Judge's Report OH Competition

 Open House 2019 Competition

judge’s report by Khairani Barokka 

It is nigh impossible to compare one piece of affecting art to another. With the wealth of submissions we received for this year’s Open House Competition, my judgely task was made both more difficult and more enjoyable. Again, many thanks to all who submitted, and I hope everyone continues to write—we need all of your work in the world. The winners chosen were reread again and again, and each poet brings a sharp, distinctive voice to their piece. 

            ‘Silsila (Untranslatable, In continuation)’ stood out as a stirring journey. One that calls on the vicissitudes of migration and emotion, how we change the world as it changes us, “prayer as agate. wave as heron”. It is its own “Aubade of husked epiphanies”, a paean to souls in bodily movement; its own “smallness that invents / a sea from empty space.” Leaving us with a feeling of both expanse and intimacy, a reminder of how poetry burrows itself into the small of the heart.

            ‘Sudafed Brothers’ is exemplary, meticulous in its vocabularic choices, hard-hitting with each beat. Relentless “canyons of nouns unuttered but implied /beneath those sung”, it thoroughly sparks “live connections”. 

            ‘Tangerine’ is an unforgettable poem, with such emotional impact that as readers, too, “we would never leave his wake.” Amidst so much political violence in the world, this is poetry that rings with truthful horrors, with such forceful beauty.

            All the Highly Commended poems show exceedingly impressive skill. ‘Longship’ with its maritime spectre, its gorgeous “shock of sky,/ the gullet-slide beneath the floodtides.” ‘Say something back’, an affecting ode to partnership in response to Denise Riley; “checking his heart beat”, reminding us of loved lives, life’s impermanence. ‘Teaching the Reformed Pyromaniac Trigonometry’, with its many “chatter-lines chivvied into soffits and flash points”, on the student who proclaims: “Each god is a temperamental Zippo”. The timelines of ‘a history of the world as viewed            from the sports hall girls’ changing room (with wall-to-wall mirror)’—expertly arranged, innovative, reminding us of our origins in “formations and beings with no capacity for shaming”.

            Thank you once again, and long may we read your poetry.