Many thanks to all the Magma subscribers who entered the Authentication Competition. Initially, I thought I would be judging the poems on my own, but I was helped in my selection by young poets focusing on their professional development attending a session on editing at The Poetry Society. The project, ran by Julia Bird, Projects Manager at The Poetry Society, and supported by the Thistle Trust, offered 12 young poets the chance to take part in a weekend of workshops to explore their creative plans and generate new work.
Several young poets were averse to the idea of ‘editing’ with reasons ranging from ‘I’m not there yet’ to ‘I don’t want to be in authority’ which made me think, Are we ever there? and Who can claim authority to edit and judge? These are conundrums that continue to perplex poets, wherever they are in their poetry practice, and the only answer I have is, you can just bring your tastes and aesthetics to the process and they will invariably differ from editor to editor and judge to judge. Not only that, any individual judge’s tastes will also change and develop, depending on what they’ve been writing, what they’re currently reading or discovering, where they are in life, and what they had for breakfast. So, the whole endeavour is predicated on flux – not a very sound basis for decision-making.
With that rather lengthy caveat, however, winners must be found if a competition is to be run. And personal taste and judgement, with sincere consideration and discussion, is by far the best – if far from perfect – method we have. I recently attended a meeting where it was proposed that a poetry competition should be decided by lottery – without anyone even needing to read the poems, because of the idea ‘no one should be in authority’. Who would want to win a competition like that?
I hope the young poets who attended the weekend of poetry workshops will go on to edit or curate in whatever format – whether through collaborative projects, e-zines, online or print magazines – because their ideas are innovative, exciting and thought-provoking. They also made me reassess my own reading of competition entries. A poem that was instantly at the top of the pile as a winner found its resonance had waned on re-reading, while another quieter poem that demanded more careful consideration, found its way into the winning pile. This is how we sift and decide, whether looking at and editing our own poems, fellow poets’ poems, or if we are in a judge’s or editor’s position. Instant reactions are not always the most faithful arbitrators of merit and reading and re-reading is required in what is inevitably a long but rewarding process.
So, with thanks to all the young poets who helped me, the winners are:
First: Prove your identity by Kelly Davis
The three non-uniform stanzas are linked by the preceding command Enter … which creates a sense of threat and the fear of not being able to prove who you are. The plain, direct language makes no attempt to over-dramatise the very difficult journeys that immigrants and refugees must make. The bare facts and geographical and personal distances covered are brought alive through brilliant compression and only-necessary description. Look at how much work the delicate adjective ‘filigree’ achieves in the first stanza when pitched against the undoubted hardness of emigration. The poem’s final line is stunning in its brevity and significance.
Second: Save Me by Elizabeth Stott
This poem passed me by on first reading because I am attracted to form and am not keen on prose poems. There is much discussion to be had on what exactly is a prose poem, but one of the poets in the workshop said that they had also over-looked this poem until they read it aloud. This is a valuable lesson to any poet entering their poem into a competition or submitting to a magazine. On re-reading this poem out loud, the wonderful rhythms and dynamic push of the lines is evident. The distrusting tone and direct address to the reader creates a feeling of unease and suspicion that is successfully carried through to the conclusion. I also enjoyed the humour created by brief phrases and the single word Cough earning its own line. This poem feels like it has a noir back-story and a plot that could end in disaster.
Third: Unfair means by Duncan Chambers
A quiet poem that the group appreciated for its exasperated ‘confession’. In a digital, commercial age when we are all being asked to prove our identity or achievements in varying degrees to all manner of people and institutions in person and online, this poem captures the disillusion we can feel. The opening line grabs the attention and the litany of bald statements and ‘things’ in the poem’s first two stanzas develops into something much more personal and emotional in the third. Heart beats, the sound of rain – pulsing, authentic soundtracks win over, albeit temporarily, in a world of accreting possessions as proof of who we are.
If you wish to have a go at writing an authentication, here is an outline of the approach
Prove your identity
Enter: Personal possession
I own a filigree necklace, once taken
from Edwardian England to a farm
in the Orange Free State:
talisman of transit and survival.
I’ve been in Cumbria more than half my life:
North London Jewish girl adrift,
interloper, blow-in, link in diaspora chain,
drop in an ocean of DNA rain.
Enter: Mother’s maiden name
Weitzman was my mother’s maiden name.
Her father left Lithuania in time.
I find I am tied to a past over which I had little influence.
Can confirm birthdate, attendance at a mixed infants school from about 1960, where I learned to write numerals on a slate, with chalk, as we all did in those days. No paper.
Later, I mastered decimal and other forms of numerical notation at a school far from that place. <Insert Date>
The computer is a doddle. It remembers for me. I can’t wipe the numbers away with a cloth. But my fingerprint is a persistent nuisance requiring alcohol wipes.
But can write what the heck I like and deleted/delete it. Click Save. Not, Send, for ****’s
sake. Deleted. I can see you expect me to be open about memories.
Perhaps I don’t trust you too much. I know something of algorithms.
(Algorithm is an anagram of logarithm.)
My name is not as it says on the tin: invisible typing.
My first car was a Hillman Imp. Hardly anyone knows
that it was <blue>.
I didn’t get on with that car. It had a terrible choke and aluminium bodywork. No seatbelts.
You want the date of my marriage? The town of my birth? The street where I grew up? Where did I meet my husband? My favourite food? They are on different maps. Guess me if you can. There is a chance I’ll forget these things. This is an interrogation.
Captcha me, save me from sin. And robots.
I don’t know who I am, to reduce my life like this. Open the future. Save the future.
It’s fake, my thesis, from beginning to end;
there is no such village and if there were
the people would not know the songs that I transcribed,
the frescos would slumber undisturbed.
It follows that my degree certificate
is not worth the vellum it’s printed on;
the house, the job, the inscribed pewter tankard
at the back of the cupboard, should all be gone.
I tell you this with your head against my heart;
you can hear that the rhythm does not change.
We will not talk about it in the morning;
I lie awake and listen to the rain.