2007 Stanza Poetry Competition: Results

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Our 2007 winner was: Emma Danes (Cambridge Stanza) for 'In the shadows'.

The 2 runners-up were: Helen Wood, writing as Helen Jagger, (North Cornwall Stanza) for 'The Wash House at Relleu' and Christopher North (Spain) for 'Under the Carob, Tired and Hallucinating'.

The 2007 theme, 'Nightmares', mirrored the National Poetry Day theme of 'Dreams'. The poems were judged, anonymously, by Roddy Lumsden

Roddy: ‘The subject of nightmares conjured some predictably disturbing and lurid poems from Stanza members – there were nightmares of the waking kind too, and some clever poems where the nightmare was a tangential but important element. Emma Danes' winning poem struck me immediately with its dark charm and neat construction (I only later noticed it is written in syllabics). The language seems spare and simple, but from the first clear pictures at the beginning of the piece, the words earn their space completely and elicit a real sense of fear. 
Helen Jagger's rich, knotty poem also held back its technique from me – somehow I did not notice all those 'ip' rhymes at first – the nightmare image of being tied down was all the more pungent for taking place on something so mundane as a washboard. 
Christopher North's hallucinatory reverie was funny, its characters curiously familiar, but the language was tight and unexpected and, besides, what could be more nightmarish than 'sandy yet bibulous lust in a maisonette'?!’ 

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Emma Danes
In the shadows

Emma: ‘Being unable to make myself heard has been a recurring theme of nightmares since my childhood, a fear I reconnect with when I cannot rouse my children from their frightening dreams. Poetry gives us a means to articulate experiences that are outside language, and to be heard, and thus I am delighted to have this poem selected. Of course, the structuring of poetry also gives an illusion of control, of containing the scary stuff – that is until the next time we are lost in the shadows.’

      To find her like that on a hot
night, as though the stairs down to us,
and lamps, and the smell of cooking,
were utterly impassable -

to burn on the frozen metal
of her cries. It is my nightmare
as much as hers: to be less real
than giants or wolves, a ghost touch,

a whisper in the dark. She runs
from room to room, flings down, jerks up,
until sleep that never let go
overwhelms her. The dream slips off.

Monsters resume their existence
as dolls and dressing gowns. While I
can only wait in the shadows
to be dreamt - so loud, and so clear. 

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Helen Wood, writing as Helen Jagger
The Wash House at Relleu

Helen: ‘The Wash House exists in Relleu, a Spanish village where I studied with Mimi Khalvati in the first week of September this year, returning inspired by the place and the discipline to write this poem. I started with free association non-stop writing, in prose, from which emerged a series of archetypal images associated with transformation but ending with freedom. Over half the rhymes appeared in the original free writing, and are used structurally to point up the surreality of the scene by locking quite disparate things together, until the final one (deliberately a z!) releases the narrator. It can be read literally as a nightmare, but also as a metaphor for depression.’

      It wasn't that I minded the cold kisses of the frogs as they slipped
down my nightdress, but the fact they couldn't or wouldn't rescue me.

None had the clear sight to see me for who I was but, whipped
by the branches that coiled inside the wash house, they spun

frowning, glassy-eyed, into the clouded water, its weedy lips
sucking them down camouflaging funnels of green and yellow.

I was tied, full length, across the wash board, its ridges nipping
my flesh through the rose-sprigged brushed cotton of home,

horizontal to the world, unable to move a single limb, gripped
by the thick sinews of a jasmine whose scent was fabulous

but whose intent was not. Flexing and relaxing, I dipped
my body under their green ropes but as I did, their movement

changed to the slithering firmness, the blue skin, of a whip
snake that had earlier that day crossed our path on the way 

to Sella. Eyes closed, breathing deeply, trying not to tip
into hysteria, I dragged my finger nails into the wood

carving my life into gouges as deep as I could, chipping
ravines in the board that allowed me to rip myself free,
unzipped from herpetological clutches - into the pool.

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Christopher North (Spain)
Under the Carob, Tired and Hallucinating

Christopher: ‘My poems evolve rather than get written so I can’t remember precisely where ‘Under the Carob...’ came from. The tree is probably one that fronts the main road in Deya, Mallorca as I have waited beneath it many times. The passing grotesques are doubtless an accumulation from a lifetime of idle people watching. There is a rustic red that you can get in the next village to ours that can induce the trance state necessary to metamorphose passing innocents into gargoyles, orcs and gremlins. Perhaps that had something to do with it.’

       We drowse in our sojourn beneath the rattling carob –
there goes Miss Death Knickers, Mister Pulchritude,
the Teeth twins and the Fat Man’s moll.

We remain silent. Our smells mingle,
we are in default ‘wait’ mode
and it’s waiting that sludges our blood.

There’s the couple from Morden,
(that we’ve renamed Mordor) and there’s Grubby Shirt
with the clipped Bassenthwaites.

This darkling place is now tinged suburban:
battened close-board, edge chipped porcelain
and hate headlines on a spindrift tabloid,

“We enjoy our ignorance.
We enjoy your fear” is the thought bubble
above Mister Blade with his bandages.

The carob adds creaks to rattle
and we ponder the possibility of ground heave.
We imagine a vibrating urn of cold tea.

We will be motionless for weeks, just eyes
in a place you can’t avoid passing,
Mister Turnip and Mrs. Excalibur with your cyst.

And now the Tuba Expert and Flint the Wise
with the Shrapnel’s daughter and terrier.
There’s to be an outbreak of drabness,

we feel it in our dry fingernails and thumbs.
All suggests sandy yet bibulous lust in a maisonette
alongside power tools and disintegrating adaptors.

Faces around sharpen like pencils,
then it all ends in a petulant collapse of tongs
and general indulgence in tepid, refreshing sobs.


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