The 2023 winners from our 17th competition are below. Scroll down to view judges’ comments. To read previous years winning poems check out our anthologies page.
The 2023 Competition
1st Prize Pegasus Rising – Jenny McRobert (Sutton Scotney, Winchester, England)
Jenny McRobert was born in Hackney, London and now lives in Winchester. Making the transiton from Psychologist to poet has been Jenny’s most pleasurable journey. Silver Samovar, Jenny’s debut collection, was published in 2021 by The High Window Press. Single poems have been published in Dreamcatcher, and online in Ink Sweat &Tears, The High Window and Words for the Wild. She has also done well in competitions:
At The Marquee in my sister’s dress was highly commended for the Binsted Prize 2023 (South Down Poetry Competition). Pegasus Rising and Talking to a Dragonfly in Great Ormond Street Hospital were shortlisted for the Plough Poetry Prize in 2023. The Giraffe in the Room was commended for the Ware Poets Competition 2022, Cherry Brandy was shortlisted for the 2021 Fish Poetry Prize and Sailing the high seas with my brother longlisted for the Plough Poetry Prize 2021,
Jenny lives in a house on the Watercress Way with her husband and a cheeky garden hedgehog. She a founder member of Winchester Muse poetry platform and helps to run their ‘hybrid’ monthly events.
2nd Prize The Poet’s Way – Partridge Boswell (Woodstock, Vermont, USA)
Partridge Boswell is the author of Some Far Country (Grolier Poetry). His poems and essays have recently surfaced in Poetry, The Gettysburg Review, Salmagundi, The American Poetry Review, Poetry Ireland Review, december, Plume, Southword, Hotel Amerika, Prairie Schooner and The Moth. Co-founder of Bookstock Literary Festival, he troubadours widely with the poetry/music group Los Lorcas, whose debut release Last Night in America (2020) is available on Thunder Ridge Records.
3rd Prize My father’s last pint – Michael W Thomas (Stourport-on-Severn, Worcestershire, England)
Michael W Thomas is an award-winning, internationally-known poet, fiction writer and dramatist. He is also a singer, musician and composer. He has published numerous books, including poetry, novels and drama. For many years he was poet-in-residence at the Robert Frost Poetry Festival, Key West, Florida, USA.
4th Greenan Castle Ruins – Julie Sheridan (Barcelona, Spain)
This gorgeous sestina is a tour de force both technically and emotionally, full of sensory detail and tender memories that draw us towards a final focus of exquisite imagery.
5th Stone Ground – Adele Evershed (Wilton, USA)
This heart rending poem is a masterpiece of control as the poet grapples with grief.
6th It never happened – Denise O’Hagen (Northbridge, Australia)
The wry humour and unsettling insight of this poem were real highlights.
The remaining top twenty highly commended in no particular order:
When Wittgenstein Met Hitler – James Knox Whittet (Swaffham, Norfolk, England)
On the 253 bus without a palm cross – Jenny McRobert (Sutton Scotney, Winchester, England)
Looking back at me – Philip Harris (Cardiff, South Glamorgan, Wales)
Long Before Me – Philip Burton (Bacup, Lancashire, England)
Ruin – Sharon Black (Gardoussel, France)
My Father haunts Charing Cross Road – Jenny McRobert (Sutton Scotney, Winchester, England)
I Return To Lisbon – David Brady (Stockton on Tees, England)
The year my daughter moved to London – Bernie Crawford (Co. Galway, Ireland)
The Curfew Breakers– Sue Davies (Fareham, Hampshire, England)
A windfall in lockdown – Philip Dunn (Nannerch, Flintshire, Wales)
Turn – Michael W Thomas (Stourport-on-Severn, Worcestershire, England)
A room of one’s own – Sharon Black (Gardoussel, France)
Carrauntoohil – Anne Connolly (Edinburgh, Scotland)
The Torn Dust Jacket – Tony Peyser (Altadena, USA)
In addition Mick also liked the following poems / poets, who also deserve a mention. In no particular order they are as follows:
Somewhere General Custer Stares at a Cheese Plant – Matthew M C Smith
Keeping House – Jemima Roberts
Ten Years On – Mary Gilonne
Animal within an animal – Fiona Perry
Signs – Jade Brooke-Langham
Fin de Siecle – Elizabeth Coatman
A blaze of flaming red-orange petals – Pnina Shinebourne
Surgeon Says – Naoise Gale
The almost-morning two days before her 69th birthday – Bernie Crawford
Kenfig – Judith Wozniak
The prayerbook calls them “those of riper years” – Erin Clark
On the River Isis – Sue Davies
A man from Kerioth – Anne Connolly
Isabella Leonarda’s Sonata number 12 – Philip Dunn
Results were announced on our web site, Facebook Group and Twitter on Monday 24th July 2023. We have also informed the UK national press, Literature Wales, Pontypridd Observer and associated district newspapers, SW Echo, the Western Mail, BBC Wales, Wales Arts Review, Nation Cymru, Ponty Pages, Storyville Books and RCTCBC as well as many organisations on our mailing list. Thanks to Mick Evans for judging this years competition, and thanks also to all those who entered and look forward to reading your work next year.
It has been a privilege to read the poems in this competition. The range and depth of feeling, the craft, the lightness of touch with such power of suggestion have been, on many occasions, breathtaking. Poetry grips the emotions, in this competition often in heart rending ways, but ultimately, always challenging us, finding fresh ways to re-examine and share experience. Reading works of such skill and variety has given me immense pleasure, and enormous respect for writers who have laboured to craft their work, and constantly found ways to delight, surprise, and impress, with their candour and clarity. I thank everyone for such commitment, and for sharing your love of language.
This year, as expected, there were a wide range of themes: ageing, ecology, deeply moving memories of loved ones, poems of loss, sexuality, politics, lockdown, the plight of refugees. All the poems displayed real accomplishment and originality in their handling of challenging and sensitive subjects.
There are so many poems I keep returning to. They will surely find their place in collections and other publications, and in their skill, compassion, and humanity, receive the recognition they so richly deserve.
1st PEGASUS RISING – Jenny McRobert
This complex and sophisticated poem wears its artistry lightly.
Rooted in an enduring sorrow, this is a poem of total accomplishment and control in its handling of immensities and range: from cosmic scale to earthly realities and human frailty.
The poetic task is huge, but always humanised. It shifts and unsettles, between the constellation of the title and the visceral details of infancy, observed so keenly and poignantly. It is a poem of great courage, understanding the universe is cold to us, acknowledging that longing is an inescapable part of life, and how unbearably difficult that is.
In a poem that is about emotional control, and at times, in our weakness, the lack of it, the poem maintains a dignity that is unafraid. Even the outburst, “I would have taken it all: the poo and the piss,” is elevated by the context of the poet’s acceptance of life’s realities, with the language moving seamlessly to the galactic in phrases like “their milky way skin”, and “unborn shooting stars…that never came to earth”.
The unspoken, unbearable reality of the situation is so carefully suggested in subtle ways: “to escape our own light pollution,” “Moths turn away,” “our tiny blue marble, slightly off kilter.”
The poem is courageously honest and uncompromising: We may expect to find solace in love, in the form of human touch, and to what, in other circumstances it might lead. Against the impersonality of the universe all we have is the solace of each other when faced with enduring sadness, but the ending’s sense of tenderness is undermined when we see the hand “casually brushing against mine”.
But what takes this poem to another level is its use of the mythical dimension: with Pegasus, in classical mythology the spirit of poetry, the poet lets us understand that the very coldness and scale of the cosmos are in themselves a source of wonder and inspiration.
We are earthbound, with the spirit of poetry rising from sorrow, just as the poem remains rooted in its poignant references to the wooden horse of childhood, and the intimate moments of parenting so keenly imagined and longed for. If even human tenderness is undermined, then the spirit of creativity may be our only solace, the temporary and the enduring quality of the creative process, and the immortality of art, sublimating the conflict of the emotions in a bleak universe.
Pegasus, poetic inspiration, is a mythic quality rising in this very specific instance of sorrow, but is also a symbol of the human spirit of creativity, questioning our place, and granting us a form of agency.
This achingly beautiful poem haunted me. The awesome beauty of the universe is acknowledged, but also is the fact that that it seems, in Emily Bronte’s phrase, “a mighty stranger”.
This is a poem that makes the personal universal, but part of its great achievement is in making the universal personal. Pegasus will never be “reigned in to circle in a sawdust solar system”. The childhood joys of rocking horses and merry go rounds can never be for this poet, yet still the poetic spirit rises, triumphant and untamed.
2nd THE POET’S WAY – Partridge Boswell
By contrast, in another poetic flight, The Poet’s Way has a breathless quality in its emotional landscape. It is a day, a trek, and a way of life, full of linguistic potency, and suggestive imagery that carries us concurrently out to the unyielding terrain and into the poet’s mind.
In its inclusivity, with the use of you/second person, the poem challenges and aids us to live within the poet’s intensity, their faith, or lack of it, (we pass “Our Lady of the Wayside” without stopping), in the poet’s constant endeavour to seek meaning from everything encountered.
The glancing reference to Wordsworth’s Daffodils (“poet’s cloud”) and his poetic theory of “emotion recollected in tranquility” seems not to apply here as we hasten along, until we reach the ending when suddenly everything falls into place, and “you toss your entire life in anyway.” But feel the weighty ambiguity of that phrase.
The tragedy of the three drowned girls adds to the “brutal beauty” of the cliffs, the human situation brought before us in “beauty too breathless to be held, or loss too sad to retell”. This image of young lives lost into a wild landscape haunts, and gives us a vision of the human condition, frail and irretrievable in an unyielding universe.
By the end of the poem it seems we are regressing to the womb, with the tempting summons of our mother’s “selkie voice”, but even this is lost to us, for it is “drifting out with the tide”. Nonetheless, its “joyous mournful moan” reminds us of the voice of poetry itself, born of our sorrows, our longings, our desire to draw meaning from our experiences and vision of the world, which is the ultimate quest of poetry.
In spite of the references to terrible events and the seriousness of the theme, there is a sustained exhilaration in the poem that bears all. In this respect the title is especially significant, asking questions about the way poetry deals with experience, and transmutes it to the visionary. This poem stands as a manifesto for the poetic sensibility.
I loved this poem for the way it carries us on an inspirational journey, for the vigour of its language, its wealth of images that capture life’s experience of wonder, and its pace, that reminds us that all this may be over too soon.
3rd MY FATHER’S LAST PINT – Michael W Thomas
This tender poem is belied by its low key title. This is a poem of kinds of doubt, self doubt, religious doubt. The poet yearns for a sense of belonging in their wanderings, to be located in places, searching for solace and recognition in the memories of those lost. The poet has travelled far, feels himself to be wandering, and is still searching. We are drawn into a world of keenly observed detail, the “all-but-froth of his last pint”, of “holiday-camp bars, tic-tac compounds”.
Beautifully crafted, distanced, in its measured tone we have a portrayal of a life based around chance, hope, and despair, a constant grappling with demons. The locale is evoked with great skill in “the next crook-finger valley along”. And we are given a wonderfully human moment in the dying man’s conversation with the ambulance-man. The poignancy of the ending is palpable in its vision of the self doubter amongst “the purposeful, the sure, the backs retreating”.
The poem deals with religion and superstition that in the end can offer no solace or certainty. The parallel with Doubting Thomas is handled subtly, never overplayed. The poignant image of his father’s final assessment of life as “a firefly that tempts and defies the cupping of hands” is powerful in its portrayal of frailty, and the all too human attempt to capture something living and meaningful, in a gesture that is like, but is not, the clasping of hands in prayer.
The final verse draws back, distancing from life, but at the same time capturing a look, a moment, and the sad recognition of a “biding fright”, before the poet sees himself like his father, who must also become “lost to memory”.
I was immensely moved by the quiet dignity and candour of this poem, its craftsmanship, its tender and respectful imagery, and its compassion.
Mick Evans, July 2023
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