The Hamish Canham Poetry Prize 2007
Winner: Dorothy Pope

Carol Satyamurti, Chair of judges, on the judging process and the winning poem
Thanks to the generosity of Hugh and Sheena Canham, this prize, in memory of their son Hamish, is awarded annually for the best member’s poem published in Poetry News during the preceding year.

The judges felt that the standard of the poems published this year was very high, which made our job more difficult, perhaps, as well as more enjoyable. Of course, compared with a poetry competition, the total number of poems we were considering was very small. But it does represent the equivalent of a short-list, since the poems published in Poetry News are a fraction of the total number of poems submitted.

We each brought to the judging meeting our nominations for the three best poems. There was considerable agreement about this – the five judges came up with eight nominations between them. We then read each of the eight poems aloud, and discussed the strengths and limitations of each one. This was a really illuminating and interesting part of the process. A poem read aloud can have a different impact from the same poem on the page, and sometimes were struck by details we hadn’t previously noticed. Then we each nominated a winning poem, and two poems were nominated. Finally, we voted for the winner.

The two final contenders were ‘Portrait’, by Allison McVety, and ‘In Your Shoes’, by Dorothy Pope. ‘Portrait’ is a spare and moving poem about family, about how we preserve the memory of previous generations, and how, in the end, a family may die out, with the relics that are left moving out into the anonymous pool of strangers. The poem addresses its theme through describing family photographs, carefully preserved through journeys and wars. The family photograph is a theme done to death, one might say, by creative writing workshops, but this poem is an unusually rich example of the genre.

This year’s winning poem, ‘In Your Shoes’, is an accomplished sonnet. Part of its strength is the way it uses enjambement to avoid the end-rhymes falling too heavily and obviously on the ear. The effect is of sense flowing through the poem in a natural way – a hard-won naturalness, I’m sure. The subject of the poem – a woman whose father abandoned her as a child addressing him in his absence – is full of potential hazards; the poem could have been maudlin, or recriminatory, or triumphalist. As it is, the tone is quite unemotional on the surface. But the word ‘broke’, at the heart of the poem, with its more than one savage meaning, packs a real punch. The end is delicately handled – the speaker is ‘fine’ (just fine?), but the ability to see through facades, the cynicism and distrust that that implies, is a bleak legacy indeed.

The other poems in the short shortlist of eight were ‘The Lunatic Cure’, by Meredith Andrea; ‘Unsent Letter Fragment…’, by Pippa Little; ‘Her Shoes’, by Sylvia Greenland; ‘Eliphibian’, by AC Clarke; ‘After He Knew’, by Delores Gauntlett; and ‘Footprints’, by Stephen Wilson. 

Dorothy Pope tells us that she began writing at the age of fifty-three having taken early retirement from teaching. She is author of The Fourth Man – A Selection of Poems (self-publishedbut available from all bookshops and libraries) and plans to publish The Summerhouse Poems in November. She writes with a fountain pen, mostly early morning. She teaches English to individual pupils in a garden shed at her Harrow on the Hill home. Disabled, married (to The Fourth Man) for fifty years of heaven, she has two sons.

Dorothy Pope
In Your Shoes

In your shoes, I'd have wondered what I'm like,
as woman now, and how I was at school.
Did you not ever ask yourself, awake
at night perhaps, if I was beautiful
or clever, happy, mother now to boys
who looked like you, as handsome, tall and blond,
or if, for want of funds and fathering, all joys
had come to nothing, not survived beyond
the day you left us, broke? It was deprived,
of course, but you gave me a legacy
I prize. You left me hypersensitised
to cruelty and worth – rare gift. I see
right through facades. Not spared a second thought,
I'm fine – though I'm the daughter you forgot.