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Judges commentary by 2015 judges, Jane Clarke and Dave Lordan

"We are glad to say that there was a bumper entry to the competition this year. Congratulations first of all to everyone who entered and made the substantial creative effort it requires to produce a poem. Such effort is never wasted. The diversity of styles, themes and poetic voices we encountered gives cause for great optimism about the future of poetry in Ireland. Many poems were of or close to publishable standard. Among those we chose to highly commend in the General Category, we found evidence of an extra effort, an extra insight, an extra range, an extra layer, an extra something that set our poetic antennae tingling, provoked our curiosity, encouraged re-reading and led both of us to praise the artistry on show and contemplate the shaded meanings. Well done to all those poets; it was a delight to encounter your work.

The poem which stood out for both of us in the Emerging Category, ‘Dead Ends’, is an intense, moving poem in which striking language and imagery is carried by the music of the lines through resonating sounds. The winning entry, ‘Ward Warning’ was one we both zoned in on as exhibiting a superior understanding of the relationship between form and meaning in the short poem, as well as being an original and evocative handling of the unfortunately all too-topical theme of mental illness. We heartily congratulate both winning poets and look forward to reading more of their work in the future."

1st Prize - General Category
Caroline Bracken
 Ward Warning

1st Prize - Emerging Category
Ming Yan Lee Dead Ends


1st Prize - General Category

Caroline Bracken "Ward Warning"

1st Prize - Emerging Category

Ming Yan Lee "Dead Ends"

Highly Commended

Aminah Hughes "Dirt"

Highly Commended

Michael Farry "Dividing Hostas"

Highly Commended

Caroline Leddy "Fassaroe: An Fásach Rua"

Highly Commended

Michael Farry "He Meets His Brothers"

Highly Commended

John Murphy "Legacy"

Highly Commended

Majella Kelly "Michaelmas Daisies"

Highly Commended

Liz Gallagher "Over"

Highly Commended

Peggie Gallagher "Peonies"

Highly Commended

Michael O'Connor "Simon Barking"

Highly Commended

Donna O'Shaughnessy "While the Coroner Waits"

1st Prize - General Category

Caroline Bracken

Ward Warning, by Caroline Bracken

Ward Warning

On the war
d are two kin
ds of people – the list
eners and the deaf. The deaf
talk to each other using eye
language. They write in cod
e in or
ange files like crayfish.
They we
ar bad
ges with names the names are mad
e up like Ma
ry O’Flaherty.
y hand out sweets in fair
y cups they call us pat
ients but go
d told me they a
re spi
ders don’t get caught in the
ir web of li
The list
eners stick to the wa
lls they wear head-phones
to he
ar me
ssages from war
zones and so
ngs and words so
they know the res
cuers a
re coming.

© Caroline Bracken

1st Prize - Emerging Category

Ming Yan Lee

Dead Ends, by Ming Yan Lee

Dead Ends

“Holding up my
purring cat to the moon
I sighed.”  – Jack Kerouac, American Haiku, 1959

Rove over sky and sill, and then the eye
catches the backlit tips of your ears,
the afternoon folded into their pockets.

Goffered somewhere in the blue:
a mad memory, still tangled
in the sprawl of your capillaries
through rib hoops, lung wall, renal artery
into bursting fractals of dead nephrons. A blood work;
spun from urea, creatinine, high numbers,
inferred ends of sentences.

I remember night floods, fluorescent moons,
the pallor of roan fur;
your bare, ammonite spine;
a drip bag, mid-air; an unspooling
into trickled drops,
thumb and finger,
a trembly splinter, glinting – commutation?
A lifetime of suspension:
of watching slow seconds slip through
the narrow neck

between skin and sinew, where I breathed
a new home tongue of hydroxides, percentages,
the precise maths of counting pills: wobbly doubloons
to rule tissuey confusion into physic proofs
and quell some blurry, early language surging up
like the cellular poison that had risen

and face it, still rises in your kidneys.
But I am learning to catch the moments,
when time runs into itself like wrinkled skin
till everything shrinks shrinks shrinks
and opens like a clear sky
to an infinite now,
to you
in your sublunary sleep, facing the sun.

© Ming Yan Lee

Highly Commended

Dirt, by Aminah Hughes

It makes no difference -
scan my organs, pull my blood.
The truth is
I have sickened from being in your house

the nauseous smell of the shag pile carpet
your shadow
always behind me
roast dinners gone limp.

I have seen you through the fence
burying lies and fish
throwing earth from your hand
in disgust.

I disguise myself as furniture
melt into walls
distract you with the puppets on T.V.
but there is never enough

distance between us;
your hands have super powers,
flow like black water towards me
even when I sleep.

I can never leave here.
All hands are yours.
All source of madness
festers in these walls.

When the children come
you will feed them
from the hole you have dug
covering their mouths with dirt.

© Aminah Hughes

Highly Commended

Dividing Hostas, by Michael Farry

   is not difficult.
I slice the flesh with the spade’s
sharp blade, split the root clump
in two, each of which will make
a new plant.
       I’ll give some away
to relatives, set the rest in the
corner beside the boundary wall.
Next year I’ll be careful to ensure
no slug or snail
  makes lacework
of the leaves. I pause, picture Liam
earlier, on this his first birthday,
reaching for me, touching only
a computer screen.
Only my robin
escort sees me falter. I once held
that the bird hopping alongside
was the same one as last year and
the year before.
         Now I know better.

© Michael Farry

Highly Commended

Fassaroe: An Fásach Rua, by Caroline Leddy

The Red Wilderness glows like an ember
  spat out by the town’s fire
it will burn if strangers come too close
  without permission
misspelled graffiti greets them, well placed
  so they get the message
myths handed down grow wild
  as ragwort with each telling
women, word-sharp child-weary
  tend each other’s secrets
men trade pigeons, engines,
  drink tea on the street
unmuzzled lurchers, whippets
  mind their own business
children, whip-smart law-wary
  know only unlocked doors
infants, unsure where their house ends
  and the next begins
no space for mice or ghosts
  between these walls
nothing to fear here but death
  and even then
the entire estate assembles
  slow-marches behind the coffin
because the dead belonged
  was one of their own

© Caroline Leddy

Highly Commended

He Meets His Brothers, by Michael Farry

At the excavation he hunkered down
with all the other volunteers, his place
allotted. By noon his trowel disturbed
two infant skeletons; one with faint traces   
of a home-made coffin, and the other
mingled with shreds of a knitted gown.

That autumn when the others went away
he stayed, sieving earth until he reclaimed
each fragile scrap of bone, left the grave-cut
as it was in the beginning. Winter days
were spent reassembling each, and then,
although he knew, he asked their names.

They refused to tell him but listed things
they missed: shared mischief, play, school,
heartbreak, funerals. Sensing his gloom
they invited him to football, kite flying,
trout fishing and hide and seek in the wood
between the derelict shed and dry spring.

© Michael Farry

Highly Commended

Legacy, by John Murphy

A broad street where choking dust
swirls around a singing girl; 
a galleon-headed horse nosing
oats on a pavement that was once
the route of a wayfaring saint:
and all else in the offing for a town
that knows nothing of what will be, 
the plans laid in the blood and days
of uniformed men wavering like
grass behind walls that in hours
will break and crumble like wet slate.
Mingled with the singing, the clop
of hooves, the banter of strangers—
who years later will remember,
in the given names of streets, lanes,
and burning corners, the names of boys
they never knew— is an exhalation,
distant as the voice of a morning angel.
The soldiers' faces turn to vapour,
their limber muscles to soft rain;
and in the butcher's shop the tiled
face of a bull runs blood and grease  
to a killing floor— the whistle blows, 
and history crawls into a smoking ruin,
into hearts at anchor like a massed fleet.

© John Murphy

Highly Commended

Michaelmas Daisies, by Majella Kelly

The fishing has finished. It is the beginning
of hunting season. It is the time to pick apples
and the time to make cider.

A lost flock of Sebastopol geese
shuffle from a pond on Stephen's Green.
They do not know that it is Michaelmas.

Their eyes are ocean blue, their down
a flounce of soft white curls, matted
under filthy blankets and damp cardboard.

The streets are impractical
for their gaudy orange slippers. When handled
carefully, they are chatty and gregarious

but when ruffled, can be haughty and raucous.
Some gorge on blackberry cider,
sickly-sweet as if the devil himself had pissed in it.

Others place stones on their tongues,
to muffle their honking, so they can peck
undetected in the bins outside McDonald's.

More settle in Georgian doorways,
beak under wing, with scribbled petitions
hung from their gizzards.

These geese now bedizen the city, perennially,
like the blue and purple hues of Michaelmas daisies
that grow in wayside places, with no care at all.

© Majella Kelly

Highly Commended

Over, by Liz Gallagher

A small swagger on my part, a hip move to the right over, a hip move
to the left over then it's over-over but not over as in over 'n never

again, no forever and ever over, no that's all folks over, it's just take me to the river over, hold me till the cows come home over. There is

the teeniest chance of it not being speak-out-loud over, shout out about over, keep your head on over. How about it not being you and me and over

the rainbow over? Don't want it to be until death do us part over. If I hunch up into the cold night, am I saying it's over over or is it just a touch

of me and you, Tarzan and Jane over? Take my hand and find me a river to take me to over. Oh darn, why over?  Namely the rhyming potential in over

- think of clover, rover, ....It's not out of this world and back again over, even if it were over then how would all this buzz of saying it's not

really over make maltesers melt in the mouth and not in the hand?
What is there to twist and shout about? You, me, a great pile

of loving then flop - all suddy, sud, sud, flop, flop - no bubble to speak of. Yes, it's a kind of over - maybe a sweet smell of sea breeze over,

maybe a seagull flying overhead us over, maybe an ant crossing our path over, maybe a Virgin Mary blue-eyed stare over...I still wanna hold

your hand, sit on a cobblestone  street, keep my lips on the rim of my wine glass, glance you the glance of glances, our foreign languages squarely out

of the way. Then it's not every which way but over, over, it's this world
is bright and shiny and giddy over, no matter how over ourselves we are.

© Liz Gallagher

Highly Commended

Peonies, by Peggie Gallagher

Well versed in ritual, we come
to lay your name against the emptiness.
The church wet-stained in fine grey rain,
granite its own ceremony;
not one stone gives anything away.
You would have the heart do likewise.

Here, banked candles stream light
and tall arches shoulder a rose window.
Though you know nothing of this—
the cold-veined marble or the way the breath 
of incense mingles with the scent of lilies—
the blossom that was your mind has withered.

Even now, underground in a lost garden,
tuber clumps swell and ripen;
defiant nubs shove upwards,
colours of blood and earth,
and heedless of April winds, dark
hearts unlock generous fistfuls of crimson.

© Peggie Gallagher

Highly Commended

Simon Barking, by Michael O'Connor

When Simon started barking one Sunday morning
They kept him home from church on account of
The new preacher and not knowing how she’d take it.
Besides, when Simon barks, it’s very loud: you can’t
Hear conversations, prayers or preaching and you
Certainly can’t pray. They kept him home that day and
All he did was bark. The next day was the same so
They kept him home from work on account of him
Working in the library. We all waited for the barking
To end and for Simon to scratch his head and smile
His rueful smile and say, What the hell was that about?
We imagined how relieved we’d be, and how we’d
End up laughing about it all, but that didn’t happen.
Instead, advice came like an avalanche, and the
More outlandish it seemed, the more firmly and
Certainly it was given:
Beat him until he stops! Starve him until he stops!
Bind his jaw up so tight he can’t bark!
Chain him to a kennel in the back yard, see how he likes that!
Give him to the zoo, or a travelling circus!
His daughter Emily, aged ten, cuddled up to
Her father and whispered, I love you Daddy.
Simon sobbed at this, shed a few tears, then started
To bark again. Lots of people tried I love you then,
But all they got was barking. He even, so his wife said,
Barked in his sleep, but not too often, more like
A dog  that’s dreaming. That’s all the rest she’s had
Since then – the sleep I mean. Soon as he wakes,
He barks and she’s so patient: she knows the meaning
Of each bark and gives him what he wants, but still he barks.
The noise abatement people came last week and said
Things have to stop. She couldn’t hear them for the
Barking. They’ll have to serve a summons wearing earmuffs,
But what’ll it say? Stop barking? That’s been tried.

Still, he’s there, Simon. He hasn’t gone away.
It’s just he barks, and that’s the all that people see
Who cannot look into his eyes and see his smile,
His sad and barking smile. He’s there alright.

© Michael O'Connor

Highly Commended

While the Coroner Waits, by Donna O'Shaughnessy

I thread my fingers through your thick hair
still jealous that it never thinned, settling my
index finger within the soft indentation behind
your too small, too low ear.

Regretfully, I move vertically along your flat,
silent, jugular until my finger catches on your
clavicle, once broken when you fell off the hay
wagon onto February’s resistant surface.

Pulling my hand up and over your shoulder
sharp as a metal plane jutting into the sky,
I recall the arm that held off an erect bull
gunning for our youngest son.

Where was I?

Yes, your shoulder, just above a rib cage often
held against me, frame against the thunders
which besieged us, my digits wave in and out,
in and out, of those smooth, flat bones.
I spread my hand wide, traveling downwards,
my life lines criss cross as I nestle my palm in
that concave hollow sheltered between your
belly and the top of your thigh.

I’m back to your hip and over its crest to
find the leg and the knee and the ankle
which together carried weak calves out of
flooded fields and into shelter.

The same limbs which transported boxy bee
hives with supers, smokers, and new frames
to buckwheat pastures, a trail of disgruntled
workers humming at your heels.

Our oldest child pokes her intrusive head
around the edge of the door. Mother?
Are you ready? No, not yet, I say
beginning again, in the soft indentation
behind your too small, too low ear.

© Donna O'Shaughnessy