Ryan Van Winkle - Judges Comments
 
Main Prize Winning Poem 
I like this poem and that makes it difficult to write about. It has the kind of ending which unsettles and doesn't offer comfort and so kept compelling me to go back and read the poem from the top. Yet, I wouldn't like to put a finger on it and say – 'This poem is about driving. This is a poem which addresses movement.' There's something more important and uncomfortable lurking below the surface that not even the narrator seems sure of or ready to address directly. Like many of my favourite poems, I feel this more than I can explain it.

Judging this competition has reminded me that I am often attracted to poems with a little mystery, poems where the narrator is working things over on the page – I like plainspoken talkers who seem unaware of what they are revealing. I like how this narrator immediately undermines the geographic specificity of the title – sure, we know we're on Highway 2A, near Blackfalds, and we know 'night is coming on'. But the narrator worries us from the start, saying, 'You could come here and never arrive.' 'Here' could be most anywhere in North America or, indeed, anywhere there are roads – those strange liminal spaces which are not the destination, merely the route. The narrator seems to feel this and is uneasy with it. Maybe they don't like where they're going, maybe they don't like where they've been. We get memories and fleeting images of towns like we're driving 60 miles per hour past them – but we never get the town itself.

We don't stop moving till we find ourself alone in a bar, thinking of the silver silos in the snow, broken teeth, the potential smoothing down of ruined things. When we pause, all it takes is a minor violence to remember once we knew a river and believed it was still and the ice was strong enough to skate on.

The possibility that we were wrong hangs in the air. The repercussions of that youthful faith haunts the unsettling final lines – sends me back onto the road, to see how we got there. Wherever 'there' is.

 

 

Many of the features which attracted me to the main prize winner can also be found in the runner-ups and commended poems. All of these poems contain something startling or a little fog that the reader must peer through.

The central idea for Instructions for Making a Child seems, at first, almost whimsical but quickly reveals a dark surrealism. I love how the poet inexplicably is able to knit together a tense atmosphere from a series of directions.

The rich images and textures which form the foundation of Century Plant are lush and enthralling in their own right. Revealed slowly, there is a patient elegance which drives this piece. Yet, what startles is the teetering human who suddenly appears and bravely dives.

 

 

 

Main Prize Winner

Patrick Errington

 

On Highway 2A Near Blackfalds, 

Alberta, as Night Comes on

 

You could come here and never arrive.

These towns, like the memories of towns,

all flecks of colour, barn-reds and brown

sinking into the haze of greys that no one

 

no matter how hard they try can quite find

a word for (as if any word could draw it,

like the bodies they drew from the almost-

iced-over river dripping up the bank

 

to be dried, identified, packed away).

You could leave, have left, and still wake

with water in your mouth, water instead

of a name. Each town’s name peeling slowly

 

off sheet-metal siding or a rust-graffitied

bridge, as though picked at by the passing

vacant stares of commuters hurtling down

the 2A to the city. There can be no tense

 

imperfect enough for this. In every distance,

grain silos stand through the snow like steel

slivers of history that catch on the little light.

Like cracked teeth after a fight. Your tongue

 

will never rub them smooth. I’m not sure

you’d ever want to. But then again, I’m not

you (and you’re welcome). Maybe though

you wouldn’t mind – maybe just this once

 

you can let yourself off the hook, let some-

one else feel a way across your life, just once.

The girl behind the bar winces as she cuts

her palm on a nick in the old wood surface.

 

Her smile flickers at you from deep beneath

her face as she folds her bleeding hand

in a rag. Her blood is a dark hole in the ice

on a river we were all so sure we could skate on.

 

 

 

Main Prize Runner Up

Liz Lefroy

 

Instructions for Making a Child

 

Choose a fabric which is practical –

something itchy, shot with nylon.

Colour is important: grey suggests sobriety,

brown solidity, green humility.

Reject red.

 

Buy this cloth out of your sense of duty,

bring it home, unroll it on the table,

take a pattern from your book, the black one;

pin on the thin pages, prick your finger,

bleed into the weave.

 

Cut it out like a garment, stitch it up

leaving a hole under its raffia hair.

Make a nose from wood, glue on a mouth,   

select buttons for eyes from your collection.

Sew them askance.

 

When it’s finished, clothe it in paper,

feed it with wood and thorns.

In time, it will walk in silence,

repeat the line of your song.

And all this, separately.

 

In its eighth year, bind it with rope,

prepare a bundle of sticks.  Climb the hill

avoiding the ram caught in a thicket.

Show it to the elders, place it on the altar. 

Prepare your knife.

 

 

 

Main Prize Highly Commended

Pat Borthwick

 

Century Plant

 

For almost a hundred years

it lives an unremarkable life

clambering out from meagre soil

to semaphore saw-toothed arms

across the valley.

 

It might hear a fox bark

from behind the arid mesa,

setting off a hundred dogs

before they are swallowed back

into an older dark.

 

It might see a stone roll past,

even bid it good day

but in a language stone can´t translate

speaking only Stone,

and Century Plant only Agave.

 

Even the shadows

that depend on Century Plant

being there,

speak only to each other

in a dry, colourless vocabulary.

 

Ninety or more of its years pass

as if Time doesn’t exist

which, to the Century Plant,

the stone, the shadows,

does not

 

until, almost as if its god has decided,

the Century Plant shoots out a single limb,

climbs into the sky looking

like it’s trying to hook down the sun.

When almost there,

                     

it opens out wide hands

filled with glistening seeds. And dies.

All this, as fast and somehow similar

to the time I teetered on the high board,

my pale heels reflected in the pool below

 

and as I sprang up to back flip, unfold,

plunge down as close to a kingfisher

entering a lake as I could be, I felt

in that moment before air became water,

my hands take on the shape of prayer.

 

 

 

Main Prize Highly Commended

Lewis Camley

 

Bait 

 

Weeks pass without a catch

and my hands shimmer with hunger.

 

For ten days straight I roil to the harbour

to pull up a fleet of creels. Each emptier than the last.

 

Grey days are easier. The slate speaks void.

Blue skies strip me of resolve, so I sleep a little later.

 

"No one ever went so long", the men laugh. I take their

pity neat, so the slick might ignite my throat tomorrow.

 

On the open water I sing a song of starlings.

Drown all listeners. Here I am not alone.

 

The cobbles are loose on the lane leading to the pier.

"You must follow the path carefully or come unstuck too."

 

After the noise of the third day's storm had passed

I found a single cod shipwrecked on deck, bright flesh rotting.

 

Each morning my coarse palms caress the thick weave of rope

before launching. Now and again the burn lingers dreamily.

 

'If it is ever to happen it must be now', I thought, on my knees

at the prow. I'd watched a girl laughing all night. No catch came.

 

A tall, handsome man sold me this boat at the end of the war.

I know its grain and its leanings, its longing for water, its silence.

 

Lay down in bed and think sleeplessly of a time

you saw dawn rise through your surprise. It will happen again

 

when it needs to. The fir trees are dripping with mist.

You will see me when I've eaten.

 

I am cutting wood. I am cutting wood to build a fire.

I will build a fire to roast the fish. This way the fish will be caught.

 

In a dream three men carry me from my home, but I wake before

we arrive. None were my father, and they laboured in vain.

 

On a night kissed by silver your lunar knees tremble.

I wanted us to dance down the shoreline, engulfed.

 

On the fifteenth day I asked my friend for advice.

He spoke me under the surf, where I finally saw them.

 

A mercurial glint, then a pounce. My voice vibrates

as I sing. She crests the water, glistering.

 

 

 

Main Prize Highly Commended

Sarah Leavesly

 

The day it rained horses

 

Hooves battered at the house all night.
We woke to a loud clattering of stones.

 

Manes streamed from closed windows,
tails flew from broken gutters.

 

Tom called in sick, and we turned up his music
over ghost mares kicking at the fences.

 

We felt our breaths nuzzle, ignored the doubts
tugging at doors, wires and loose tiles.
 

After we tasted each other’s sweat and fear

– passion hard as a bit against our tongues –

 

we nudged ourselves from bed, glistening.
We set a pan boiling, let steam fill the kitchen.

 

Prodding toast into the heart of boiled eggs,
we gulped down their soft sunshine, taking care

 

to keep our scoops small, to savour all, yet leave
the pale shells intact – smooth, unspeckled,
 

their delicate curves almost two perfect wholes.
Licked clean as polished stirrups, our spoons

 

flung fragments of light at the dark surfaces,

glinted silver rainbows, slippery as frost.

 

Outside, stallions still stampeded, unbroken;
lightning and thunder galloped past.

 

For those short hours, our home sheltered     

in the eye of this equine storm

 

like a sugar cube slowly offered up, white
and crystalline on a quivering palm.

 

 

 

Main Prize Highly Commended

Patrick Errington

 

Ars Poetica, Without Child or Song

 

Autumn, and everything is the last of its kind.

In this town, as in others, you grow up simply

 

because there is no other choice. Each morning

an empty child’s bedroom, the furniture dismantled

and set out in boxes on the lawn. I would tell myself

 

it’s all for the best, if it were; better, maybe, better.

Evening comes hand-me-down, someone else’s name

 

in felt-tip on the label. I find myself in this poem as

though sent to fetch something – I keep forgetting

what. It was important. I’m sure. My hands stammer

 

my pockets. Every finger is a thread worried free.

How long have I been standing here? Dishwater

 

gone cold up to the elbow. Through the window

the trees are raw as nerves and there are days I walk

in on myself as though caught naked. Days I feel

 

as if written, every movement measurable, every grief

just the word grief. I remember reading, once,

 

that we are given language and set the world to it.

All my old homes outgrow their children while winter

creaks in the stucco like a promise I broke to keep.

 

There should be worlds set, not to words, but to music.

Love here sounds so seldom like love, and some nights

 

I slip from beneath my vocabulary, move, barefoot,

between unsingable things spilled across the floor

 

like moonlight: The bedroom, kitchen (the blue

of the oven clock fingering the cutlery), the living

room, staircase, a long hall. If I could tell myself


I wouldn’t. This quiet is a room without purpose,

with nothing to find, nothing to take back.