Past Competition Results

The 2022 poetry competition was published in takahē 106. 

1st Place: Father by Laura Amsel

2nd Place: Haere Atu, Paua Rangers by Nicola Andrews

Runner up: To those remembered long gone teachers by Wes Lee

Runner up: Descent by Kirsten Warner

First Prize: $300
Second Prize: $150

The judge for this year is Airini Beautrais. 
Airini Beautrais is a poet, writer and educator who grew up in Auckland and Whanganui. She studied ecological science and creative writing at Victoria University of Wellington, and worked for several years as a science teacher. Her first book Secret Heart (2006) was named Best First Book of Poetry in the Montana New Zealand Book Awards 2007. Her subsequent books include Western Line (2011), Dear Neil Roberts (2014) and Flow: Whanganui River Poems (2017). In 2021, she won the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction and $57,000 for her collection of short stories, Bug Week. Beautrais lives in Whanganui.

Congratulations to the writers on the shortlist

Acuity by Karen Zelas

Descent by Kirsten Warner

Father by Laura Amsel

Haere Atu, Paua Rangers by Nicola Andrews

Kawiti by Kim Slemint

Smoke Rises Over Battle Hill, Pāuatahanui by Danny Bultitude

That Day that I was Dead by Lewis Broadbent

To those remembered long gone teachers by Wes Lee

Congratulations to our longlisted writers

Acuity by Karen Zelas
Anaerobia by Indira Chandrasekhar
Astray from the Good Souls’ Seat by Gregory Dally
Big Human by Rebecca Nash
Cellular hope by Arihia Latham
Descent by Kirsten Warner
Father by Laura Amsel
Haere Atu, Paua Rangers by Nicola Andrews
Kawiti by Kim Slemint
Love poem for a future by Dani Yourukova
NB feral in forests by Lauren Foley
Reflection by Claire Miranda Roberts
Self-portrait with streak of red by Margaret Moores
Shared Language by Patrick Sylvain
Sign by Jane Frank
Smoke Rises Over Battle Hill, Pāuatahanui by Danny Bultitude
amnesia by Justine Yoong
That Day that I was Dead by Lewis Broadbent
The Holler by Laura Amsel
To those remembered long gone teachers by Wes Lee

The 2020 poetry competition was published in takahē 100. 

1st: Cindy Botha, From the Settlers’ Cemetery, Akaroa
2nd: Frankie McMillan, Jenny Worgan, the Midge’s Housewife
Highly Commended: Art Nahill, Cleave
Highly Commended: Art Nahill, My Circus Life
Highly Commended: Jenny Dobson, Zephyr

2019 Takahē Monica Taylor Poetry Prize

December 15, 2019 Zoë Meager

The ‘how’ of the 250 entries is as varied as the poets’ age, experience, linguistic ability and knowledge of prosody permit. I looked just as carefully at the ‘why’: what is going on here, what is the poet actually saying?

As finalists I chose four poems, all of which left me something to think about further. They all give a sense of something waiting to be resolved, something not quite sayable, at the limits of language.

Highly Commended:

Two poems dealing with less-acknowledged phases of grief.

Awe by Wes Lee
A poem barely under control after the shock and disorientation of ‘a grave event’; the poet casting around feeling inadequate, trying to come to terms – but far too early – with something disproportionate to previous experience.

Now it is winter by Melissa Browne
One telling visual image, bracketed by stanzas considering the cycle of seasons, time, and memory. The sadness and patience of acceptance and waiting as time passes.

Prize winners:

Laying drainage ditches for the new football pitches at Logan Park by Jilly O’Brien
The depth of this poem’s layers presents thought-provoking material. Logan Park is reclaimed land – early Dunedin’s rubble and detritus placed into what was once a bay, part of the inner bowl of Otago Harbour. The (colonial) idea here is that it has been ‘claimed back’ from the sea. This new land was claimed again by the city through naming: at first Pelichet Bay, then Logan Bay, then Logan Park. The poem pivots about two possible meanings of reclamation. It depends on your viewpoint.

The wheke provides a fresh perspective. Chinking handles of broken crockery among the rubbish being cast up by the earthmoving machines might call to mind small tentacles. These ‘wheke’ seem to be calling to the poet, who sees them as old bones coming to light. ‘Ngā wheke cried for their bones back/ for they wanted them to make a cloak/ to wear on the road gangs’. If wheke have no bones, then beyond the paradox, these little visual and sonic tohu could represent ancestral bones calling for recognition. The poem undoes the literal cover-up of the reclaimed land. Old bones of pre-colonial time, wanting to be heard, ask for a different re-claiming, a necessary protection for their descendants in a cloak of mana and safety.

Ninox by Jasmine O M Taylor
In this poem of call and response, ‘we sit alert’ as the soft voice of the hunter/poet reaches gently into the forest and the mind. The pure vowel sounds of the ruru’s call draw the reader into the aural field of the poem, where an alert consciousness which ‘summons perception’ in a willed intensity of listening initiates a thought-journey, inviting us to experience communication with the natural world. I can see and sound those vowels on the page: the poem works with eye and ear, connecting poet, bird and reader. It ends with a feeling of friendship, connection, kin: ‘E hoa, ruru’. The language is simple and direct; not a word is wasted.

Which is the better poem?

Each carries such powerful resonance – aural and historical – that I find it very difficult to separate the two.

In the end, the musical quality and quiet intensity of ‘Ninox’ wins

Cilla McQueen
Bluff, 2019

Hunt Ducker Competition winners

A huge thank you to everyone who entered the takahē Hunt Ducker poetry competition!

We thoroughly enjoyed reading all your poems for our special celebration of native New Zealand birds, in fact, you made our National Poetry Day super special. We were especially thrilled with some of your onomatopoeia!

flit flit! khee khee! cheep cheep!

We’d like to give a big shout-out to the wonderful Forest & Bird for gifting us an annual membership for the top prize, and of course to National Poetry Day for sponsoring our top 3 prizes. We couldn’t have done it without you!

Before the big drumroll, we’d like to commend these poets, who sent in some robust, moving, and closely-observed poems, and really gave our judges a tough time in coming to a decision:

Cindy Botha, flight of the pīwa-ka-wa-ka
Maggie Buxton, Ngā Tūī o Tangihua 
Rosie Copeland, Kereru Outside my Window
Jared Doe, Kāhu
Melanie Harding-Shaw, A Problem Solved
Jenna Heller, kereru
Courtney Hilden, 7 Ways of Looking at New Zealand Birds
Amanda Hunt, Rangitata River
Glenda Lassen, Ma te Kanohi Miromiro
Lissa Moore, Kereru
Anna Woods, thirteen ways of looking at a tūī

And now for the big drumroll! The top 3 were absolute stand-outs, offering us finely crafted poems that embraced the theme, and reached beyond it too. We just kept coming back to them. A huge congratulations to:

WINNER: Hebe, suburban pukeko 
RUNNER-UP: Jan FitzGerald, Albatross return
RUNNER-UP: Joan Norlev Taylor, Birds, Sanctuary: Rarangi 3

2019 takahē Short Story Competition

A total of 187 stories were submitted for this year’s competition. They varied in length from less than 300 words to the maximum limit of 2500. Contributors covered a range of topics, though some common themes were seen. Several stories about gardening in retirement were received, some arriving on the same day. It’s possible a writing group had been working on the idea. More likely, it was just a coincidence. Oddly, two stories that appear in the long list featured vomit laced with pieces of sausage, (not a commonly observed literary trope). This was probably coincidental too.

Individual pieces were judged on their own merits, irrespective of whether the subject matter was original, or had been covered ad infinitum. However, it was probably not a bad thing that there weren’t too many sausage-vomit stories.

Authors incorporated some novel ideas, such as re-working a classic short story with a modern twist, or marinating bodily organs in vinegar before presenting them to a lover. Whilst fresh ideas are always a pleasure to read, some commonly used concepts were handled with originality, giving them an element of surprise. One long-listed piece featured a character with dementia, a subject frequently covered by contemporary writers. Viewed through Tongan eyes, the story showed a fresh approach.

Is it possible to have too many pieces on one subject? The proliferation of earthquake stories in Aotearoa after 2010 seems to have plateaued. Towards the end of this submission period, pieces featuring gun violence began to appear, for which quick-thinking authors should be acknowledged. It’s likely we’ll see more of these. Both subjects can be covered in a poignant way, provided they are approached with sensitivity and originality.

Choosing a long list was difficult. Some good stories didn’t make the top twenty-five. Winners and the short list were even harder to select.

How could stories that came close have made the grade?

  • The occasional typographical error won’t prevent an otherwise strong story from being selected. However, some pieces were sent without evidence of having been checked.
  • Verification of facts creates plausible fiction. Some overt inaccuracies made otherwise good stories less appealing.
  • Show rather than tell, where appropriate.
  • Check for consistency in tense.
  • Vary sentence length. Pay attention to rhythm and pattern of sounds.
  • Use figurative language sparingly, choosing relevant imagery.
  • Omit superfluous words.
  • Control adjectives and adverbs. Use concrete nouns where possible.
  • Pay attention to story structure. Consider pace, areas of heightened and relaxed tension.
  • Leave room for the reader’s response, whilst not making the story too obscure.
  • If told through multiple points of view, transitions should be smooth. Only use this technique if it enhances the storytelling.

A judge’s role is to identify well-constructed stories, evaluate their overall meaning and assess the use of language without bias. Personal preferences should not influence decisions.

The stories that floated to the top had a poignancy that resonated hours after reading. Congratulations to these writers:

Highly Commended:
The last moment − Bernard Steeds
A powerful wartime story that uses only a fraction of the word limit, but never the less has a huge impact. Every word is carefully chosen. Clever use of shifting point of view.
Peach Crumble − Melanie Dixon
A wonderful story featuring gardening in retirement. Beautifully told with crisp, inviting language. Once glimpsed, it demands to be read again.

Second place:
A Birthday − Andrea Ewing
A moving story set against a troubled backdrop in the Balkans showing empathy with the characters without being overly sentimental. Seamless transition between the main characters’ points of view.$

When Rachmaninov Held My Hand − Kath Beattie
A wonderful piece of writing that examines grief in an original way. Its multiple complexities are handled with the expertise of a juggler.

Thanks to all who contributed.

~ Judge, Nod Ghosh.

2018 Takahē Monica Taylor Poetry Prize

The word winner and, indeed, the concept of winning have had something of a bad press lately with the advent of Donald Trump. His binary world admits winners (usually singular, usually himself) and losers (inevitably plural and including everybody else).

I was uncomfortably aware of this repugnant paradigm as I read and re-read through the nearly 300 entries for this year’s Takahē Monica Taylor Poetry Prize. There were just so many astonishing poems could have elicited Trumpian superlatives, albeit genuine superlatives. My long list numbered over forty, which, with difficulty, I was able to whittle down to twenty or so, and from these down to ten, where I became mired in indecision. Back and forth, back and forth until I was able to settle on five and then – oh, invidious task – to make my final decisions.

The main difficulty was the old apples and bananas thing. Perhaps my best qualification to be a judge is my eclecticism. Poetry embraces a range of styles, forms and voices and I am very fond of most of them. My final group included soapboxes and boudoirs, ballrooms and laboratories. There was formality and experiment, personal statements and public pronouncements, hermetic puzzles and transparent windows; there were some tender love poems, beautiful evocations of time and place, elegies and outrageous laugh-aloud two finger salutes.

All of the twenty surprised, delighted or moved me, the best of them all of these things at once and I would like to thank the writers so much. The wider group included the writers (in no particular order of How to Make Better garden Soil; Crossing the Timaru River; Chicken; Sour Plum; Boots on the Ground; At Home with Doppler; Body; & Fissures of Memory. I kept returning again and again to When the planes hit the Twin Towers; A language so foreign; Great South Desert; Waiting for someone who’ll be a no show in the Natural History Museum; the glass angel fish from venice (the island of murano); Like Honey in Water, so are the days of our lives; Johnny; & Halocline.

The final group were those that compelled, that intrigued, that took me places I’d not been before. These were the pieces that were artless in their artistry, the poems with burrs that clung to the memory. I commend their authors, and these are their poems: Tree of souls; In Other Words; In the Anteroom, and This house.

Because the rules compel me, I would give the nod to This house. This is a lovely piece with its insistent voice, its disparate voices and echoes and its ultimate tenderness. Second place goes to Tree of souls with its jaunty demotic and delightful surprises. I could not separate two runners up: In the Anteroom, an image-rich portrait of  a twentieth century woman with great evocations; and In Other Words a piece of almost classical restraint and simplicity but with much depth and much musicality.

—James Norcliffe
October 2018

First Place: Robyn Maree Pickens – This house
Second Place: Nicola Easthope – Tree of souls
Runner-Up: Anita Arlov – In the Anteroom
Runner-Up: Lynley Edmeades – In Other Words

The winning poem is published in takahē 94

2017 Takahē Short Story Competition

One hundred and twenty one stories were sent in for this competition, and I have enjoyed the range of topics and writing styles. Common topics were revenge, love lost and regained (or not), and the recent death of a loved one. For me, the stories that stood out weren’t necessarily about new themes – they were those that told an old story in a new way, that made me feel as if I’d been transported out of my armchair, or used original, lyrical prose. The short-listed stories all had at least one of these characteristics, and sometimes all three.

The winning story, Romilly and Flawdinall, is a beautifully sensual tale of an early New Zealand settler, Romilly and her extra-marital affair with a Maori man, Flawdinall.  The rich imagery and unique turns of phrase drew me back to this story again and again –

The light quickens and teases in shades of pea-green, sunlit like stained glass…

Romilly fills like billowing sails, salt on her lips. Stars are diamond buttons, brilliant in black velvet…

He grinned, pleased with her sea foam whiteness…

A worthy winner, this story lingers, and I look forward to seeing more work from this writer.

The second placed story, Vinegar is a refreshingly unique story about a woman searching for her Romeo. The tightly controlled prose, scientific references and understated humour also drew me back to this story, and left me smiling each time.

The third place was hotly contested, and I’d like to commend all those who were also short-listed as all of these stories were worthy contenders. The Principal made me laugh out loud; I enjoyed the punchy, witty dialogue and the satisfying ending.

—Eileen Merriman 
December 2017

First placeRomilly and Flawdinall by Diana Duckworth
Second place: Vinegar by Becky Woodall
Third placeThe Principal by Rose Cook

The winning story is published in takahē 92.

2017 Takahē Monica Taylor Poetry Prize

The poem that says ‘Oh’ or ‘O’

Most of us will have heard of the first lines of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ famously knotted tongue-twisting poem, ‘The Windhover’ which begins:

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding . . .

I was trying to think of a poem that contains both Oh and O in it, or even Ah, that sort of sighing of which poems are capable but modern poems keep well-concealed. It means the poet has sighted something or something has got at the poet. It is a sign that something has caught the breath and for a second there is nothing more to say.

Gerard Manley Hopkins gets Oh and O in the space of three lines and even then fails to stop the falcon.

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the first that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

While I had no expectation of finding a Gerard Manley Hopkins or even an imitator among the 269 poems in the 2017 Takahē Poetry Competition I realised, after I had arrived at my personal favourites, that I must have been looking for something like that indrawn breath or expelled sigh that indicates something on the verge of being beyond words. Something that swells a poem like a sail catching wind, a mystery that remains in place when the poem ends. In the takahē poems it was done for me by a tent of a particular design and colour and a quick but not fearful exit from the waves following the sighting of a killer whale.

Today’s poets hardly go around sighing ‘Oh’ or ‘O’ in the manner of Hopkins or Keats and yet that feeling is still there, when senses drop to an arriving image. Nor does it take tortured or idiosyncratic language to catch: in the case of the killer whale just a little modification is noticed and draws our attention to something special. The colours of the tent catch our breath in the same instance as they do the poet’s: it is more than a signifier of survival; it’s the arrival of hope.

There was one other thing I found myself looking for: the relation between adjective and noun. Does this adjective really belong with this noun? Could a little more care have been applied? Is there another word that comes closer? There were some rather careless marriages, like MAFS (Married at First Sight, TV3, 7pm Sunday, Monday). You may think that poetry is not forensic but it is. Fewer words means a more rigorous search for clues, more dusting with fingerprint powder, more specimen bags. Sometimes a poem was almost right except for this last refinement.

In the end I returned to my two favourites: ‘The Tent’ with its material reward – ‘In welcome / the tent of my country has arrived here / before me’ and I can see the colours and the stitching . . . ‘Even the heat / of my country is inside the tent’. And the most moving line, the letting go of Twitter and Google Earth and an equable temperament: ‘I – open / to what I feel’. ‘One Summer: Orcas in the Bay’ drew my attention from its first line: ‘We began excitedly moving out of the sea – / not in a furious tumble the way / we would / at the sight of a shark’. Something different is coming, something that causes the bystanders to feel they’ve ‘been pumped with helium / As if earth’s gravity had loosened / its grip and all the parts of us were trying to / lift off.’ The ending is superb, not a let-down, but a polishing before setting the experience reverently down.

The two runners-up ‘The Junction Hotel’ and ‘The Fan’ are both delightful. (This sounds as if I am saying ‘Oh’ or ‘O’). The fire alarm at the Junction Hotel and the catalogue of disbelief, sirens, instructions, ineptitude, humour – a most marvellous stanza begins ‘I take a yellow broom flower. Tussock. Frost’ and the ending is perfect, catching the light on a pearl in a ‘jeweller’s window’. Anna Smaill walks on the beach in The Fan and the fan calls out to her ‘Thank you for The Chimes’ in the approved and unthreatening way to address an author. ‘She looked at me slightly askance. / I think she thought her audience would be younger’. The fan wants to be the perfect fan. Do authors recognise this? Think of it next time you see a signing queue.
—Elizabeth Smither
October 2017

First Place: Ruth Hanover – The Tent
Second Place: Wes Lee – One Summer: Orcas in the Bay
Runner-Up: Joanna Fahey – The Junction Hotel
Runner-Up: Martin Harvey – The Fan
The winning poem is published in takahē 91.

Takahē Poetry Competition 2016

Out of the 327 poems in this year’s competition, eight poems seemed, after numerous readings, to choose themselves. These were Spirited Away, My mother at the edge of town, Caves, The Huntaway, With lime wash, Aide Mémoire, Grandfather and The Call. I feel reasonably confident that other judges would have short-listed most of the same poems, although they may have put them in a different order. The competition as a whole renewed my belief in the diversity of possibilities that poetry offers, and reminded me how poetry expresses the nature of things, it doesn’t explain them. The minor triumphs of coming up with an original image or a particularly lively line, can keep us going, and plenty of the poems submitted did that. These days, it seems to me, poems often risk humiliation by talking about what we used to call ‘the soul’ and the mysteries involved in visitations from our higher emotions, but my two winning poems dare that territory with accomplishment. Spirited Away (James Ackhurst) starts with a sort of placeless, instantaneous visitation and then takes us on a mysterious journey where the intimate and the archetypal are experienced as one. Perhaps it’s a heavily disguised love poem? “Drink the coffee she grinds for you / in the priceless porcelain pencil-sharpener, / let yourself be guided to / the balcony with the towels like Tibetan prayers”. Who could resist such an invitation? It’s a quest poem tingling with mystery and a taste of the eternal. It dares unfashionable areas of inner experience that echo Mallarmé and Rilke. The same applies to My mother at the edge of town (Jillian Sullivan), another love poem about a journey, amalgamating the reading of a book by Robert Dessaix with a train journey to visit the poet’s mother. There’s the stalled emotion of the coming meeting (youth and age), views through the train window, memories of the poet’s grandmother, and of a lover, children, passing time, all held in balance by the touching ambiguities of the occasion. “I want to put my faith in lemon juice and silver,” the poet almost hopelessly cries out. This poem touched me deeply, as much by what it doesn’t say as by what it does. I found it almost impossible to decide which of these two fine poems should be first and second, but I finally gave first place to My mother at the edge of town because, I suppose, it feels a little more earthed in the heartache of the everyday. Jillian Sullivan also wrote With lime wash, which made my last eight.

My two runner-up awards were for Caves (Riemke Ensing) and The Huntaway (Janet Newman). The former is a lovely letter to friends, remembering “the cave at Muriwai, full of light and serenity,” and contrasting this with another cave down south, one dark with suffering where light never entered and “prisoners were kept / and I think of Te Whiti and children arrested in song.” It’s a fine contemplative poem echoing human as well as landscape extremes. The Huntaway (Janet Newman) is something more than just another owner-and-her-dog poem. It celebrates the nature of both wildness and companionship in a gently modulated evocation of a sort of shared loneliness. “I have taken him from his wild nest / but his wildness gives in. / He bows down, / receives my deviant touch.” It’s that ‘deviant touch’ that binds us to the poem as much as it binds the dog to its owner.

There were two other poems I found difficult to lose: Aide Mémoire (Mary Cresswell), which was excellent in its revitalising of everyday phrases, and Grandfather (Kerry Craig), a family ghost poem rich in Kiwi recollection.

– Peter Bland
October 2016

First Place: Jillian Sullivan – My mother at the edge of town
Second Place: James Ackhurst – Spirited Away
Runner-Up Riemke Ensing – Caves
Runner-Up Janet Newman – The Huntaway
Judge’s Special Mention: Kerry Craig – Grandfather
Judge’s Special Mention: Mary Cresswell – Aide Mémoire

The winning poems are published in this issue of takahe, and can be found by following the links above.
The two Runners-Up will appear in
takahē 89 (April 2017

Takahē Short Story Competition 2016


Anna Rogers

There was much to enjoy and admire in many of the submitted stories, and I felt privileged to be judging them. It was encouraging, too, to see such a wide and interesting range of topics and approaches. I was delighted by the strong sense of New Zealand as a natural and unforced setting, whether rural or urban. Noticeable, too, was the interest in examining the human condition in all its guises, though mostly from a fairly serious viewpoint; humorous pieces were the exception. Several stories were moving, touching and thoughtful. There was a pleasing dose of originality, too.

It is not, perhaps, ideal to include a cliché in a report on a writing competition, but as I read the entries that much overused phrase, ‘Less is more’, kept coming into my mind. So often the stories that claimed my attention were those in which the writers were unafraid of simplicity. Much of the best writing relied on restraint, on understanding that adjectives are not always a writer’s friend, that understatement is effective. The strongest stories also had confidence and authority – a sense of rightness, of command over the material.

Some writers were willing to go to darker, more challenging places, and it was this fearlessness that helped Helicopter to take first place. This disturbing, powerful and vivid story, which compellingly negotiates the knife edge of horror, grabbed me when I first read it and refused to let go. The author skilfully manages the balance between suggestion and narrative, and understands the power of detail in conveying atmosphere and emotion – the child’s homemade wool-haired dolls, the gothic darkness of the creek. It is a mature and memorable story, Hitchcock-like in its quiet menace.

Impressive writing ability and control mark the runner-up, Family Likenesses. This deceptively simply written yet confrontational story has considerable and lasting impact. Each word has been considered in building an apparently straightforward, idiomatic narrative that traces the desperate hope and fear of the female protagonist, and creates a strong sense of the violent act at the story’s heart by not describing it, and, cleverly, by contrasting it with her son’s later injuries. Once again, detail is employed with real intelligence: the blood likened to mercury, for example. The last sentence is superb.

The two highly commended stories, The Girl with the Spoon in Her Eye and Happiness, are both fine pieces of work. The former excels in its always credible depiction of a smart, wild, vocal child challenging family and social conventions, and is redolent with irresistible black Irish humour. It is original and spiky, and has a perfectly pitched ending. Happiness is especially noteworthy for its adept and natural use of detail – the farm, the loud, hard city, the food, the weather, the light – and for its unpretentious and believable depiction of emotion as April finds peace in the unlikely outsider, Jarrod, who is ‘jangly in the head’. Both the dialogue and the wry humour are quintessentially New Zealand.

First Place: Heather Bauchop – Helicopter
Second Place: Leeanne O’Brien – Family Likenesses
Highly Commended: Emer Lyons – The Girl with the Spoon in her eye
Highly Commended: Leanne Radojkovich – Happiness 

2015 Takahē Poetry Competition

Judge’s Report – Riemke Ensing

What it is about poetry that draws so many practitioners to its magic and yet often remains so elusive to truly capture? Go to The ‘Poetry Archive’ for instance and discover a vast empire of ‘poetry’, to be read, to be heard, and yet, somehow, when reading the many poems that are submitted for competitions, so few of them remain ‘in the heart’ in the way that poems or lines by Yeats or Eliot or Coleridge, say, ‘live’ with us all our lives. Why is that?

In this competition, there were 243 poems to consider.

There were attempts at villanelles, sestinas, haiku, sonnets, terzanelles and odes. There were narrative poems, lyrical poems and prose poems. There was a ghazal, and many kinds of complicated literary devices to surprise and engage the reader. There were rhyming schemes and ‘sesquipedalian mazes’ to keep one on one’s toes, but more often than not the rhymes seemed to impede, to inhibit, to restrict. Too frequently the winds ‘roared’, the waves ‘crashed’, and ‘ghosts and doubt were laid to rest.’ One often got the impression that exercises had been set to be worked on and the results often seemed strained and contrived. The kit with the ‘tools of the trade’ was, perhaps, rather too eagerly opened for a bit of a try-out.

In the end, the results of this competition were, I’m sure, largely subjective. And perhaps this is not the way it should be, but how else?

There were poems about loss, loneliness, grief, old age, illness, pain, mortality, personal hells, childhood, growing up, distance, arrivals and departures, foreign places, love, nature, seasons, violence, history, war, family, food, reminiscences, and people of note or interest. There were many poems about the self, without it going any further than that.

Mere competence at a given form seemed not enough. One wants a poem to ‘say’ something and grab one by the throat. Yeats’ lines – ‘two girls in silk kimonos, both Beautiful, one a gazelle’ kept coming into my head.

The dictionary was never far from my side and Google came in handy to check edible poisons and re-acquaint myself with myths and ‘the epoch of dinosaurs, yes?’

Gradually the 243 were whittled down to a possible 24.
Then 17, 13, and 8.

Sometimes an image stayed. The one in ‘Cabbage Tree’ (Helen Yong) about how the ‘new moon slices open the twilight’ or ‘your breath, a moth against my cheek’ in ‘Things Soft’ (Janet Newman), or how ‘the wind’s / cold skirt slaps the concrete tower’ in ‘ Sick Day’ (also Janet Newman). ‘Red Umbrella’ (Amy Menard) delighted with its imagery. ‘The Train and the Forest’ (Victoria Broome) recaptured that stark period in history, but is difficult now, I think, to come anywhere near the possibility of Ezra Pound’s 1928 notion to ‘Make It New’.

The title of the poem ‘How to draw a line in the water?’ (Kerry Dalton) drew attention, while the poem itself experimented in seemingly strange connections relating to the Christchurch earthquake. These were ‘unexpected gifts’ for thought.

And then finally there were 5 and I couldn’t draw the line any further than that. In fact I had considerable difficulty in having to be so ruthless and reductive. It seemed somehow at variance with what ‘poetry’ should be about.

In the end I don’t really know what drew me to specific poems other than empathy, sincerity of tone, rhythm, and simplicity. Of the five that made my ‘final’ list, ‘Messiaen Among Dinosaurs’ (Tim Jones) stood steadfast throughout the ‘elimination’ process. This was no doubt due to my own interest in Messiaen and the fact that just a short while ago I was given a reproduction of Frans Snijders ‘Concert of the Birds’ from the Hermitage Museum selection presently showing in the National Gallery of Victoria, in Melbourne. I think we all like to make connections with what is being read. But in the end, fascinated though I was, and ‘entranced’ by some very fine lines in this ambitious poem, I wasn’t quite willing to suspend disbelief in the way Coleridge might have expected. Certainly it is a poem worth printing and having other readers (perhaps less literal than myself) have a ‘go’ at it.

So that brings it down to the required four, but even at this stage I had difficulty ‘placing’ them in a ‘winning’ sequence. It seems all four (in fact five, if we count in ‘Messiaen’) are ‘winners’ in the sense that they stayed in the consciousness throughout the weeks that I was engaged with this project. They kept one’s attention throughout. As I read them aloud, I listened to Robert Frost telling me ‘the ear is the best reader.’

‘by now the graffiti artist’ (Gail Ingram) was initially difficult to read because there is no punctuation, but that of course reinforces the subject matter and soon one falls into the rhythm of this adventurous and exciting poem that attempts something quite ‘other’ than the usual pre-occupations. I wasn’t quite convinced by the last lines, but I liked the many ‘startled’ leaps the poem took to convey this very original, colourful way of looking. (Runner-up.)

‘The One Eyed Monster’ (Jackie Newell) delighted by the way the poet had captured the child’s imagination. Rhythm, metre, rhyme are all there, in the conventional ‘old fashioned’ manner we might expect from ‘The Child’s Garden of Verse’. The ‘monsters’ are real to the child and these familiar devices offer the reader or listener a sense of re-assurance and an ‘all’s more or less well with the world’ kind of feeling. (Runner-up.)

I liked ‘Summer with a ladder’ (Jillian Sullivan) not least because it reminded me of a painting by Christchurch artist Eion Stevens, and a poem entitled ‘Skol’ by Vince O’Sullivan. There’s a simplicity in the imagery but at the same time there’s an undercurrent that takes you in a different direction. Something perhaps about ‘dimming the lights.’ A nice sense of double meanings allow for different layers of interpretation. (2ndplace.)

‘Calling’ (Sue Wootton) made the most of knitting and sewing imagery to deliver an accomplished poem about keeping open lines of communications between friends. The opening idea of the childhood device creates a lovely sense of the passage as the poem progresses. Much is experienced and the reader too is drawn by the ‘string’ that makes a ‘steady tether ‘ for the heart. The last line especially – the use of ‘thee’ – suggested Martin Buber and for me took the poem to yet another dimension. (1st place.)

The other night I was at a ‘Composing Competition’ concert given by the NZ Trio. There had initially been 42 entries. 18 of these were workshopped and of these, 10 pieces were finally selected to be performed. There were no placings or ’winners’ as such and that seemed to me right. Each piece, as with each poem in the competition, had merit and something going for it.

I would like to congratulate everyone who took part in this exercise. You are all winners in the sense that with Ulysses in Tennyson’s poem, ‘all experience is an arch wherethro’ / Gleams the untravell’d world.’ Keep striving and keep at it.

T85Cover small

Riemke Ensing


1st Place: “Calling” by Sue Wootton
2nd Place: “Summer with a ladder” by Jillian Sullivan
Runners-up: “by now the graffiti artist” by Gail Ingram, and “The One Eyed Monster” by Jackie Newell.

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.

2014 Fiction Competition

Judge’s Report – Sarah Quigley

As the judge for takahē’s 2014 story competition, I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to dive into so many different worlds! I was struck by the wide variety of both settings and styles amongst the entries. It’s impressive to see how many writers we have who are unafraid of experimenting, whether it’s with narrative voice, structure, or both.

The gritty humour and clear-eyed realism for which Kiwi filmmakers are renowned are clearly also strong elements in our fiction. In addition to this, many of the stories were extremely moving. In spite of large-scale backdrops, there tended to be a focus on close and sometimes claustrophobic relationships, and the attendant emotions such as jealousy or grief: wonderfully powerful engines to drive short fiction.

I was particularly drawn to stories that in some way embodied the maxim Come to a scene late, leave it early. In other words, I was looking for a story that catapulted readers straight into a scene, revealing character and back story through dialogue and action rather than description – and that wrapped up with a satisfying but not-too-tidy resolution.

Confidence and creative energy were what made certain stories stand out. For these reasons I chose Thief (by Anahera Gildea) as the winning story. Each time I read it I was struck afresh by the confidence of the narrative voice: deceptively casual, colloquially slangy, yet underlaid with an unfaltering authorial control. The story is pitched perfectly between a rough, almost brutal insouciance and something close to pathos. The beginning is arresting and strong, the ending delicate and unexpectedly quiet. There’s also some great original imagery here. This is one of those works that takes an ordinary setting and illuminates it in such a way that it sears itself into our memories.

Freedom (by Kate Mahony), in second place, displayed a similar ability to launch us directly into the middle of a protagonist’s life. In just a few pages we’re offered vivid glimpses into three different worlds, and we see the chance moment at which these worlds intersect. The narrator’s claustrophobic life situation and suppressed rage is skilfully woven into the present-day scene. This is a deft portrayal of familiar everyday life and the tragedies – potential or actual – that lurk beneath. Characters are convincingly drawn with a few vital brushstrokes. Ambiguity is key here, and it’s dealt with beautifully.

The two Highly Commended stories, The Girl Behind The Bar and Step on a Crack, both display a blend of restraint and intense emotion. The Girl Behind The Bar (by Patricia Bell) keeps the focus tight. Most of the story takes place in an ordinary Irish pub, a low-key setting for some startling revelations. There’s a nice understated humour here, as well as a use of rhythm and repetition that shows a love of and care for language. Step on a Crack (by Eileen Merriman) is a contemporary coming-of-age story – a familiar genre that’s lifted above the ordinary by the springy style and the fresh unexpected images.

Sarah Quigley


1st Place: “Thief” by Anahera Gildea
2nd Place: “Freedom” by Kate Mahony
Runners-up: “The Girl Behind The Bar” by Patricia Bell, and “Step on a Crack” by Eileen Merriman

2014 Cultural Studies Competition

Judge’s Report – Brenda Allen & Cassandra Fusco

Judges Brenda Allen and Cassandra Fusco were again delighted with the quality and variety of the written and visual arts materials submitted. Our sincere congratulations go not only to the winners but to all entrants, and our thanks for making our experience so absorbing. We hope to bring you the prize winners and more starting with our December 2014 celebratory issue.

First Prize: ‘When Coal Was King’ by John Ewen
The winning essay is a memoir of growing up on the West Coast of the South Island in Runanga, a coal mining town. The writer recalls the initial shock of moving from the city and the various stages of community he experienced growing up as well as the relative freedoms of a time before helicopter parents. The essay is peppered with humour and good natured tolerance for the “long drop” that replaced the convenience of city living. The whole is tightly structured and economically written with forward momentum that never gives the reader doubt as to the importance of the narrative.

First Runner-up: ‘A Foreign Country for Old Men and Women’ by Jane McNaughton
This serious essay addresses a topic that is, or will be, a concern to us all: care of the aged. The writer shares observations of and concerns about the state of geriatric care in private homes that are set up as property investments. We learn about the caring but low paid and undertrained workers, some of the difficulties they face, and the nation’s general lack of concern. The essay is tightly crafted with forward momentum and is supported by references to authoritative publications.

Second Runner-up: ‘The Prehistory of Tauranga Writers’ by Diane Andrews (nee Pithie)
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.’

The judges have enjoyed all of the essays and are sure that you, too, will enjoy these works whether lively or serious.

Brenda Allen and Cassandra Fusco


1st Place: ‘When Coal Was King’ by John Ewen
1st Runner-up: ‘A Foreign Country for Old Men and Women’ by Jane McNaughton
2nd Runner-up: ‘The Prehistory of Tauranga Writers’ by Diane Andrews.