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Colleen Higgs

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Judging poetry

Recently I was asked to be the judge for 2013 DALRO prize for poems published in New Coin in 2012. I hesitated because I am not sure about the idea of choosing the best poem, and I am aware of how subjective I am in what I like and respond to. Two things swayed me, the first was that why not allow my aesthetic to be the one that gets to decide? And secondly, in recent years I have tried to follow the advice, I think it was Eleanor Roosevelt’s, “You must do the thing you think you cannot do”.

Here are my conclusions, written up in the citation below, after I spent time carefully reading the poems in question several times.

New Coin DALRO prize for 2012 issues

As Harry Owen said of the last DALRO prize, it is a subjective exercise for one person to choose the “best” or winning” poems. The poems I have chosen are the ones that I like best now in April/May 2012; these poems speak to me. This includes how they speak, I prefer shorter poems mostly, and I like poems that surprise and/or delight me, in voice, use of words and language, images, and craft.

First prize – “The Pot” by Genna Gardini
Second Prize – Village Potter’s Wife by Jim Pascual Agustin
Third prize – – “on a June day that I spent on the beach with two children” by Megan Tennant

I like the singularity of “The Pot”, the strangeness, the sharp decisive ending. Genna Gardini’s voice is playful and witty, and while easy to read and follow, further layers of meaning and association rise from the poem, the more times I read it. Her voice is strong and somewhat triumphant here, although there is humour and a slight sense of self ridicule.

“Village Potter’s Wife” is a short, striking poem, full of painful contrasts. At the heart of the poem is the joyful creation of pots, measured against death, destruction, grinding poverty. The poet manages to say a great deal about the life of this woman in three quick brush strokes, and to evoke deep sorrow and loss in this reader.

I like the particularity and ordinariness of “on a June day that I spent on the beach with two children”, the vivid and telling detail and the way the first stanza speaks to the second, and the combination of joy and bleakness, passion and ennui.

I also liked these poems very much:

All three of the poems by Deidre Byrne in Vol 48, no 1.
“How I make love” by David Wa Maahlamela
“Pretoria” and “voice” by Marike Beyers
“The 1st psalm for my dead ghetto” by Adorn Ka Mashigo
A man stabs a woman by Adriaan Coetzee
“spoon” by Elme Vivier
“Galaxies” by Jeannie Wallace McKeown
“Baby”by Thabo Jijane

 

Recent comments:

  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    September 16th, 2013 @15:53 #
     
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    You are brave. Acting as a judge for the Ingrid Jonker prize last year (in the end, Bev Rycroft was then winner) was one of my toughest jobs ever. Thank you for doing this.

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  • <a href="http://www.modjajibooks.co.za" rel="nofollow">Colleen</a>
    Colleen
    September 17th, 2013 @09:24 #
     
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    Subscribe to New Coin if you enjoy poetry. The small poetry journals and literary magazines need subscribers.

    http://www.ru.ac.za/isea/publications/journals/newcoinpoetry/
    Email Carol Leff at c.leff at ru.ac.za if you want to subscribe ...

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