Competition Shortlist A to B : The Judges’ Views

Here are the Cafe Judges’ reasons for placing the selected poems on the shortlist, prefaced in some cases by the poet’s own introduction which was printed in the programme the audience received on the afternoon of Saturday 26th September. The poets are in alphabetical order.  Extracts from Rachael Boast’s comments on the four winning poems are also published here. We hope that these comments, taken as a whole, might give poets who are following this blog insights into the competition process which will serve them usefully later on.

Helen Ashley : Fall  (featured on this blog)

Whilst acknowledging the botanical process of deciduous trees, I can’t help feeling that they share my relief when the throng of summer gives way to autumn.  The judges said: We loved the unusual approach to the subject of autumn and the cleverly managed movement of the thought.  The poem is extremely well crafted with a particularly nice pivot on the key word, “heaviness”. 

Sarah Barr : January

Sarah’s poem had to be withdrawn from our actual judging because it won ‘The Frogmore Poetry Prize 2015’. The judge was John McCullough. We were delighted that Sarah was still willing to make the journey to share her prizewinning poem with us on our competition afternoon.

Zanna Beswick : Above Lamorna Cove

‘Lamorna Cove’ was described by one of the judges as ‘another way of seeing sound.’ The invocation of Rilke early in the poem was very ambitious and we were impressed by the way the poem lived up to its promise, moving from the specific to the universal with maturity and confidence.

Ama Bolton : The Capitalist Dogs (featured on this blog)

The flight from Moscow was delayed and we unexpectedly spent a night in Sheremetyevo airport listening, we thought, to wolves in the surrounding birch- forest. Next day, a fellow-passenger explained. The judges said:  This is a chilling indictment of capitalism captured within a few lines of highly realistic poetry. 

Stephanie Boxall : Ghost Notes

I love music and have taken up various instruments over the years including, most recently, the drums. This poem was inspired by one of my drum lessons.  The judges said: We loved the understated music of ‘Ghost Notes’ and the gift of space inside the poem – space within the form and space for the imagination – which mirrored the meaning so perfectly. 

Stephen Boyce : She Considers His Proposal & Pendulum

The judges said : ‘She Considers…’ is a poem of uncomfortable, bleak, unresolved experience – a confident, adult piece of writing which uses detail very well.  We loved the exactitude of the extended metaphor. ‘Pendulum’ had many of the same strengths and we were struck, in this poem as in the other, by the way that what is NOT said was as important as what is.  So much is implied rather than stated.  We also very much admired the subtle use of rhyme.

Sara Butler : Changes

Home at one time was a smallholding in Norfolk. I had a rather pushy neighbour.  The judges said: ‘Changes’ is a beautifully grounded poem with a lovely clean trajectory.  It moved very nicely from the vernacular energy of the first stanza into the more musical language of the second, sustaining its energy throughout.

Graham Burchell: Envelope (featured on this blog)

The judges said: We liked the close focus on the envelope of the title and the way this simple object was used to explore the privacy and tenderness of the relationship between the characters.  It is a touching, innocent, affectionate, authentic poem and it appealed to us very much.

One Poem in a Hundred: The Final Four at Last!

The Short Poem Competition had 395 entries so it isn’t too inaccurate to describe the Final Four Poems in this way.

Here, as chosen by the outside judge Picador poet Rachael Boast are the results which were announced at the end of yesterday’s truly amazing Best Ever Afternoon of Good Poetry in Bath.


Claire Dyer for In Chinese and Rosie Jackson for John Donne Arriving in Heaven


Louise Green for Sieste with Jean Gabriel


Jonathan Steffen for Road Atlas

Congratulations to these four hugely talented poets.  When I retrieve my belongings from Queen Square tomorrow, I will write up the Cafe Judges’ admiring comments about all the listed poems which were shared in the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution yesterday afternoon.  First though I need to wake up from brilliant open air post-competition celebrations at Carluccio’s with the lovely authors of Ghost Notes, Above Lamorna and Guinevere’s Gown and a young german shepherd called Tosca.

The never-ending delights of poetry, poetry friendships and prosecco…

Best Ever Afternoon of Good Poetry at the Bath Poetry Cafe

Day programme cover design 26 September copy

We are almost there!  The programme for the Afternoon is in print. Twenty three amazing poets are gathering from far and wide to share their twenty six amazing shortlisted poems with each other and with the Cafe Judges in the fabulous Elwin Room.  At the end of the Afternoon, distinguished artist and film-maker CLIVE WALLEY from Frome will be announcing the final results of our competition – four winning poems chosen by Picador poet RACHAEL BOAST.  Clive will reveal Rachael’s comments on the four poems, and her response to the entry as a whole. While you wait for all that excitement, of course, please remember that fourteen of the listed poems appear already on this blog, with my personal attempts to unravel why each appealed to me so much.  I am extremely grateful to the poets who were generous enough to let me try this experiment. Running this competition has been a complete joy.  I hope every poet who joins us on Saturday will have a rewarding and enriching day.

Competition Poems now featured on Sue Boyle Poetry

Fourteen of the successful poems in the Bath Poetry Cafe Short Poem Competition are now featured on this blog. I hope everyone who entered our competition will find it interesting to read some of the pieces the Cafe Judges selected to forward to RACHAEL BOAST, our final judge. Under the Competition Critiques and Competition Poems headings on the home page, drop down menus will take you to poems by HELEN ASHLEY, AMA BOLTON, GRAHAM BURCHELL, SARA CHEESMAN, ANNEMARIE COOPER, MARTYN CRUCEFIX,  CLAIRE DYER, ANNIE FISHER, NIKKI KENNA, CAROLYN KING, WENDY KLEIN,  JOHN RICHARDSON, JONATHAN STEFFEN and ROBIN THOMAS. You can also reach the individual poems by following the links in their critiques.

Many of the poems appearing on the blog will be read by their authors at the final prizewinning event in Bath on Saturday 26th September 2015. All competitors and friends are warmly invited  to attend.  ( Tickets on the door £5.)

If any of the featured poets would like to mail me a thumbnail portrait and/or a link to their website, I will do my technological utmost to incorporate those into my critiques.

Please notice that it is possible to make comments on the blog if you want to say something in response to your poem’s critique.

Thank you all very much for allowing me to feature your poems on this blog.

26th September Competition Afternoon: Update

On Saturday 26th September, all the short and long listed poets and their friends have been invited to spend the afternoon in the Elwin Room in the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution in Queen Square, Bath.

Listed poets will read their selected poems and will be offering their books for sale on book tables run by members of the Bath Poetry Cafe.  At the end of the afternoon, the four prizewinners selected by final judge Rachael Boast will receive their prizes from artist film-maker Clive Walley of Frome and hear the reasons Rachael gave us for singling out their work.

The Elwin Room will be open from 1.30pm. The readings will start at 2pm and are scheduled to finish at 5pm.  There will be three reading sessions with refreshments available between 3.45pm and 4.15pm.  The alphabetical listings below are also the order in which the poets will read their work.

Note to all readers: You will be introduced by event organisers Sue Boyle and Rick Rycroft who will tell the audience what the Cafe panel particularly liked about your piece.  You will then read your poem without any further introduction.


Stephanie Boxall, Sara Butler, Zanna Beswick, Helen Ashley, Annemarie Cooper,Sara Cheesman, Louise Green, Genista Lewes, Sarah Barr, Anthony Watts.


Rachael Clyne, Rosie Jackson, John Richardson, Martyn Crucefix, Nikki Kenna, Annie Fisher, Claire Dyer, Carolyn King, Ama Bolton, Caroline Heaton,  Robin Thomas.


Stephen Boyce, Shirley Wright, Wendy Klein.

The book tables will be open throughout.


At Last! the Secret of Our Short Poem Competition Judge

Our Short Poem Competition final judge has now completed reading all the commended and highly commended poems whose titles and authors were announced on the competition blog in March.

We were extraordinarily fortunate in being able to secure award-winning Picador and Forward First Collection Prize poet RACHAEL BOAST to select our final prize-winners.

RACHAEL BOAST was born in Suffolk in 1975. Sidereal (Picador 2011) won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, and the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry Prize for Best First Collection. She is editor of The Echoing Gallery: Bristol Poets and Art in the City (Redcliffe Press). Pilgrim’s Flower (Picador 2013) was shortlisted for the Griffin Prize. She tutors on a one-to-one basis for The Poetry School.

As well as selecting our prizewinners, RACHAEL has contributed detailed comments on the selected poems  and we will be reading these, as introductions to the prize-winning poems, during the Competition Afternoon on Saturday 26th September.

Details about the September 26th September afternoon were posted on the competition blog, in May, but I will produce an updated version for this blog with an August imprint very soon.

Meeting Up in September

On Saturday 26th September, most of the Commended and Highly Commended Poets from our Short Poem Competition will be spending the afternoon with the Competition Judges in the Elwin Room in the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution in Queen Square.

We have had a remarkable take-up for this exciting and convivial afternoon.  Considering the distances that most competitors and judges will be travelling to take part, it is clear that we all feel that this is going to be a very special event.  There were twenty eight poets on the Commended and Highly Commended lists.  Of these, only four cannot be with us on 26th September, one because he was already booked in for a conference, another because it would mean her having to travel from Penzance.

The detailed programme for the afternoon is now taking shape, with three reading sessions and a reprise of Tom Tafferty Went Dancing, a particularly uplifting song from Annie Fisher and Tony Watts which was first performed in Bath at our Day of Good Poetry on 7th March this year.  The Cafe Poets will be running a Book Table throughout the afternoon, on which all the readers will be welcome to display and sell their books.  Generous breaks between the reading sessions will give everyone plenty of time to meet the poets, and to browse the books.

With their authors’ permission, I would like to start featuring some of the listed poems on this blog and will be writing to some of you shortly to ask whether this would be agreeable to you. Between us, we will make sure that no mentions on the blog will prevent you entering the poems for other competitions, or submitting them to magazines. For those of you who don’t know the BRLSI, here is a picture of writer Alasdair Saskena reading one of his short stories at the Independent Bath Festival of Literature in the Elwin Room. Notice how comfortable the chairs are. The room can seat up to 100 people. In a few months, twenty eight of our competition poets will be reading here.  Tickets for the afternoon will cost £5 at the door.

Elwin Room

my first full collection

On Monday 4th May, my first full collection, Safe Passage, was published by Oversteps Books.  Not only did it have a brilliant editor in Alwyn Marriage, Managing Editor of Oversteps Books, but it was also hugely fortunate in the poets who offered to endorse it and thus send it not quite naked on its way.  Martyn Crucefix, Duncan Forbes, Lesley Saunders and Linda Saunders – all highly accomplished poets and all very generous and thoughtful in their support.

Version 2Writing the acknowledgements, I realised that Safe Passage for me is not just a collection of  poems, but a record of the five years of my writing life which followed the publication of Too Late for the Love Hotel by Smith/Doorstop in 2010.  The acknowledgments page reads baldly, but every name represents a treasured part of the marvellous journey and the wonderful poetry  friendships which have so enriched the way. So before I start posting about the poems, I want to reiterate those thanks:

“I am very grateful to the editors of Acumen, Magma, Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry Salzburg and The Rialto in which many of these poems first appeared and to Peter Sansom for publishing others in Too Late for the Love Hotel which was one of the prize-winners in The Poetry Business 2010 pamphlet competition judged by the Poet Laureate, Sir Andrew Motion.

‘A Leisure Centre is Also a Temple of Learning’, first published in The Rialto, was selected by William Sieghart in 2011 for the Forward Poems of the Decade anthology. It also featured in Cerys Matthews’ Radio 4 programme With Great Pleasure in July 2012.

My writing has been greatly encouraged by Patricia Oxley; Anne-Marie Fyfe; the Ware Poets; Hilda Sheehan and the Bluegate Poets in Swindon; the Fire River Poets in Taunton; the Corsham Poetry Society; John Richardson; Dawn Gorman; A.F. Harrold; Ernie Burns and Jeremy Sallon who have all given me delightful opportunities to read as a guest at their events.

While I have been working on the poems in this collection, I have also had the privilege of organising the Bath Poetry Cafe and of collaborating with the many excellent poets from across the West Country who belong to it. I have been continually challenged and inspired by their talents and creative energy.

The Safe Passage poems have also benefited from the devoted attention of my Italian translators, Giorgio Piai and Giancarlo Caine from Sacile in North Italy. Working with such dear friends produced many new insights and editorial improvements as well as opportunities for joyful misunderstandings and convivial company. It is a great sadness that Giancarlo Caine did not live long enough to toast the publication of this book.”

about A Leisure Centre is Also a Temple of Learning

Where else to begin the ongoing adventure of ‘A Leisure Centre is Also a Temple of Learning’ except by grateful acknowledgment of all the wonderful people who have supported this little poem as it made its unexpected way into the world.

The attractive young woman in  the women’s changing room in the Bath Leisure Centre will probably never know that her post-pool ritual is now on the Edexcel A level syllabus. She certainly won’t know that she owes this to Michael Mackmin, editor of the brilliant poetry magazine The Rialto, and to fellow-poet Dean Parkin who also had a voice at the editorial table the month I sent in the poem, very timidly, for  consideration.  Michael and Dean gave the poem its first break, and then its even more surprising second break when they decided to submit it to the Forward Competition’s Best Single Poem category.  ‘Leisure Centre’ didn’t win its category – predictably,  when among its rivals for the prize were Seamus Heaney, who was shortlisted,  and Don Paterson, who won.  But it did wriggle its way into the Forward Book of Poetry for 2009, and then ( by this stage, it was going stratospheric) into the Forward Poems of the Decade, selected by William Sieghart, the inspirational Founder of the Forward Prizes.

My poem’s next appearance was truly breathtaking.  The amazing Welsh singer-songwriter Cerys Matthews chose it, from the Forward Poems of the Decade, for her electrifying ‘With Great Pleasure’ selection on BBC 4 in July 2012 and read it against a musical background towards the end of her programme and the 600 strong audience in St George’s Brandon Hill. Her Bristol audience went wild.  Cerys Matthews could of course have driven them just as wild if she had chosen to read party political manifestos instead of my poem.  But to be in the auditorium while she worked this magic with a little assistance from my lines….I have my waterborn friend poet/performer/creative educator Caleb Parkin (no relation as far as I know of the equally remarkable Dean)  who was at that time working at the BBC to thank for the invitation to share that astonishing afternoon.

We should by now have been at the end of the ‘Leisure Centre’ story.  But the poem had one more dazzling moment up its sleeve.  The examination board Edexcel have recently decided to put the Forward Poems of the Decade on to the A level syllabus and the anthology has been reprinted by Faber & Faber with a characteristically  offbeat and inventive cover by (who else, given this extraordinary saga? ) the star potter and performer Grayson Perry.  And, as a postscript, just before I let my poem go on its by now confident way into 400 schools,  a friend tells me that I  can attach to it the blessing of The Guardian. This is an extract from the edition of Monday 16th March this year in which Alison Flood quotes the executive director of the Forward Arts Foundation, Susannah Herbert:

“We hope it will broaden the range of poets kids will read – for pleasure, not just for homework.  There are poems here their teachers won’t be at all familiar with, on subjects that aren’t particularly correct, by writers like Tim Turnbull or Sue Boyle or Leontia Flynn and others, who cheerfully use language challenges easy assumptions about what is and is not  ‘literary’ “.

Postscript 18 August 2015

I should have known that the honey-coloured girl would not go quietly. East Anglian singer-songwriter MIRANDA PENDER has just created a new version for the singing voice which will be premiered in Royston on 9th October this year.  More details on Miranda’s website very soon.