"The Void" Contest Winners / March 2014 (Issue 23)

"Void" Poetry Context Winners: Why We Chose These Poems

by Daryl Qilin Yam

First Prize: Catherine Edmunds's "Where the Red Stone Crumbles"

 This poem on ruins struck me as the clear winner because as much as the other poems were about spaces of emotional absence, voids, Edmunds's "Where the Red Stone Crumbles" tackles nature in a way that is shocking, unrepentantly indignant and ultimately confrontational—to both the reader and the unknown "you." And there are moments of beauty in almost every stanza—"the boy who carried the oil lamp," "the bulls" that "came over the sea," the walls that "droop/in waves," the clouds "channelled … onto a plinth / where the wall bends and aches with the weight of your story"—all of which echo a place caught in time, its memories frozen into moments of poetry, and yet, because of the medium, still regain a sense of movement and life. [Read "Where the Red Stone Crumbles"]

Second Prize: Richard L. Provencher's "A Long, Long Time Ago"

 What can I say about Provencher's poem? It's simple, admittedly, but it is also all the more beautiful for it. There is a beautiful (that word again) image overarching the work that causes the reader to adopt the old man's position: that of a person looking out into the window and seeing a version of his younger self, fishing in bright motion over a creek. My favourite stanza has to be the fifth one, so packed with aural pleasure, and my favourite line "sweet/smells of summer calling" encapsulates and evokes in just five words all the wonderful sounds the reader needs to hear. [Read "A Long, Long Time Ago"]

Third Prize: Arlene Yandug's "Going Back to the Island"

 I love a good poetic sequence, and the powerful combination of a mythic voice and fabled setting further compels me to read to the very end, taking in all of the sights and sounds along the way. Like Edmunds's winning piece, this poem succeeds largely because of the sheer onslaught of wonderfully composed lines, and the magical quality of it all is scarily consistent. Most delightful, however, is whenever Yandug uses food imagery to paint her beloved world, be it the emotional power of onions, the smell of toasted coconuts, the squeezing of lime over the sky or even the salty brine of the waves. You feel it all on the back of your tongue. [Read "Going Back to the Island"]

Highly Commended: Maj Ikle's "The City Park"

 The outlook is bleak here (as London always is), but there is a dark humour at work in the uncanny parallel between a team of forensic investigators, searching the park for "discarded body parts" and the dog-walkers picking up shit in plastic bags. But the real punch is found in the final stanza, where the emotional denouement finds Ikle skilfully interweaving images of the sky, the persona's mother's jaw and a horizon of leafless trees, all in one fluid breath. Notable. [Read "The City Park"]

Highly Commended: Hao Guang Tse's "Drafts"

 In "Drafts," Tse captures a moment in time, full of dread, action and emotional rawness. It is the sheer sense of humanity here that truly engrosses, as does the clear strength in his choice of words. The wind is not only finely utilised as the spine of the poem, but also as an angry and relentless character on its own, spitting mean plosives over the characters before turning round and spitting them back onto the reader. [Read "Drafts"]

Highly Commended: Leondrea Tan's "Full"

 There is an audacity in the poem's single line that both my co-judge (Tammy Ho) and I felt we had to applaud—and the careful deliberation of words, parentheses and space makes it fully deserving of a commendation indeed. [Read "Full"]


 Highly Commended: Amit Shankar Saha's "Aphasia"

 This is a tricky poem, fully comprehensible, and yet, riddled with deliberate, artful missteps as the enjambment neatly echoes the persona's struggle for articulation and communication in a subaltern, cosmopolitan setting. [Read "Aphasia"]


 Highly Commended: Richard L. Provencher's "No More Space for the Pain"

 Provencher again! Like his winning piece, this poem segues in and out of moments—between a moment rife with mortality and a memory tinged with nostalgia. There is an adoration for sound here, first seen in the stormy preamble and concluding in the lush "finale of woodsy serenade." [Read "No More Space for the Pain"]

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