Buzzwords Poetry Competition 2020

Buzzwords Competition 2020 – results

It was a very strong field with almost 1,000 entries. Please scroll down for judge’s comments and winning poems.

First prize: Strange Nature - Joanne Key

Joint runner up: The Second of August – Peter Donnelly and Monument Valley - Penny Boxall

Commended: The Scots Pine – Adrian Buckner; The Telephone Box - Marion McCready; The Adoration - Roy Marshall; What the birds said - Ama Bolton; Littlehampton - Alexandra Corrin-Tachibana

The Gloucestershire Prize: Lucy Onsloe’s ErrorDavid Hale

Runner up: Storm  - David Clarke

The following poets were on the shortlist, in no particular order. We are only giving names, not titles so that there is no bar to publication or other competitions.

Mary Mulholland, Christopher James (x2), Jules Whiting, Isabella Mead, Abigail Rowland, Sean Burke, Cheryl Pearson, Christina Thatcher, Neil Elder, Claudine Toutoungi, Gwen Sayers, Carol Sheppard, Caroline Price, Ben Verinder, Jenny Johnson, Angela Croft, Linda Ford, Nikolas Domanski, Chris Hemingway.


Judge’s comments

Congratulations to all winners and shortlisted poets!  It has been a joy and a privilege to read so many strong and individual poems covering a fascinatingly-wide range of themes.  I have decided to post quite a ‘long’ shortlist, as I felt each of these poems possessed a singular voice, and had their own certainty both of form and imagination.  These poems might each take their place in a poetry magazine with aplomb.

 Strange Nature, the winning poem, is earthy, spooky, elemental.  It stopped me in my tracks.  The language employed is direct and sharp, carrying the charge of this strange narrative with verve, the form fitting the content like a glove.  There is not a wasted word, the story of the ‘Bigheads’ moves forward energetically, never drifting off the point. The fairy-tale mood is chilled-through with sexual threat and predation, and the wit of the closure brings catharsis, release, completion.

 I have awarded the runner-up prize jointly.  Each of these two poems, Monument Valley, and The Second of August, focus on loss and grief.  Each poet finds an original way of writing about a subject where it might seem everything has already been said.  Monument Valley describes a vigil at the bedside of one who is in Intensive Care, where the heart monitor machine is de-familiarized by a telling comparison to ‘the little graphs that to my untrained/eye resembled canyons, rock formations.  Then I had it.  Monument Valley.’  This releases the uttered grief of what can now never be.  Clarity of language and steadiness of imaginative purpose make this poem memorable.  Likewise The Second of August,  sets the emphasis both on the composer Gerard Finzi, and on a specific place, (St Wilfred’s Church);  and the way Finzi’s life and music are entwined with the narrator’s memory of his late grandfather create a deeply-moving but unsentimental elegy.  We are reminded tellingly of the part chance plays in our life and our memories.  A supple poem shaped with profound grace.


The 5 Commended Poems:

 The Scots Pine:  The superior voice of the pine is well-achieved, and the couplet form is perfect for this poem.  I really liked the Scots Pine’s view of the other trees around, the inter-relatedness of the trees themselves, and the particularity of nature embodied in the poem.

 The Telephone Box:  the personality of the telephone box comes across strongly, as do the contrasts created between this now-old-fashioned communication device, and nature as it impinges upon the phone box.  The sense of longing for a call that never comes expressed by the speaker in the poem is beautifully-judged, as is the poignant realisation that whoever or whatever calls wants to speak only to ‘the heron’ or the ‘jackdaw’.

 The Adoration: a very grounded sonnet animated by an intense scrutiny of the body at a critical juncture; the skin, the thumbs, the toes… Depth of feeling is matched by an acceptance of a situation.  The poem possesses grace and insight. There is wit and tenderness – ‘He admired the elasticity/of the scrotum the way its shape and texture shifted/with the weather.’  The perception of the manner in which every cell plays its part in a human organism, the sense of absolute being in the body, is accomplished with much skill.

 What the birds said:  A lovely lilting rhythm goes through this incantatory poem, where the osprey, the gannet, the cormorant, the rain goose, and the raven all speak their truth.  Language and form are beautifully spare, and lack of punctuation throughout enables an openness which gives the witnessing birds freedom and space. We are in deep close connection with them, their aerial experience, which is wonderfully apt and moving.

 Littlehampton:  Random memories of Auntie Anne which appear at first to be mere fragments gather momentum and become an in-depth and loving portrait of an elderly relative.  Simplicity of tone belies the essential grief that gives this poem its intense beauty.  The past is seen in aching heartfelt glimpses. The closing couplet, in which the dilemma of how to write an elegy is both posed and answered via whole preceding reveal of the poem, is beautifully brought to bear in language.



 The Gloucestershire Prize:

 First Prize: Lucy Onsloe’s Error:  The ballad form works well for this poem. The way people involved in an unjust event from the past are re-inhabited with living insight, humour, and tenderness made this poem a winner for me.  The richness of historic material is absorbed without strain here.

 Runner-up: Storm:  Here there is much energy and action conveying the build-up and then the breaking of a storm.  I loved ‘A great yew bucks and thrashes like a bear/in chains.’  The physicality of the storm is present throughout, and the gentle ending, after the wildness, is lovely.  ‘We are open to earth.’

 Penelope Shuttle



1st Prize

Strange Nature
Joanne Key

Bigheads made from spuds
with the eyes cut out.
Hearts of mud.

We twisted bodies
from twigs and straw,
abandoned them

to the woodland floor.
They slept in their death caps.

Just kids.
How were we to know
they’d mushroom

in their pissy beds,
bloom with the nightshade,
wake with the stinkhorn.

Mam sprinkled a ring
of pure white powder
around the house,

hung lavender
in every room.

Dirty, deadly men.
I warned you
not to toy with them. 

But what was done
was done.

And so three little brides
sat crosslegged by the fire,

dressed in best lace
tablecloths, net curtain veils.

It rained for days,
daisy chains wilted
around our necks.

We spoiled everything
we touched.

A moon face ballooned
at the window,
covered in bruises,

took one look at us
and slipped away
into the mist.

And every night after,
we lay awake, praying,

listening to them
fighting outside, closing in,

going around in circles
with the slurs and catcalls.

Fumble. Tumble. Mumble.
They groped
along the garden wall.

Three blind men
feeling a way,

about on spindly pins,
feet of clay,

Father. Forgive us our sin.

Rotten to the core -
flesh fell to dirt,
nettle claimed the skin.

With their last breaths
they called our pet names.

And in the morning all that was left
were betting slips
fluttering down Love Lane.


Joint runners up

Monument Valley
Penny Boxall

All that night I held your hand and watched
the blips your life had been reduced to –
cyan, magenta, grey. The bleeping displays
were selfconsciously unhurried, nothing
you could call a siren or alarm, though
your life depended. It was a vigil of sorts,
though I couldn’t think of much to say
except we love you and they’re coming,
while the practised nurse stood deaf-mute
at the controls. I’ve never had a slower night
nor wished one longer. Your breathing,
made regular by the machine, was enforced
calm. I watched the screens and didn’t
understand what it all meant – following
the little graphs that to my untrained
eye resembled canyons, rock formations.
Then I had it. Monument Valley: another
place you’d never been and won’t go now,
though you talked about it often.
Lake Como was another one. Versailles.

The Second of August
Peter Donnelly

I’d never heard of Finzi
till my grandad took me
to a concert in what I now know
was St Wilfrid’s Church.
We got lost on the way back
as well as wet. He knocked
on a random door at 11 pm
to ask the way. It turned out
to be the home of a doctor
whose daughter he’d taught –
he knew everyone in Harrogate.
It’s strange how I remembered it
last night going to bed,
then today discovered
it was exactly nineteen years ago;
that Finzi once lived in the town,
studied at Christ Church
where Grandpa’s headstone lies.
Had I not had an interview that day
for a job I didn’t get,
I wouldn’t have stayed with Grandpa
for what turned out to be the last time.
When I switched the radio on yesterday
and the clarinet concerto in C minor was playing,
it would have meant nothing to me.
I don't know what I'd have bought my mother
for her sixtieth birthday,
but it wouldn't have been that CD.


5 commended poems

The Scots Pine
Adrian Buckner

Those who love us know
that we talk among ourselves:

warnings whispered in the wind
of the burrowing hereabouts pest –

a communal caress of murmur.
Otherwise, we are mute:

Further acts of speech could lead
to all manner of un-tree-like behaviour.

I might feel in my roots,
a blighting worm of envy

for the beech’s incomparable summer
shade, its blazing autumnal show;

a contempt canker for Boulevard limes –
yellow and half nude by September’s end;

merely a destructive mite of cruelty
for the chestnut’s yearly sickness plea.

I stand unfailing through season’s
change – weather-beaten, enduring;

my leaves stay with me two years,
I cast off my weaker branches.

I contend the legend of the oak.
Nothing is more blasted than me.


The Telephone Box

Marion McCready


The praying mantis of an oak leaf

left in the relic of an old red telephone box


grows fat on every private conversation,

every secret flapping its wings

     against the glass.


The oak leaf lies next to the fallen

black handle of the handset as if the words,

weighing it down, were finally escaping.


I replace the handset to leave room for hope.


The shiny steel of the keypad illuminated

in the morning light is the face of someone

     who knows better.


In a dream, I blow a storm

into the mouth-piece of the handle.


Every morning I pass by the silent phone box

standing like a comedian awaiting her cue.


We are both waiting for a call from across

the Holy Loch, from across the Firth of Clyde

for the voice that does not say my name.


Instead asks for the heron, the oyster-catcher

     and the jackdaw.


The Adoration
Roy Marshall

After the first week of silence and darkness
he noticed how the crescent cuticles on his thumbs
were so much bigger than the ones on his fingers;
how, like so much else, he had taken his fingers
for granted. He considered the mutability of his
skin, its myriad cells with their specialist functions,
the expanse across his back and chest, the protection
and pleasure it had afforded him. He admired the elasticity
of the scrotum, the way its shape and texture shifted
with the weather. He reflected on the utility of each toe,
how their gradation had balanced and steadied him.
He wondered at his lymphatic and nervous systems,
gave thanks to each bone and red organ. He told every cell
how they were adored, how much he would miss them.     



What the birds said
Ama Bolton

let go       let be      
the osprey said
plummet from this
thrift-cushioned cliff

become an arrow      
said the gannet
pierce the water’s
glint and glitter

dive said the cormorant      
deep       go deeper
find the creature
who troubles your sleep
hold fast       unmask it               
ask its name

yours is the same
the rain-goose said
look in its face      
make your excuse

and may you be forgiven
said the raven 


Alexandra Corrin-Tachibana

We called you Auntie Anne in Worthing
2 hours away, by the sea.

I owe you a letter.
I have one of yours from 2014,
you’d been to The Nutcracker with the ladies from choir,
had a Chinese, and were keeping busy

because you have to keep going
don’t you Alexandra

You’d say. Letters, about grandchildren––
Robert, Emily, Daisy, Tommy and Joseph.
And always, an anecdote.

Like when Jane drove into a pothole
on Christmas day and wound up
on a dark country lane replacing a tyre.

It could have been worse;
I hear you say,
in your droll Scottish voice.
You and Lynn, in Rouen, 
at the wrong Grand Place 
as your tour bus pulled away;
Uncle John, chasing you round 
the garden with a bucket of water 
when you set your nightie on fire.

Auntie Anne, I’m thinking of you
making Bubble & Squeak,
and playing Hide-and-Seek with me and Christina.

And you know what, Auntie Anne,
it’s funny really isn’t it, the things that stick?

You and me in a dodgem car on Brighton pier.
You banged your knee. And the sea. 
At Littlehampton. So warm that day.
The tide, so far out. Tiny silver fishes at our feet.
Your girls have asked me to write a poem. 
But I don’t know where to begin.     


The Gloucestershire Prize

Lucy Onsloe’s Error
David Hale                                                     

‘Jailed for a week ‘having received a shilling from Elizabeth Dowell
to discover where a pound note was concealed in her dwelling house.’
Parish Records  November 1825

Too old and stiff to work the fields
you turned to another form of income
when Mistress Dowell came to your door
hearing you possessed an all-seeing eye.

Inviting her to sit, you patterned wax,
read her hand, slipped into trance,
flowed through her house lifting sacks
of broadcloth, bundles of rosemary,

teasel, madder and claimed you saw
the note at the foot of her work basket,
though later it was found wedged
in a gap beneath an attic purlin.

Brought before the justice you tried
to explain yourself, but how could words
describe what you saw within? Besides,
he didn’t believe you, nor did it help

you were deaf and as rank as a polecat,
or that he was a pillar of the church.
Clothed, fed, allocated a bed, comfortable,
warm, you wished you’d been allowed

to stay longer, having not foreseen that winter
would come early, or what would occur
when you left the lock-up a week later
under the horns of a waning Moon.


Gloucestershire Prize runner up.


David Clarke


This premonition has swollen in days of heat.
Now neighbours lean from windows
to see the tempest fanfare its own birth.
All the birds are quitting the sky.

A great yew bucks and thrashes like a bear
in chains. Cudgelled by blasts of grey air,
it flashes grim and powerless paws.
Shirt-spectres twist on washing lines.

Streets are skittered with leaves and plastic bags.
The skyline sparks to negative and groans,
makes every house quake. The bones
of all the people are kindling now,

dry as a twigs that brute boys snap
in rushes of senseless, sudden strength.


The road is wild as the lid of a boiling pot.
Tarmac writhes like a channel for black eels.
Land, air and sky are either water
or steam. Houses curl and cower.

Thunder breaks open another magnum of froth.
Each leaf and lamp and downpipe oozes,
drips syncopated beats. Beasts
of field and hedgerow wait for the end,

stretch their necks and noses into warmer air.
Time runs into gutters, churns itself
green. Hills swell, shift their sodden
coats about old shoulders, sigh.

Merciful storm. Pull us softly apart
and sluice us. We are open to earth.








1 comment:

  1. Car competitions Wow, cool post. I'd like to write like this too - taking time and real hard work to make a great article... but I put things off too much and never seem to get started. Thanks though.