2023 Poetry d’Amour Love Poetry Contest Winners

First Prize

Shey Marque From the Ruffled Edges of Carnations

Second Prize

Gail Willems The Art of Living

Highly Commended

Faye Teale-Clavi Heart Waves

Elizabeth Lewis Everything, Singing


Beth Clapton Birthday Letter

Lucy Whitelaw The Trophy


—-   Judge’s report, 2023 Poetry d’Amour Competition  

As a child, of course I knew about love. It’s what got me born. But as a boy, I sometimes saw rough men in the street—railway fettlers, road workers, farm-hands, ex-miners and even swagmen—who had tattooed on the knuckles of one hand: L-O-V-E. On the other hand, I might see they had the initials H-A-T-E.  Love poetry competitions are not uncommon but I am yet to see a competition devoted to Hate poetry!  

It seems traditional for judges of the WAPI Poetry d’Amour competition to quote somebody much more famous than themselves to define the topic of ‘love’ so I have chosen this well-known quotation of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s:

—       Love does not dominate; it cultivates 

There were a large number of entries in the 2023 love poetry competition (nearly 400) and the response certainly bears out Goethe’s hopes for love.  

There are many more things that great writers, philosophers and religious leaders have written about love but I will spare you them because the selected anthology inclusions from the Poetry d’Amour competition have in their wonderful poems competently extended the meaning of love.  

As a general and preliminary comment on the entries, I found the contestants for the prize all wrote very sincerely about their experiences, hopes and losses and their thanks for loving experiences. They demonstrated ably what could be the three most significant aspects of human love: celebration, yearning and loss. In the process, they show how poetry can be one of the most appropriate vehicles for love. Is that not why importunings of love, paens of joy and, of course, elegies all call to be written as poems? And so, we have in this Poetry d’Amour anthology an outpouring of hopes, sadness and thanks for love received.  

This brings me to remind ourselves that writing poetry does acknowledge that it is a form of words intended for our exceptional emotional moments. The poetic form is not the form of ordinary prose. Poetry was invented by humans to honour and remember worthy moments in life. It is no accident that whatever form a poet chooses (out of history’s long evolution of poetic language) helps to make the poem stay in the mind long after mere conversation or other prose forms are forgotten. Although most 2023 Poetry d’Amour entries were in free verse form, I applaud those who felt their thoughts deserved to be rhymed or even expressed in sonnet form. Perhaps these are still the most often used by Western poets to write of love. A few entrants did choose the villanelle and other more elaborate forms, hoping, perhaps, they could be ‘learned by heart’. For what could be more appropriate for love poems? It is no accident that advertisers still invent jingles for they are also intent on ‘hacking’ into the human mind. Few of the prize-winners I have chosen this year have used fixed-form English verse but I believe all of them have written memorable poems.  

The first of my Commended entries is a splendid poem by Beth Clapton, ‘Everything, Singing’. This is a shorter love poem with an arresting first two lines:  

—      I am no longer in love with a young man
—      I sleep curled around the idea of him …  

Beth goes on via birdsongs and sunlit leaves to say:  

—      The girl in me reaches for the boy in him …  

I really appreciate the vitality of this short poem.  

The second of the Commended entries is a much longer poem called ‘The Trophy’ by Lucy Whitelaw. There is much irony in this poem, as perhaps suggested by the title, for I am sure many who have experienced being loved by another have had to wonder whether, as having been the object of fierce love and then ‘passed over’, they might have been merely another ‘trophy’:  

—      And after, when i stumble in,
—      i will scrape off
—      who you think I am
—      and who you think you love
—      and sigh.

Moving on now to the Highly Commended, I have selected ‘Heart Waves… by Faye Teale-Clavi, indeed a villanelle. The poem seems to celebrate a loving encounter down by the beach complete with a distant band playing romantic dance music. The villanelle form is handled skilfully with the two key lines coming together to end the poem:

—      footprints follow us covering the sand
—      I draw us close to hold your hand. 

This couplet neatly defines the way a poet can maximise the memorability enshrined in poetic forms.  

The second of the Highly Commended poems I chose is ‘Everything, Singing by Elizabeth Lewis. This landscape poem combines love of bush terrain and an implied loving encounter at dusk. The poet also anticipates the coming of spring as a metaphor for the burgeoning of love:  

—      Wash out my eyes,
—      so I see again,
—      everything already here. 

I have awarded Second Prize in this year’s Poetry d’Amour competition to ‘The Art of Living’ by Gail Willems for a beautifully constructed free-verse poem, albeit with refrain. The poem ‘The Art of Living’uses ‘in-setting’ of alternate lines almost to echo images mentioned in the previous line:  

—      We lived with the sound of a hundred galahs 
———————————– —        outside our window
—      We lived and listened
———————————– —       to the cadence of crickets … 

Yet it becomes clear by the end of the poem that it is addressed to a love now endured in absentia. The house with garden, which must have enshrined a living love, is now more a shrine of remembrance of the special shared harmony of living together. And so the poet concludes:

———————————– —       I live framed
—      propped against a wall of loss.

What particularly appealed to me in this well-made love poem, ‘Art of Living’ is that loss of love can still bring such a positive response.  

My 2023 winner of the Poetry d’Amour national competition is From the Ruffled Edges of Carnations. As we know, pink carnations are symbolic of loss and so this poem might be a lament or even an elegy for a loved one. However, the poet, Shey Marque, has composed an exemplary love poem with her expert selection of words that continually surprise in their freshness, appropriate reference and memorability. More than that, her words take up position in the lines with subtle yet sustained rhythms, suggesting mastery of the poetic form. Vide these opening lines:

—      Carthusian pinks, skeleton with lipstick kisses
———- —       smudged, we were warm and flushed
—       the day we became possessed by the light
—      scattering at sunset … 

Yet later we read:

—      Our conversation is coloured rose with the rustling
—      of leaves, the lapping of waves
—      on the beach, of steady rain, the pink noise
——–       of heart valves opening and closing … 

We read on, only to come to the realisation that the poem is not an elegy to a loved one. It is a celebration of survival after a near encounter with death. I am confident you will find Shey Marque is the deserved winner of this year’s Poetry d’Amour competition.  

And I leave all love poetry aspirants with this Biblical advice on the genre, from   1 Corinthians 13:

—      Love is patient, love is kind. It does not
—      Envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

Glen Phillips June, 2023

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First Prize

From the Ruffled Edges of Carnations  

Carthusian pinks, skeletons with lipstick kisses
————- smudged, we were warm and flushed
——- the day we became possessed by the light
scattering at sunset, the time we were taking the waters
——- from a lake so near the sea, salt crystals appeared
——- in the form of cubes,
the edges scratching away at our skin
us relishing the cracks and the crevices in the salt
derived from bodies
————- of water that dried up centuries ago.  

I would have painted my mouth for you,
——- not like a model in some glossy magazine,
more like a tiny crimson dianthus in a meadow,
————- loose, ethereal and pleasingly wild.

  Our conversation is coloured rose with the rustling
of leaves, the lapping of waves
on the beach, of steady rain, the pink noise
——- of heart valves opening and closing.  

I deaden my own inner noise to listen for you,
I sing to you, I pace
——- every day over salt-crusted ground with you,
talk over old memories with you
have everyone around us loll to the ground
————- in mad-honeyed silence.  

I’ll perform a thousand dry-runs in my head
————- until there are no more mistakes,
a shot of clove on my breath, tell you yes,
——- tell you this as if you are really there.  

Shey Marque 

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Second Prize

The Art Of Living  

We lived with the sound of a hundred galahs
——-                              outside our window
We lived and listened
——-                              to the cadence of crickets
We lived in the harmony
——-                              of marigolds and pansies
and riskiness of roses

I have lived with the slide of strings
——-                              rippling through veins                     
and long fingers
——-                              strumming my bones
I have lived in the burst of sun
——-                              freckled laughter
the buzz of pomegranate lips
——-                              and terracotta tongue  

This house I unveil is my work of art
——-                              I have circled back
filtered and compressed
——-                             I know enough to smile
now that you have left
——-                              I live framed
propped against a wall of loss    

Gail Willems

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Highly Commended

Heart Waves….  

footprints follow us covering the sand
as cold waves wash our imprints away
I draw us close to hold your hand  

in the distance soft music drifts from a band
water ripples under our toes to play
footprints follow us covering the sand  

woven threads in my heart disband
unfurls a hunger, as we amble to the bay
I draw us close to hold your hand  

romance echoes in the calmness of night, can
as we draw rhapsody out of the day
footprints follow us covering the sand  

leaving behind all that was unplanned
mixing thoughts of what’s okay
I draw us close to hold your hand  

shadow the coast, cavort all-over the land
now waltz with the waters sway
footprints follow us covering the sand
I draw us close to hold your hand  

Faye Teale-Clavi

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Highly Commended

Everything, singing  

Walking through the gully,
dusk brushes my ankles,
woodsmoke sings throatily
through the trees.
People are staying in and
lighting fires,
we are out
in the purple evening
holding hands,
sliding down the scree slope.
You wait for me at the creek,
the air freshening.
In the next two months
all the shades of green will
plump their roots
and shake their shoulders,
droplets flying.
Wash out my eyes,
so I see again,
everything already here.  

Elizabeth Lewis

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Birthday letter  

I am no longer in love with a young man
I sleep curled around the idea of him
the years I did not know. His shape
does not fade from my arms, my thigh
remembers the press of his, I hear
his breath rise and fall, dependable as the moon.
I gather the years to me, the tides
of lows and highs, the lap of harbour waters
under an ultramarine sky. A kookaburra
laughing in a rusted ark, sunlight dancing
through leaves in the park, or streaming
through a skylight. I hold my breath
as if to hear his whisper in the dark.
The girl in me reaches for the boy in him
and the promise of years to come. I extend
my heart to his as he turns sixty one.  

Beth Clapton

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The Trophy

a feeling darkens,
molten, it oozes.
and cools, hardening,
settling intestinally.

it is a heavy thing.

with it i sit prime,
facing some wet, cruel deposition
of silver that returns me.
i’m placed here deliberately.

like an effigy.

i twirl a strand of hair.
an uneven plastic eyelash is
blackened to the root.
as i paint skin on,

with an imaginary face.

oh, it is a hollow time.
each minute sees a thread
of myself pulled and snapped
and stitched again,

to make tighter.

but out there, in the world
 i might win your affection,
your desire and gaze.
i might win your love –

the trophy.

and after, when i stumble in,
i will scrape off
who you think i am,
and who you think you love,

and sigh.

Lucy Whitelaw

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