The Frogmore Poetry Prize Winners 2002

Adjudicators Report
and winning entries


The package of 392 poems got off to a bad start by arriving one morning I was out, forcing me to drive to the Main Post Office to collect it - and, sure enough, the poems were no better than I'd expected: there was hardly anything here that I could even bear to re-read. Somehow I managed not to throw out 81 of the entries. It was going to be all too easy to get down to the required 10.

Then something happened. The 81 long-listed poems were surprisingly hard to dismiss. With great difficulty I brought the number of survivors down to 38, but a third cull managed to eliminate only 3. Somehow I'd come to appreciate and admire all these poems, and getting rid of any of them seemed nearly impossible. A small sheaf of 12 quietly but insistently refused to do anything but stand their ground, and I found myself ringing Jeremy for permission to include all of them in the final selection.

To me these last 12 feel very individual, and very different from one another. Looking at them closely, though, I do see a quality common to most, if not all of them: they're structured round an absent centre, so that it's left to the reader to discover what the poem is really 'about'. I think this distrust of what is explicit comes from my background, which is in French poetry rather than English. For me the essential is what is implied and, whether that implication be in a clash of tones, an unseen or unnamed event or the semantic gap of an outrageous metaphor, it is what makes the poem live.

The hardest thing, for an adjudicator, is to remain attentive to each individual poem and what it offers. My opening paragraph wasn't entirely serious, and yet there is a real danger here: the danger that in a large pile of sometimes clumsy or sentimental or formulaic poems the real - the really special - poem may slip through unnoticed. Forgive me if yours has. I've done my best. Anyway it seems to me that each of the 12 poems that appear here has something vital and emotive and thought-provoking to offer - and in its own terms, rather than in mine.

Just a word of admiration for the three prize-winners:

'Photograph: Man and Bike' is like the object it describes, named and irreducible, still rusting with its glorious, complex history in my back garden. I can see it as I write. 'My Father Had One Eye' surfaced slowly, from its deceptively simple, direct language, to become a rather astonishing conjunction of quiet rhyme, violent story and subtle tone-progression that culminated in the wonderfully angry image of the ending. My first choice, 'Vertigo' is that difficult thing - a modern love-poem. Like its metaphors, it takes risks - risks with the melodrama of its subject; risks with the richness of its language; risks with its syntax, which starts as a simple 'Because … because…' of a workshop exercise and ends as a plank over the abyss, where the reader herself is forced to jump; and, above all, risks in tone, from the slightly portentous tone of the body of the poem to that sudden, deflationary familiarity of the colloquial ending. Who is this 'love', I keep asking myself. Whoever they are, they're very lucky. I hope they're there to celebrate with the writer when he or she buys him - or herself a well-earned drink.

Susan Wicks
Tunbridge Wells
August 2002


The winner, and runners-up


  Vertigo (Katy Darby)
  My father had one eye (Lis Lee)
 Photograph: Man and bike (John Crick)