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FOOL FOR POETRY
INTERNATIONAL CHAPBOOK
COMPETITION 2017


 

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Liberty Walks Naked
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Done Dating DJs
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Richesses

Richesses: Francophone Songwriter Poets
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GREGORY O'DONOGHUE
INTERNATIONAL POETRY PRIZE 2017

 

Statement by judge Mary Noonan

 

Mary Noonan lives in Cork, where she lectures in French literature at University College Cork. Her poems have appeared in numerous magazines, including The Dark Horse, Poetry Review, Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry LondonThe Spectator, New Hibernia Review and The Threepenny Review. She won the Listowel Poetry Collection Prize in 2010. Her first collection – The Fado House  (Dedalus Press, Dublin, 2012) – was shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize and the Strong/Shine Award. In 2014, she was awarded an Arts Council of Ireland Literature Bursary, and she was selected as one of a group of eight to take part in the Aldeburgh Eight Advanced Poetry Seminar.

 

 

 Gregory O'Donoghue International Poetry Prize 2017 Judge's Comments

 

We received 2,245 poems for the competition. I found the standard to be pleasingly good – a large number of the poems demonstrated control and poetic technique. The salient themes of all writing – nature, love, death, loss – tended to predominate. And there were lot of poems about animals, particularly dogs! A small number of poems addressed comtemporary social and political issues – I would have expected more poems inflected towards the socio-political, given the instability of the times. There was a surprising lack of humour – though maybe this isn’t all that surprising, as there has probably always been a suspicion around humour in poetry, as if humour has no place in ‘high’ art. I aged a few years in the weeks I spent reading the poems, there were so many sad poems lamenting the process of aging!

 

The task of deciding which of the 30 poems in my almost-final shortlist would make it into the final 18 was not an easy one. And indeed, although the winner was clear to me from an early stage – this poet’s poems stood out from the crowd – a number of the shortlisted poems might have made it into the top 3. All of this means that I’m very happy with the final result – three excellent, and very different poems, and a shortlist of 15 poems which also distinguish themselves in poetic achievement. I hope you’ll enjoy reading them.

 

--Mary Noonan

 

 

 

1st Prize ‘Late Song’, by Mark Wagenaar

 

 

‘Empty streets and the company of heaven.’ Thus begins Mark Wagenaar’s poem ‘Late Song’. In a series of meandering, zig-zagging stanza of 3-4 short lines, the poem on the page mirrors the movement of ‘leaves carried down the gutter/on currents/of wind or water.’ The shortness of the lines, combined with their controlled scattering on the page, is suggestive of fragility, the arbitrariness of life in time, the unknowability (and unsayability) of the most important things.

 

The poem deals in literature’s big subjects: time, memory, loss, but it never mentions them, of course. Instead, it practises the alchemy that arises when precision is combined with the strange. The images summoning the impossible work of memory are both immediate and mythical, simultaneously contemporary and timeless: ‘the place that holds the forgotten half/of the half-forgotten./I keep missing it. /Maybe the chalk blown from the outlines of bodies/on the asphalt ends up there, chalk that disappears a grain at a time’. Where is this place, where all the irretrievable bits of ourselves have gone, ‘my grandfather’s voice/ voice that evaporates/vowel by vowel,/carried away by the leaves/with my childhood’? The poem follows the movement of leaves in a gutter to reach ‘a river/with fog rising/like a mass ascension of fingerprints.’ The final image – all the fingerprints of the ancestors, rising like fog – is a coup de grâce, a blow that sends us hurtling back to the beginning, to try to prise more illumination from the dark loneliness of the poem.

 

The poem is entitled ‘Late Song’, and indeed it is melodious, as a Chopin étude – a small number of notes, each one chosen, with absolute precision, for its weight and timbre, the whole creating a quiet, but insistent, haunting. ‘Poetry communicates before it is understood’, said TS Eliot, and that is precisely the effect this paradoxically assured poem had on me, making me feel the strangeness of the longed-for understanding that remains just beyond our reach.

 

 

2nd Prize ‘Tara’s Thong’, by Alan Garvey

 

A poem that explores lust: ‘Tara’s Thong/is no more than a square inch /of space of which my eyes can trace/the outline, hidden beneath a stretch/of spandex across her thighs and bum.’ My (subjective) alarm bells usually start to ring when a body is presented as the object of a gaze, and I’m on alert as I read. However, I was repeatedly bowled over by this poem’s superb control of its subject-matter. In its long block, it takes us from the square inch of space eyed up in a gym to the fantasy of the bedroom, where the sweating and straining of the exercise floor is transformed to a dream of erotic contact. Here, ‘I would be/rock, and she climbing all over /my face. She could leave imprints /of shoes, cling to me with her knees,/dig in with her fingers and bruise’. Of course, it’s funny. The poet controls the humour to the end, where the lovers, having scaled a precipitous landscape, reach ‘that delta/yawning at the small of her back’, and the certainty that ‘Between us in sweat we could make the sea.’

 

An assured romp, then, where the poet is at all times in control of his effects, and manages to avoid, through humour, the usual pitfalls of objectification of the Other.

 

 

3rd Prize ‘I Have Never Slept With an Animal’, by Suzanne Cleary

 

There were quite a few poems about dogs, but here is one about a dream dog. The imaginary creature is evoked in such precise detail that when one reaches the end, one goes back to read again – did she say this was a dream dog? The poem’s lines bounce in and out, accordeon-style, emulating the movement of the ghost-dog that comes to wake her in bed. Description of the creature’s movements takes the poet deeper, into a wider metaphorical field, where the ‘rheumy eyes’ of the dog are ’brown-flecked-with-gold like the doors/ on a Hepplewhite cabinet built to feature/ the wood’s grain, sprays of rings recording/years of much rain, years of little rain’. The dog, ‘emissary from the deep’, has come to waken the poet to a world that merits waking up to, a world that is warm, pulsating, demanding, full of the beauty of wood, and dogs. A supremely assured voice, the vision of the dream confidently achieved.

 

 

 

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