1st Amore - Lynsey White, Norwich, Norfolk, UK
2nd Connections with Royalty - William Palmer, London, UK
3rd The Suspicion of Bones - Ashley Stokes, Norwich, Norfolk, UK
Runners-up (alphabetical order)
Nicking - Joanna Backhouse, Taunton, Somerset, UK
Peppermint Creams - Claire Collison, London, UK
Mr Chalk & Mr Cheese - Mark Dennis, London, UK
Brought Safely Home - Julie Hayman, Bath, UK
Lay-by - Andrew Lloyd-Jones, London, UK
Rose - Francesca Main, Dorchester, Dorset, UK
Clear Coat - Morgan McDermott, Illinois, USA
Black Wedding - Janey Runci, Melbourne, Australia
Little Penis - Lynn Stegner, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA
1st Walking Southward on O’Connell Street - Christopher James, London, UK
2nd Four lessons in falling - Helen Partridge, Liskeard, Cornwall, UK
3rd The Dressing - James Manlow, London, UK
Runners-up (alphabetical order)
Umami - Tiffany Atkinson, Aberystwyth, Wales
Belfast Incident - Leo Aylen, Melksham, Wiltshire, UK
The Necklace - Bruce Barnes, Bradford, UK
Boy - Jane Draycott, Henley-on-Thames, Berks, UK
A Strange Kettle of Fish - Celia de Fréine, Dublin, Ireland
Blood & Sand - André Mangeot, Cambridge, UK
Acceptance - Ronald Tamplin, Exeter, UK & Ankara, Turkey
On the state of the quantum theory - Dr Frank Tapiador, Birmingham, UK
Feet - Roisin Tierney, London, UK
You Ask to Read My Work! - Deborah Trayhurn, Wirral, UK
Nothing moves under a sky locked grey - Rachel Warrington, Bridport, Dorset, UK
Writers, being wordy people, are rarely short of an opinion on the nature of writing. Ask them about the short story, for example, and they will often say that it is one of the most difficult forms in which to work. Like many of the things that writers say (and write), this is both true and not exactly true. It is true that novelists, used to complex plots and the space in which to exhibit them, sometimes write shorter fiction that is over-complicated, lacking the sure, clean lines that the form demands. It is also true that poets, who may use language with great control and grace, sometimes lack the ability to navigate plot and flesh character when they turn to short stories. There are dramatists too, and screenwriters, who can produce superb dialogue, but who cannot describe the world in which their characters speak, or the things which happen when people have done with speaking.
Not all good writers are good writers of short stories, in other words: or to put it another way, not all good writing makes good short fiction. The short story has its own particular demands, and it is not - if it succeeds - a short cut to a novel, or a poem unpacked from its shrinkwrap, or a play with the exits and pursuing bears all painstakingly painted in. These are the ways to make its achievement difficult. The best short story writers - the naturals -are those who deal with the form on its own terms.
Who are those writers? Checkov and Carver and Woolf would be a good start, but there are less talented authors, like Roald Dahl and Raymond Chandler, whose strengths were so suited to the short story that they are worth reading just to see how they did it (Chandler with a gun, usually, and Dahl with whatever unpleasant object lay to hand). Anyone who intends to pay the entrance fee for a competition like the Bridport Prize should understand what they are trying to write, and although there were entries this year that did, there were also many that did not - entries that didn't really understand what the short story is about, or what it is capable of doing.
What are those term? For those we can look at the winners of this year's prize. The commended entries were often particularly strong in one area. Rose, for example, is a finely drawn study of a single character, Lay-By has a hyper-simplicity which suits the form well; Nicking is a vivid evocation of childhood innocence and guilt, without (tantalisingly) quite developing into anything more. The top four stories do more in more ways, Brought Safely Home is beautifully written, with a precise and elegant turn of phrase and assured characterisation. The Suspicion of Bones has a sense of humour, but is not only amusing and touching but also engaging, its protagonist pitifully believable. Connections with Royalty id full of sinister, slightly surreal cameos of the way those in power impinge on normal lives, and although it opens a little weakly it blossoms as it progresses and ends very well.
That just leaves the first prize winner, just as I kept leaving it, almost despite myself, on my thinning pile of contenders. With its Lucian Freud - descriptions of body, Amore is not a comfortable piece of work. It is not a nice story - Mister Dahl would have liked it - but in the end it was the most powerful entry, the heroine believable, the sense of place complete, the writing cruel and elegant. I can't say I hope you like this year's winner, but I suspect it will stay with you, as all good stories do.
The Bridport competition is unusual in that only one judge selects the winning poems. Expecting this to pile on the difficulty of the process - no-one to share the reading with, no-one to phone for chatting over the poems along the way - I was very surprised. It's true that the work of a solo judge is just as hard, perhaps harder than the work of a panel: a lone responsibility for reading the thousands of poems as carefully as possible, with no back up or fail safe, the lack of other readers to talk through the enthusiasms, mysteries and doubts which arrive as certainly as the boxes of poems. But the great pleasure which arose, particularly towards the end of the judging process when the strong poems were starting to emerge from the pile, was the fact that I would be the one to have pulled these startling, varied, wonderful poems out of the hat. And there would be no arguing over the choice, no compromise decisions. But the glad truth is that the best poems chose themselves, and my job - which, after all, was as much to be co-editor of an anthology as anything else - was to help shape the book you now have in your hands
Over the summer, when I was reading through the boxes of poems which were arriving, at one stage, almost weekly, I found myself hunting out the thoughts of other poets about what a poem should be, should do, should make happen. It's not that this was ever a matter of doubt for me: it's a mystery solved, or at least addressed, every time I try to write a poem myself. And perhaps one of the reasons I write at all. But the experience of reading thousands of poems in a matter of weeks is overwhelming - in a good way, because it inevitably forces you to question yourself, to sharpen up your ideas about the art. Of course, the voices I turned to didn't agree. But I tried to balance the urge to find poems which would fulfill Franz Kafka's desire for reading which would 'wake us up with a blow to the head,' would be 'the axe which smashes the frozen sea within us' with Wallace Steven's quietly resonating dictum, 'Accuracy of observation is the equivalent of accuracy of thinking.' And it's with the help of some more of these fellow-judges in my head - still not necessarily agreeing - that I'm reporting on this year's entries.
Many entrants had a vague sense that the poet should be 'a pulse in the rhythmic flow of generations' - in the words of Octavio Paz in his 1990 Nobel Lecture. And quite right. This was good to see. But all too often it resulted in an effort to reproduce traditional forms and metres without a proper understanding of them, an ear for them or much sign of either considered thought about why the specific sound and shape of a poem had been chosen or the deft, intuitive feel for it. There were lots of lovely exceptions, of course, and a particularly curious feature of the year's entries was the high number of pretty skillfully wrought villanelles and sestinas. It was as if a rash had suddenly broken out - but an interesting one.
There were epidemics of subject matter, too, especially in the sphere of public poetry: the Queen Mum, the Queen's jubilee, and, in overwhelming numbers, September 11th. One of the privileges of judging a major poetry competition like this one is that the reading gives you a snapshot of the things that are bothering people. It's as if the emotional temper of the nation had been preserved on a photographic plate: a true and deep record of a point in time. As well as the public and political events that captured the imaginations of the entrants this year, there were private concerns: many people wrote about loss and loneliness - the deaths of loved ones, an individual diagnosis of cancer, homelessness, the isolation caused by mental turmoil and ill health. I was very moved by many of these poems and found that at their best, they fulfilled Charles Simic's ambition for the good poem, 'To corner the reader and make him or her imagine and think differently.'
Emily Dickinson once famously wrote about her own experience as a reader: ' If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that it is poetry.' The summer of 2002 wasn't a hot one but I'm sure I took some extra chills from the poems that emerged to haunt my imagination and to find their place in this anthology. Read, relish and wrap up warm.