The 2012 winner of the writing competition, Flora De Falbe from Twyford Church of England School, an Academy in Ealing, wrote her rationale in praise of Kathleen Jamie's The Overhaul:
"Kathleen Jamie’s poetry is a force as irrepressible as the natural world so intrinsic to it. The elemental is melded with the everyday: she doesn’t romanticise it, but conveys its magic through the rhythms and inventiveness of her language. In The Stags, we meet a narrator so familiar with the outdoors that she compares the animals’ antlers to “masts in a harbour, or city spires”: the manmade is out-of-the-ordinary, used to illustrate the natural.
This poem, like the stags it describes, has a stately, measured pace: its multiple clauses, divided by commas, and use of enjambment give it a sense of stop-start without ever bringing it to a total standstill – as though its two characters are moving cautiously, “loath/to cause fear” in the creatures they’re watching. Each line break is a held breath, unsure whether to continue and be “[led] deeper/” into the woods; or, taken figuratively, into the characters’ relationship. The Stags shows the power of shared experience, its almost hypnotic rhythm – “toward us, toward/but not to us: we’re held, and hold them” – drawing both reader and narrator on, so that by the end it has built up momentum and become unstoppable. The last sentence is split into seven parts, and perhaps it’s the prime number that makes its final clause just a step beyond what you’re expecting to hear: “almost anywhere” seems unnecessary, the understatement “almost” practically comical; and through this you can hear the narrator’s need to keep going, to express an attachment to her companion which she never quite voices.
The Overhaul is similarly enigmatic. Is the description of an old boat, awaiting its return to the sea, a metaphor for ageing? For mid-life crisis? A message that we should wait for the right time to act? Jamie isn’t heavy-handed with her conceits, and the reader is left to decide. The boat is an immediate, material focus which gives the poem its straightforward tone: unlike The Stags, it’s organised into separate stanzas, with short, practical words, nothing superfluous. The poem, like the boat, is aware of its purpose – to communicate – and cuts out anything that detracts from that, such as the word “away” at the end of the line “less than a stone’s throw”. Even sounds are used to distil meaning: the hard ‘k’ and ‘g’ sounds and the piercing ‘ee’s of “duck-egg green keel” give the boat a tough quality which contrasts with the long ‘a’s of the sea’s ‘wavelets’ and ‘spray’.
But the complexity of the poem lies in the question of who its audience is. The first line suggests a companion or reader, instructing them to “look – it’s the Lively”; yet by the eighth stanza, without any clear switch, Jamie is addressing the boat itself. Perhaps the tired-out boat is the reader, and the advice she gives it – “patience, patience” – applies to all of us? It’s this very ambiguity which makes her poems so appealing. Never sensationalist, but underpinned by a dazzling wit, originality and control of language, they absolutely deserve to win."
Shadowing Scheme Explained
Last Year's Winner