The Frogmore Poetry Prize Winners 2001

Adjudicators Report
and winning entries


I enter lots of poetry competitions. It seems to me the sort of thing a poet ought to do and besides, I do win money occasionally. But, just as would-be contributors should read the magazine they are sending to, and thus avoid having their concrete poems turned down by the Spectator or their rude limericks by the TLS, it is as well for competition entrants to know their judges. I don’t mean you should know them personally, though that plus twenty quid in the post might help I suppose, but know what they like and what their prejudices are.

Larkin was a judge once and asked what had happened to all the love poems and nature poems. ‘Oh we weeded those out!’ said the organisers. ‘Pity – those are the ones I would have liked’ was his lugubrious reply.

No one did any weeding here. I got four hundred poems neat, as it were – and remarkably few duds among them, the green-ink-scribbling flat-earthers, the political sonneteers who can’t scan etc., etc. Sonnets there were (two in my final ten), and villanelles – lots of people are writing villanelles nowadays, perhaps spurred on by Wendy Cope who has so many in her recent (very fine) collection. And, in spite of Gavin Ewart’s rule that light verse poems never win competitions, there were funny poems, for which I am grateful. I think the second prize winner is a funny poem, though others, including perhaps the poet, might not agree.

I spotted Reality Refugee straight away for its technical skill – run-on tetrameter/trimeter with a rhyme scheme that is very difficult to do though it doesn’t look it. And that’s another thing I like, the art that conceals art. But of course art, though a sine qua non, is not enough. To paraphrase Roy Campbell, you can use the snaffle and the bit all right but there has to be a bloody horse too, and there is, or at least a fat boy with a vinegary smell and I love him with his greasy hair and his saddlebag buttocks. Personally I would ditch the title, which is somehow cruder than the poem that follows, but who can resist a poet who can get away with a line like ‘Amidst the realms of fantasy’ so triumphantly? Dammit, I wish I had written this one.

I toyed with giving the poet who wrote Why I Lost My Virginity (now there’s a title – I defy anyone not to read on!) a prize for another poem, a sonnet which started strongly. But in the end I decided I liked this better, and anyway I wasn’t quite sure what the sonnet meant. Walt Whitman, I suppose, invented anaphoric list-poems, though you have to riffle through such pages of dross to find the pure gold that too few probably bother. And this one has a better plot than Whitman ever seemed to manage. And it’s funny according to me (not a lot of laughs in Whitman, at least not intentional ones).

Any poem which manages to use the word ‘rites’ and to nearly use the phrase ‘Rites of Passage’ and get away with it must be pretty good. This poet knows all about language – ‘not the mourning sherry, but the sleek of sheen/ on sherry glasses’. And it has such a winner of a last line – ‘the passing grandeur in the wrongs of things.’ Larkin (Larkin again! But I’ve just been reviewing his splendid Further Requirements so you must forgive me) said the trick was to make the true beautiful and the beautiful true. This is harsh truth made beautiful – and consolatory too, as many of the best poems are.

At least three of the short list might have won money in other competitions I have judged – it is bad luck for the poets here that the competition was so strong.

Congratulations all round!
John Whitworth
Canterbury August 2001


The winner, and runners-up


  REALITY REFUGEE (Gerald Watts)