The entries to the poetry competition have been judged anonymously by the poet Grevel Lindop; here are the poems by the winners and runners-up together with his comments. Some of the poets have added their own comments on their approach to composing their poems: see the links to these below.
The competition entries were mostly very impressive. There were some very fine poems, and it was fascinating and rewarding to see how young poets dealt imaginatively with the theme of ‘Crusade’, a topic apparently so far in the past but also with such strong contemporary relevance.
Clearly many of the poets were also very conscious of the recent centenary of the beginning of the First World War and found connections there. Some poets imaginatively entered into the mindset of religious fighters, happy to die for what they saw as an overriding spiritual cause; others emphasised the shock and disillusion produced by the harsh realities of war; and some took more indirect and subtle ways of reinterpreting the ‘Crusade’ theme.
The range of poetic forms was wide. Some poets used rhyming forms, sometimes with repeated refrains, or dialogues between two characters – types of poem that work well in modern times but would also have been recognised as familiar by the medieval trouvères. Other poets used more modern forms, including free verse without rhyme, but still creating music from the flow of the words. The Prize Winners and Highly Commended entries stood out from among many poems which showed great thoughtfulness and talent.
Judging the competition has been a great pleasure. I want to thank everyone who took part, and I congratulate all the Winners and Highly Commended poets especially on very fine and inspiring work!
Junior (15 and Under)
This is a poem full of mystery and suggestion, written in paragraphs that suggest long breaths rather than ordinary lines. The speaker is a woman, perhaps a reluctant wife, perhaps a prisoner, who has come to the man’s room; and we suspect that behind her personal crusade, the larger wars of the Crusades have led to her situation. The language is original and vivid (‘this town with its belly at sea level’). Nothing is spelled out, but she links the idea of God being closer to a man than his jugular vein to her own action as she touches the man’s neck while he sleeps. Perhaps she seeks only his love; but we suspect that she is about to kill him. The sense of unresolved mystery gives the poem great power.
This poet has chosen the traditional ballad form, widely used in medieval poetry and still often used today. The poem has a strongly medieval flavour with its grim personifications of Lady War and Mother Death, but its vision merges in a dreamlike way into the modern era, with one knight being killed as he runs from ‘guns and mud’. The Crusades are blended with the First World War in a vision of continuing horror. Two knights are killed; the third knight comes home but his ‘soul and mind [are] Still locked in hell’s crusade’: he will never recover from the trauma. The poem uses its rhymes and sharp, vivid images powerfully to bring home the timeless horror of war.
This is a very original poem, in which the two commanders, both seen in their time as leading figures of chivalry, communicate in courtly and slightly detached language, ostentatiously polite and generous despite the being at war. As Saladin says, ‘Our chivalrous virtues are above our warring ways’. Saladin sends a doctor to cure Richard’s fever, and a horse when Richard lacks one; they consider an alliance (‘My sister Joan, an English Rose, could marry your brother’) and agree to a truce. The poem brings out the irony that the two aristocrats have more in common than separates them, and there is really no reason to fight. But even as they make their truce, Saladin asks ‘How long will this last?’ The poem brings out, with both humour and sadness, the strange paradox whereby these two polite, generous men also accept that they must be enemies.
Highly Commended (15 and Under)
I loved the vividness of this poem: ‘Tear down the crucifix and melt it’; ‘Break their bodies as Jesus broke his bread’. It conveys the energy and fanaticism of religious warfare, with an irony that shocks us and warns us against its brutality.
A forceful, punchy poem that would work well recited aloud, as rap. No words are wasted, and the blunt rhymes give toughness to this combative poem that sees the ‘crusade’ as racism and challenges it.
The poem cleverly uses an interesting rhyme scheme of a kind that the trouvères might have recognised. The confidence of the opening stanzas dramatically gives way to doubt, showing the tension between heroic hope and growing terror: ‘How can we fail, with God on our side? / Or are our gravestones already made?’
This is a beautifully-written, dreamlike poem with very vivid imagery and a tinge of surrealism. Many of the images are seductively beautiful (‘cotton turns to indigo, then to rose’; or ‘the buttered marble floor peeling under your feet’) but the overall vision is deeply troubled. It might be a glimpse of a city ravaged by the medieval Crusades, but references to firangis and ‘your burqa vision’ bring us into modern times, when religious conflicts continue; and the ‘eyelashes coming together’ make us actually look through the eyes of the female speaker. Despite some awkwardnesses, this is a powerful and unforgettable poem which I am glad to have read.
This poem excitingly chooses to bring the idea of ‘Crusade’ into school life, the daily battles of someone who is bullied yet resists resorting to violence in response. The poem uses plain language and clear rhymes to make strong statements, with just enough use of simple but original and vivid imagery: ‘in your skin courage rises, blossoms like a bruise’; ‘the knot in your tie is a sword in its sheath’. There is a real gift for sharp phrases: the last line ties it all together with what sounds like a new proverb: ‘Keeping peace is a war you must pray not to lose.’ It’s moving and memorable.
This is a delicate, subtle poem which thinks of the ancient city as a tree, an old, battered fig tree whose fruit is now left to rot and be eaten by flies. Written in gentle, unrhymed verse (short lines, mostly with just five syllables) it reflects on age and decay. There is perhaps also recollection of how the city was sacked by Crusaders in 1204 and later conquered in 1453 by the Ottoman Turks – when it would lose the old name ‘Constantinople’. The city was seen, like the fig tree with its mauve fruit, as something to be stripped of its tempting riches. In English culture the fig is considered as an exotic and somewhat ‘Eastern’ tree with an ancient history. Without spelling anything out, the poem evokes the fall of an ancient civilisation. The ‘f’-alliteration of its last line (‘a feast for the flies’) emphasises a gentle sense of shock and sorrow at the damage.
Highly Commended (Senior)
Very vivid and full of a driving sense of movement, the poem has sharp images (‘a tyrant sun’, ‘bile-black hordes’) and a sense of relentless doom with its eight-times repeated refrain, ‘God wills it’. A dramatic and lively poem.
A lively poem whose free-verse lines of differing lengths make reading it an unpredictable adventure. The fire imagery is developed excitingly: first the ‘inferno’ of vision; then the blinding black smoke of dogmatic beliefs; finally the warning: ‘All it takes is a spark.’ A strong, intelligent poem.
This poem conveys well the physical relentlessness of war (‘chafing breeches, cutting chainmail’) and its psychological brutality (‘Who are you now? No one of worth’). The three-line stanzas, mostly with rhyme, create a pattern like a steady drumbeat until the poem ends in violence – ‘A blow to the face, a sword to the thigh’ – all the more effective because nothing is resolved.
12 May 2015