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15th January 2015

The start of a new year seems to have represented a time of reckoning for humans throughout history. The origin of the custom is to be found in ancient Babylon, 4000BC, when a common resolution was to return borrowed equipment and to pay debts. Word has it that they also reaffirmed loyalty to the gods. In Ancient Rome, the citizens made what is thought to be the earliest version of resolutions, and, charmingly, these often involved moral decisions such as being good to others. These were replaced in time with the Christian resolves of praying and fasting.

In Mediaeval England we find knights making the ‘Peacock Vow’ at the start of each year, a fresh commitment to the chivalry code. It’s an appealing idea, even if it’s been Victorianised, and reading one feels that these ideas underpin much of the vague moral code we still individually sense the shadowy remnants of today in Britain: eg. ‘To protect the weak and defenceless’, ‘To refrain from the wanton giving of offence’, ‘To despise pecuniary reward’, ‘To fight for the welfare of all’, ‘To eschew unfairness, meanness and deceit’ etc.

Today’s New Year resolutions are much more individualistic with stopping smoking, doing more exercise, losing weight, get out of debt, and enjoy life being among those at the top.

The ways in which you responded to the title were telling. Aside from clever semantic interpretations, which I always enjoy, there is a deconstructive melancholy to many of the pieces, a world-weary hopelessness as to the point of committing to anything positive any more. I am inclined to blame the culture of news in part for this – the way it has come to dominate everyone’s thinking and is unswervingly negative. Where writers have committed to resolutions of a kind, they have tended to be those of mindfulness – an active rejection of strain caused by fear of the past, present, future and universe which is thrust at us endlessly and aggressively, in favour of attempting to regain the celebration and enjoyment of small, frequent beauties and happinesses which pepper our lives, but which are subsumed constantly by repeated tidal waves of sensational ‘information’. One of the featured entries features the line: 

‘To exist in the twinkling of time;’

which I think encapsulates this attitude very nicely.

Our judge for this title’s entries was UK poet Mark Ward.  Here are his comments: 

‘Given the constraints of writing to a theme, the shortlist was pleasantly diverse with wide-ranging writing styles and interpretations of the given subject.’

About the winning entry: 

New Year

The last four lines of this threw me, but the contemporary language, originality and sensuality of the poem; along with its structure, tone and shape make this my overall winner.’

About the featured entries:

My Resolutions 

The standout line for me in this is ‘calligraphy of cormorants’ which is a wonderfully evocative image. I also like the use of alliteration throughout the poem.’

and: 

Don’t ask me of my resolves this New Year 

The coherent narrative running throughout, gives the poem fluidity. The language, although a little dated, works well contextually within the framework of the poem.’

 **


About Mark Ward

Mark is a poet who spent many years travelling the world working in a variety of jobs, including tuna fishing in the South Atlantic, set building for the film and TV industries in Africa and New Zealand and presenting a show on Alaskan radio. He currently lives and works in Grasmere, where he maintains William Wordsworth’s former home of Dove Cottage and its grounds.

His latest book is called Thunder Alley and was described by the late John Hartley Williams as ‘sharply written, deftly observed and shot with humour. What more could you possibly want?’

I have a copy myself and whole-heartedly endorse this recommendation.

You can order it here: http://www.pennilesspress.co.uk/books/thunder_alley.htm


AI

15th January 2015

My Notes