas
Runner-up: Another Ceasefire Susan Rogerson

Highly commended:
Where Do You See Yourselves in … the Kitchen. Peter Wallis
Bed-jacket Carolyn King
The Diversions   Sam Burns
Night Train Ballad Charles Evans
Marula, Mulezia, Mutubetube Yvonne Reddick

Gloucestershire Prize: November Robin Gilbert
Highly Commended: Heavy Petal Peter McDade

In no particular order. Please note: we will not put poem titles for the shortlist online so that good poems will have no barriers to being submitted elsewhere.

Mike Jenkins                    Norma Powers                Chris Hemmingway
Valerie Powney                Peter Cash                       Jennie Farley
Sheila Spence                   Bill Holloway                 Guy Hunter
Robin Gilbert                    Sue Spiers                       Susan Utting
Sam Burns                        Elizabeth Clough             Wendy Klein
Kevin Saving                    Howard Timms                Marilyn Timms
Alice Thomson                 Peter Wyton                     Christine Hooper
Helen Yendall                   Rosie Jackson                  Valerie Hale
Angela Croft                     Pat Borthwick                  Jill Munro
Margaret Beston               Roger Elkin                      Ruth Hanchett
Jane Seabourne                 Claire Williamson            John Prior
James Taylor                     Sue Johnson                     Paul Sherman
Catherine Edmunds           Natalie Whittaker            Roy Marshall
Marilyn Francis                 Joe Caldwell                    Cathy Whittaker
Sarah Watkinson                Jane Kite                         Judy O'Kane
Ann Drysdale                    Ama Bolton                     Claire Askew
Christine Whittemore        Pippa Little                      Geraldine Clarkson
Joanne Key                        Jane Hughes                    Laura Seymour
Anna Saunders                   Simon Williams

Judges comments:
Judging a competition is rather like a short trip into a parallel universe.  I have had the privilege of judging many competitions, both local and national.  Each has proved to have its own particular landscape, which I only appreciate fully once I have emerged blinking from the rows of empty coffee cups and the piles of labelled poems, back into a familiar – and duller – mental universe.

The poems which came by post and email to this year’s Buzzwords competition were remarkable for their variety of subjects.  There were sympathetic poems about the very old, and passionate poems addressed to the newly born.  I travelled, in thirty seconds, from Crickley Hill to the Kariba Dam.  There were intensely political poems, and poems of first love set in a kitchen.  There were – But please excuse me!  My cats wish to register a complaint.

‘Greetings, poets!  In your dedicated enthusiasm, please spare us a thought.  There are only three of us.  We only need to be fed, watered, combed, driven (frequently) to vets, to have our fights refereed and our bedding laundered.  And to be fed – did we mention that? 

Recently, our tranquil household has been invaded.  By Poems. Many Poems.  Our once-devoted owner sat, entranced amongst them.  She rustled, she read.  Often she looked upset.  At times she laughed aloud.  This particularly enraged us.  Are poems meant to be FUNNY?

In return for your kind attention, we offer a valuable observation.  Although she thought we were asleep, we had a good look at her files.  The one called ‘Short List’ was very fat!  In fact, the substance of our complaint is that your poems were (from our point of view) inconveniently good.  So we wish to offer a valuable tip to the long-suffering cats of any poets who entered this year.  Make sure your poet enters next year! You might get an extra-large tin of Whiskas…’

I can only apologise.  But the cats, as always, are right.  I think that all the poems on my short list (and there are sixty of them!) have great merit.  There was barely a whisker between some of the poems I have placed and those which I left, regretfully, on the short list.

As I came back from the parallel universe of these poems, two thoughts occurred to me.  It is easy to neglect the end of a poem.  I kept encountering work which involved and moved me, but which then tailed off rhythmically, or became aridly abstract.  I also read several versions of old, well-known stories which lacked freshness or particular power in their retelling.  I think a poet must be able to draw a subject into their own universe. But I was deeply impressed by the range of tone and technique in this year’s entries.  The winners include a moving poem of extreme brevity, and several which make powerful use of the generous number of lines allowed in Buzzwords competition entries.

Thank you for the humour and humanity of your poems! It was an honour to be allowed to read them and to select from them.  I am sure next year’s judge will find the entries equally absorbing. (I also hope they will have better-behaved cats!) 

Congratulations to all of the winners; admiring thanks to all who entered.  And do, please, give next year’s Buzzwords judge the chance to enter your particular poetic universe.


Winning poem: Bikes is a wonderfully rich poem.  It engages the reader with a young voice: ‘Course not…’  But this voice speaks of two worlds: a July bike ride, on Earth and the ‘stiff-legged’ walk of an astronaut. The poem is at one with history, for, unexpectedly, the moon landings did turn attention back to our own planet, where ‘The sun was our manor’.  The final lines travel into the lives of the speaker’s parents, and the passion of their past: ‘their times / of joy, of speed and fire, endless sun’.  The poem is dedicated to ‘M.E. 1953-2014’.  It is the most joyous of elegies.

2nd prize: What can you do in five lines?  Another Ceasefire opens up a landscape of utter desolation, in the present tense.  It uses the familiar – the ‘teddy bear’ – and the immediacy of colour to draw the reader into a scene which will, mercifully, be strange to most of the poem’s readers.  I had to choose this poem because of the intense description in its final line: ‘glass sun crusts his coat’.  I can feel the glass in that fur.

Highly commended

Where Do You See Yourselves in … the Kitchen.
This is an elegant and intriguing poem with an ending of unexpected depth.

A skilful and moving poem, whose metaphors are firmly rooted in affection.

The Diversions
An ingenious and troubling poem, which proves to be far more than merely diverting…

Night Train Ballad
A shocking, passionate and irresistibly paced poem.

Marula, Mulezia, Mutubetube
A beautifully developed story from Africa, which quietly reveals the differing values of two peoples, with a haunting conclusion.

Gloucestershire Prize

Winner: November
This poem is local in its references, but universal in its appeal.  Its descriptions of landscape are witty and focused.  Its lines are sharply honed.  Repeated readings did not diminish the power of its ending, which has the restrained clarity of a classical Chinese poem.  It is a poem of acute observation and penetrating sorrow.

Commended: Heavy Petal
I laughed out loud at this poem – even though I am a Cheltenham poet.  Its details are wickedly good

The Poems:
 1st Prize:

Bikes – Michael Thomas
July 21st, 1969.
i.m.  M.E. 1953-2014
We stood smack in the middle of summer,
felt the minutes, hours, days flow down our skin.
A crazy bunch of miles above, some man
was set to trampoline about the moon
and get himself misheard by history.
The sun was our manor.  We swung our bikes
along its beams, its paths and cut-throughs, out
across the molten ways of housing schemes,
where peace begged for a chance from open doors
and windows sang of pinball wizardry.
No freedom for the man up on the moon,
no change of gear or bush-grassed gulley.  He
was parked before the world, a black-white moth
netted with one wing twitching.  We roared on.
He jumped stiff-legged, a toddler testing beds.
We slicked our tyres with ancient oil.  He coped
as best he could with ice-white silence, left
a flag to be unloved by July breeze.
Did we feel autumn in our bones as we
rode home, hear time complaining at the snow?
Course not: we’d been bowling over fire,
chasing sun-spots like rooks.  Our transmissions
were simple as a breath, joy to muscle
to speed to joy to muscle—the right stuff.
Meanwhile, beyond the day, the moon man tried
to get back up a ladder as unsound
as those our dads ascended, bulb in hand,
mithering of expense and foreign tat,
while far below our mothers gripped the rungs
and tuned their minds’ dial elsewhere, to their times
of joy, of speed and fire, endless sun.

Runner up:
Another Ceasefire - Susan Rogerson

Pinched in rubble,
red-ribboned teddy bear stills –
crimsoning grey dust.

Glass eyes stare skyward –
glass sun crusts his coat.


The Diversions – Sam Burns


One man dead, said the sergeant. An SUV
ploughed into the driver’s side. Kind of messy.
Forensics team’s going to be quite a while
so we’re sending you up the coast road.
It’ll add ten minutes, if that. I know
you’ve places to go; people to see.
Your driver ain’t had his lunch yet.
Poor old goat. Smashing sea views. But
I'd not rubberneck on the U-turn,
folks. It’s not a pretty picture.


Right, said the sergeant. Word from the guys
is a van’s tumbled into the ditch
smack-bang in the guts of the coast road.
Single-track road: these cars might squeeze past
but this bus ain’t going to make it.
No sweat. We’ll divert the diversion.
We're loading you into four-by-fours
and taking you through the peat-bog.
No danger of drowning, folks.
We’ll be sure to put plenty of sand down.


Okay, said the sergeant. I’ve called ahead
and they’re saying the sand-spreader’s sunk
half into the bog, kind of blocking the path.
No room for a bus this size. What we’ll do,
we’ll call in the coastguard, get them to lift
you up and over. They can’t clog up the sky.
I know there’s a lady who’s wanting to visit
her mate in the hospice before,
you know. We’ll be off in two shakes. Just
let me shift the diversion signs again.


No dice, I’m afraid, said the sergeant.
Copter’s been grounded. Sky’s full of storm clouds.
No fear. Traffic police have opened a stable
traversable wormhole from here to the town.
Now. As you may or may not be aware
there’s a risk with a wormhole, for those
who believe in the many worlds theory
of quantum mechanics, of interdimensional travel.
As a bonus, though … time dilation!
We’ll have you on the move before you’ve left.


Well, sadly, folks, said the sergeant, the wormhole’s
gone and closed in on itself, so my colleagues
have set up a mental diversion. Eyes closed.
We’ll be going along the utopian road.
It’s a scenic route. Goes past the unicorn farm
and the beer lakes, and that ain’t no smelly stranger
sitting beside you. That’s whoever you’ve been dreaming
about these many long years. And it doesn’t go near
the hospice nor the job-club nor the coal face,
nor crumpled cars, nor dying friends,
there are no dying friends, nor wasted days,
nor blood stained seats, nor fruitless flapping airbags.

Night Train Ballad – Charles Evans

I threaded the swaying corridor
of the late late train to the north,
found the bed and the gloom of the tiny room,
and glanced at my neighbour’s door 
-- when a name of marvel and magic
sprang out from the card I saw,
and the boyhood dreams, and the plays and the themes,
rushed back from schoolboy lore,
and the glittering times I had acted the lines
of the man who slept next door.

I lay on my bunk in the darkness
with the rhythm of rails beneath,
but no rest came in the clattering train,
no peace, no calm, no sleep,
till I rose and stood at the silent door,
stood as the memories swirled,
alone and apart, in the night and the dark,
recalling that other world
and wanting to find, to touch the mind
of the writer behind the door.

Then my fingers rose to the doorway
to the name on the flimsy board,
and gently I tapped, shaking I tapped,
till I heard an answering call,
and a pale grey figure peered through the door,
enquired in anxious tones,
as I spilled my mind, reciting lines
of the plays I had always known,
and he moved within, beckoned me in
to the mystery inside the door.

He turned to the bed as I entered
not seeming to hear my words,
and sat where the sheets were dented
as I stood there half-unclothed,
then with hand outstretched he leaned and pressed
as I started in shock and fear,
and he knelt to the floor by the swinging door
parting the clothes I wore,
and I knew the theme of the nightmare scene
and what lay behind the door.
And he fed on my youth in the darkness,
gulped at forbidden seed,
as frozen I stared at the thinning hair,
sensing the terrible need --
and I tore from the kneeling figure,
lurched through the open door,
regained the place and the empty space
where I had dreamed my dreams before,
sick at the fall, the fading call
of my idol behind the door.

In the cold cold light of the morning
I dreaded a word or sign,
and I fled the train as the station came --
but the questions remained behind.
Was it devil’s work in the darkened room? Was it loneliness redeemed?
Who counts the cost of an aching heart? What price a schoolboy dream?
In the life that I lived and the love that I bore
I wish I had heeded more
the passion and pity, God’s own gift, of
the writer, the train and the door.

Bed-jacket – Carolyn King

Beneath the surface of the bedclothes,
sheets drawn tight, unthinkable things
are happening.

Her pale face floats on the counterpane fold
like a small white lily; out of reach;

All week I’ve searched for a bed-jacket;
shops don’t stock them any more:
“A what?”

Forgotten, it seems, as liquorice comfits,
cinder toffee – weekend treats
in post-war rationing days.

Our cheeks were rosy then; her smile
alive as the mouse who came to high-school
up her shirt-sleeve, peeping out

at critical moments
on the hockey field.
He never came to harm. 

Now I settle for cards on a Saturday -
nothing new to say: hello – get well,
although I know she won’t.

And she’s too far away for me to visit;
her son delivers regular reports
by phone.  Little to tell:

progress is a dirty word
sullying the dead calm
of her lily-pond existence.

I picture her – my fading friend:
pastel blossom propped up
on a lily-pad;

want to send her a life-jacket:
can’t even manage
a bed-jacket;

try to persuade myself that frogs
can turn into princes: maybe she still
has something up her sleeve.  

Marula, Mulezia, Mutubetube – Yvonne Redick

Gogo shuffled from her rush-thatched house.
She built its earth walls fifty years ago.

Slowly, she told me words
that made the trees fall into place.

We started with Marula. ‘Ma-ru-la’, I said.
The one near her house
had syrupy fruit, wave-grained wood,
bark that treated scorpion stings,
leaves that soothed heartburn.

Outside the village was a Mulezia,
but I remember African Star Chestnut more easily.
Its pods were three-lobed paws.

In the hot forest, she showed me a Mutubetube.
Mm… I spluttered. She smiled
as the tree rustled its bunches of winged keys.

Mubuyu. A bloated trunk
and rugby-ball pods
crammed with seeds englobed
in sherbet pith.

The Mubuyu at Gogo’s village
held the ancestors’ spirits in its rings.
I touched my small hand to the rutted trunk
for a life as long as the tree’s.


When they built the dam by the Kariba rock
Gogo hobbled up the hill as water crept through her village.
She clutched her rush baskets,
the chickens fussing in their woven cage.

A chameleon climbed up the Mutubetube
and a leopard gripped the last dry branches of the Mubuyu.
Lions doggy-paddled the shallows
and a tortoise swam slowly away from the shore.

A shirtless white man in a Tilley hat
trussed up a rhino and hauled her
onto a Marula-wood stretcher,

while Gogo’s people trudged to the heights
of an arid land where the soil was dust
and the trees were nameless.

n.b. Gogo (Tonga): Grandmother

Where do you see yourselves in…

The Kitchen – Peter Wallis

Twins in BOGOF, in One to wash, and one to wear,
displayed in a pair of Viennese Secessionist plates, in the seller’s
“Apologies, one’s got a hairline. In the cowering yin/yang cruets,
surrounded by their theatre of faces. At breakfast,
cupped like wandering eyes, in the pair of streaming yolks.

Over dinner, in the tango of candle flames,
in knife and fork’s overlapping, animated conversation;
in the salad-servers’ co-operative blundering.
In two clean forks curled asleep in the kitchen drawer.
But lost at the back, in the dark, a single chopstick –
our future.

The Gloucestershire Prize:

November  - Robin Gilbert

No longer afternoon, 
nor yet dusk.
The sun, besieged by cloud, 
hunkers down 
behind the parapet 
of Witcombe Wood,
casting a chill shadow 
across fields tussocked
with straggly stems of wheat
long harvested.

Yet still, on Birdlip, trees
are turned to burnished bronze,
Crickley’s cliff 
angel-ed in evening light.

Two pheasant scutter for cover
across the unploughed furrows,
heads held high
in implausible dignity.
In plash and soss,
the day, the year is dying.

Shadow now too 
upon the reservoir,
part mirror,
part black-barred 
with little waves.
Twice a great fish, leaping, slaps 
the surface and is gone.
Coot cry sharp accusations
at the gathering dark.

There is a sadness 
on the face of the water
as one struck suddenly lonely 
in the company of friends.

The Gloucestershire Prize, commended:

Heavy Petal - Peter McDade

Gangs of poets are roaming the countryside
Pressing the landscape on to the page;
Tipsy at sylvan rills, breathing out daffodils,
Acting their shoe-size and not their age.

Rounding up ruminants, cornering waterfalls,
Oiling their metaphors, sharpening their gaze:
Thin metaphysicals, svelte lackadaisicals,
McGonagalls, Betjemans, cheap tin trays.

Out on the hill in inadequate clothing
They're hunting a trope on all fours.
I would have gone but I'm honing a comma,
A job that requires me to languish indoors.

When poets return to terrorise Cheltenham
Lock up your nephews and run for the hills!
Where will it end if they can't find an audience
Apart from themselves and the rippling rills?

Spying on kestrels, inveterate wastrels,
The motion of duffy-dills catching their eye;
Larking with toadiness, shooting down albatross,
Above them the heavens, below them the sky.

Chapters of poets are booming round Cheltenham,
Gunning their motorbikes, jousting with Keats,
Points on their licence and struggling with ode rage,
Cursing the rappers, the block and the Beats.

Hopeless romantics, incurable fashion-sense,
Haunting the bookshops and cruising the bars.
Oh, how do I love thee and how do I measure thee?
Drink to me only, you wandering stars.


Number of Poems


  1. Is this poetry competition open to international entries?

  2. Regarding the 70 line limit, what is the ruling about blank stanza breaks?

  3. 70 lines does not include the title or blank lines.

  4. Do teenagers do it?

  5. Would it be possible to use Master Card instead of Paypal to pay for online entries from abroad?

    1. Hi
      I believe you can pay by card through paypal without opening a paypal account. As a small voluntary organisation, we don't have the means to take cards independently.


    2. Thanks for ur help, it worked and i have now paid my online entry through paypal. However by mistake my covering letter contains the words 'paypal e-mail address' that shouldn't have been written since the address is the same as the e-mail address i used to enter the competition. Will you now be looking for another e-mail aaddress that doesn't exist, and therefore think i haven't paid, and disqualify me because of that?

    3. Thanks for letting me know - I can pass it on to the administrators and they will sort it out. It will be fine.

  6. Thank you so much for all your help

  7. and..... were there any winners?

  8. the winners have all been contacted and I hope to have results and poems up here by the weekend

  9. thanks for publishing the results - and the judge's report and the winning poems. I wasn't a winner but feel very pleased to have been one of the 60 shortlisted poets. Many thanks for running a well-organised competition and congratulations to the worthy winners.

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