2014 Takahē Poetry Competition

Judge’s Report – David Howard

The 25th anniversary of Takahe, marked in part by this poetry competition, is a winning occasion. But a poet rarely writes to discharge an obligation beyond the one to conscience that every thinking person has. And the framework of a competition does not let an entrant ignore the demands of conscience; rather, it contextualises them. Poets are good when they use their linguistic insight to see beyond what is visible. If language is an after- effect of experience, then experience is also an after-effect of language because words are generative, they beget. If discovery is predicated upon listening, which is the common name for inspiration, then a judge must (try to) be an inspired reader – one who expects to hear the unexpected.

First: ‘the sound of floating vessels’ by Paula King
After reading (again, again) 227 entries I conclude that Louis Zukofsky is right, by sincerity we mean attention to detail. To these ears the winning poem is an audacious enactment of its theme. Feel the archaic spelling ‘a- /frayed’, where the line-break intensifies the sense; chart the prosaic phrases, ritualised by those alarm bells the speech marks, floating across the page.

Second: ‘The Book of Evidence’ by Michael Harlow
Language can distort the thing it names, yet empathy + metaphor = an act of compassion. And for me the most precious aspect of poetry is its capacity to capture, perhaps even to create, intimacy. While intimate, ‘The Book of Evidence’ is also more poised than most anthology pieces. Essential, it is a dark forest recast as a garden of miniatures: ‘A few words called flowers.’

Runners-up: ‘Intercession: A villanelle’ by Terry Locke
& ‘tomatoes’ by Elisabeth Morton

Both of these are precise pieces that show, the one through mechanical and the other through organic form (to borrow Coleridge’s terms), there is no single approach that is inherently superior when an author perches over the silence, listening for a poem. In the former, the cheeky correctness of rhyming ‘Voltaire’ with ‘prayer’; in the latter, an incandescent ending: ‘and my father was the sundial/ we stood around, all summer,/ casting long shadows on the lawn.’

David Howard
29 October 2014


1st Place: “the sound of floating vessels” by Paula King
2nd Place: “The Book of Evidence” by Michael Harlow
Runners-up: “Intercession: A villanelle’” by Terry Locke, and “tomatoes” by Elizabeth Morton.