BQ Judge's Report
Helen Hagemann’s Judge’s Report
I have enjoyed being the poetry judge for the Society of Women Writers and thank the committee for the opportunity. It has been a while since I have written various forms, or read the latest publications of poetry. However, I have enjoyed reading all the submitted poems but while doing this I was reminded that I needed to brush up on all the literary devices of poetry. My efforts of late have only been the experimental form of prose poetry that doesn’t contain the many restrictions of formal poetry. I studied poetry with Professor Glen Phillips at ECU and learnt very early on that poetry was much harder than I thought. I originally had the idea that if I stayed with this stream it was going to be an easy way to get through university. How wrong I was! I even had to write a 3,000 word essay on The Waste Land by TS Elliot. Nevertheless, over the years after studying, writing and teaching poetry, this has stood me in good stead to judge a poetry competition and to choose a good poem.
What are the literary devices of poetry?
Metre, Rhyme, Rhythm, Tone, Emotional Engagement, Repetition, Alliteration, Metaphor, Simile as well as a renewed effort in figurative language. Figurative language is figures of speech. In other words, the writer is meant to move away from cliché such as ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’ or ‘stuck in the desert’ to something more exciting. Eg. ‘embedded in earth’ or ‘our tyres are swathed in sand’. These examples are not great, but then I don’t have to write the poem.
Point of View
Does the poem reveal knowledge of poetic techniques such as voice ie point of view? In poetry terms it is usually called the speaker. First person is I, second person is YOU and third person is HE, SHE OR THEY. If you’re not using personal pronouns it’s the narrative voice, however, point of view has to be consistent throughout the poem.
Does the poem display elements of “form”? Forms are the free verse poem, sonnet, the villanelle, the pantoum, acrostic, prose poem, haibun, the sestina, the lyric, the quatrain, the ballad, narrative, ghazel, the ode, the elegy, and the epic poem such as TS Eliot’s The Waste Land. The sonnet, for example, has 14 lines and is written in iambic pentameter. What is Iambic Pentameter? – a consistent syllable count! Many children’s books are written in iambic pentameter. Geoff Havel, a WA author has written rhyme and iambic pentameter.in his children’s book Punzie ICQ!
Shakespeare’s sonnet No. 18 – one of my favourites is written in a 10 syllable count!
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to Time thou grow’st.
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
Poetry is mostly justified to the left margin and works better in stanzas. It can be separated into couplets, tercets (three lines) or as a quatrain (four lines) A lot of the poetry submissions, I noticed, were centred on the page, and I know this is prevalent in many poetry books. However, a good poem is one that has good sentence structure, proper punctuation, either in rhyme or free verse and written in stanzas. This is my opinion rather than a criticism.
Robert Frost’s poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening is a quatrain (4 line stanza), written in perfect iambic tetrameter. (Tetrameter is four iambs / iambic pentameter is five iambs.)
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
So, without further ado, I’ll start with the first Commended for Railway by Kathleen Knight, a very concise poem of 4 stanzas in 16 lines which uses repetition effectively. I like the imagery of railways crossing country, ‘that push arteries above skin.’
A commended goes to Faye Clavi for her acrostic poem Alzheimer’s the Disease that Kills. The acrostic begins with each of the first letters of the title down the page. It is a heartfelt poem in 5 stanzas and I especially like, ‘Securing the scavenger / Eating away their intelligence.’
Another commended goes to Enis Pearce for Home Fires. This is a sestina and I applaud anyone who attempts this form as it is one of the hardest to write. Words are repeated in 6 line stanzas (sixains) with the final stanza written as three lines (tercet or envoi). Enis has used the words “glow, far, shadow, rain, cold and spirit” and repeated them down the page very effectively. One of the hardest things in writing a sestina is that it has to make sense and this is well done. I like the poetic line, ‘Warmth cannot survive if covered by shadow.’
A Highly Commended goes to Alison Smith for A Christmas Villanelle. The poem is centred, however it uses perfect punctuation. The Villanelle, a French verse form, consists of five three line stanzas with the final stanza as a quatrain. Alison uses rhyme and has effectively used the first and third lines of the first stanza to form the final two of the quatrain. I like the use of humour in the repeated line, ‘Are we there yet? Are we there? Well done and not one question mark missing.
A Highly Commended is won by Tammie Reid for Anniversary: A Love Poem. She has written three perfect cinquains. The cinquain is in five lines (quintain or quintet), the first line has words in 2 syllables, the second line is written in four syllables, the third in six, the fourth in eight and the final fifth line in 2 syllables. I like the alliteration in the line ‘Ocean swells sweep to shore”. A word of advice, never tell the judge about any part of a poem’s structure, you may get it wrong!
The Runner-up is Shirley Rowland for Song of Age. Another great sestina, that uses the repetition of words such as, curse, day, worse, away, verse and say. Shirley has written the poem of 6 lines in a nine syllable count effectively which gives rhythm in the iams of five and four. However, one line was eight, and one word construction was rather comical. Nevertheless, her attempt to write the most difficult form of poetry was near to perfect! Congratulations!
The winner is Helen Iles for Outside the Window. This is a free verse poem in six stanzas that is well written as a narrative of time past and present. While a lot of submissions attempted rhyming poetry, I was looking for a stand out and Helen provided that, especially avoiding the strictures of rhyme. This is a winner because the narrative includes emotional engagement, the theme of loss, and creative, poetic language. Eg. ‘listening to the breeze playing rough, tossing maple leaves like memories, revelled in the sea free as seagulls, annoyed by mother’s cooing and the leaves of our joy rustle.’ Congratulations!
Finally, and you have all heard this before, for those who like writing poetry, read as much poetry as you can because by reading modern poetry or the early classics you absorb all the literary devices without really knowing it. Try Australian poets like Anthony Lawrence, Robert Adamson, Judith Beveridge, Tracy Ryan, John Kinsella and Jean Kent, to name a few. Anyone wanting to broaden their horizons, read Adrienne Rich, Mary Oliver, Sharon Olds and Jane Hirshfield. Irish poets such as Seamus Heaney, Tony Curtis and Paula Meehan are also great. I can recommend any Poet Laureate. My US favourites are Billy Collins, Kay Ryan, Ted Kooser, Donald Hall, and Charles Simic. I like the British poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy. In her poem Valentine she uses brilliant metaphor & simile. Not a red rose or a satin heart/ I give you an onion./ It is a moon wrapped in brown paper./ It promises light like the careful undressing of love.
Updated 29th November 2023