Results of the 2016 P&P competition judged by Jackie Kay

The winning poems chosen by Jackie Kay*

*All poems entered into the competition, were delivered with no identifying details to Jackie Kay, who read every poem before making her decision.

1st Prize: ‘Tethered’ by Colin Bancroft
2nd Prize: ‘The Wig-Keeper’s Storeroom’ by Ken Evans
3rd Prize: ‘A Student’s Journey’ by David Wilson

Honorable Mention: ‘She Won’t Eat Fiction’ by Tracy Davidson

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From left to right:Ken Evans (2nd prize), Colin Bancroft (1st prize), Jackie Kay (judge), David Wilson (3rd prize).

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The 1st prize winner, Colin Bancroft and Jackie Kay

Jackie Kay’s comments about the competition

It is perhaps too standard to have judges of various poetry competitions up and down the length and breadth of the country state that the standard for the entries was above standard. But in this instance it really was: way above standard. What was electrifying about this year’s entries for the Poets and Players competition was not just the wide and eclectic range of subject matters – from dictionary eating women, to seamstresses who sew the light, to onion brides, to Beethoven being turned round to see the audience’s applause – but also the range of forms and tones, the many tongues and registers that together created a resonating and distinct entry of poetry. It was difficult to choose – and I could have easily picked another ten commended. I particularly admired a number of strong poems about dementia, and memory, and a number of poems that faced grief head on.

The Poems

First Prize: Colin Bancroft

Tethered

All I could think about when you told me
That we had lost it, was that night
We spent camping in Braemar
And the wind funnelling down the channel
Between the hills at such a rate
That it bent the tent poles and pushed
The fabric almost into our faces,
As though there were great pressure
Being applied on the outside
And the whole of the world
Was sitting on our refuge, crushing it down.
That crush has come again,
Though different now in the silence
Of the stairs, and the rain is now your sobs
And the wind the startled breaths
You take on my shoulder.
That night I thought that we might blow away.
I could feel the guy ropes burying themselves
Deeper, holding on for dear life,
Knowing that if they weren’t tethered
In the ground that they could end up anywhere.
That tugging is you holding onto my shirt,
Pulling it tightly in your stooped sadness,
Holding you up. As though without a firm
Grip you might take off and end up somewhere
Beyond that valley, that field and these stairs.

Comments from judge Jackie Kay
1st Prize: ‘Tethered’ by Colin Bancroft

First prize is Colin Bancroft’s deeply moving and affecting Tethered. The use of the tethering is a brilliant metaphor for dealing with difficult losses life tosses at you. It perfectly captures the feeling of being out of control, hanging on for dear life, trying to take shelter. The reader isn’t told what the loss is and that is part of the poem’s strength. It is tough. It resonates. And ultimately, it offers solace and hope. Love, here, is stronger than the wind funneling down the channel. Soaring!

Biographical note:

Colin Bancroft is from Manchester but is currently working as an English lecturer in Hartlepool. After studying for an MA at Manchester Metropolitan University he is, at the moment, working on a PhD on the work of Robert Frost. He likes poetry, wrestling, castles and Wensleydale cheese…

Second Prize: Ken Evans

The Wig-Keeper’s Storeroom

Egg-heads, softly cranial, settle to their necks
on shelves under strip-light, pursed lips of
silent prophets awaiting re-birth, blind,
Oedipal, postiches of virgin Russian hair,
grown by girls on follicle diets, sold in swatches
to middle-men. Drawn through the hackle twice,
their ends evened for an equal fall, lustrous
curtains of concealment and reveal, a halo
for the person-to-be to shelter under,
wearer and wig, bonded in sweat and anxiety:
a prosthesis, both like and unlike, ourselves.

Comments from judge Jackie Kay
2nd Prize: ‘The Wig-Keeper’s Storeroom’ by Ken Evans

Second prize is Ken Evan’s brilliantly titled The Wig Keeper’s Storeroom. I loved the unusual glimpse this poem offers the reader into a world they might not know. Not only is the poem dense and thick, as hair drawn through the hackle twice, it asks questions about masks and identity, makes us think of the many reasons people wear wigs, from judges to people recovering from chemotherapy, and interests us in the solitary presence of the wig itself, a mesmerizing halo. It is a tightly knitted, cleverly constructed poem.

Biographical note:

Ken’s debut pamphlet ‘The Opposite of Defeat’ (Eyewear) is launched in June at the Worcester Literature Festival. Ken won a third prize in Poets & Players’ 2014 competition, since when he has been published in Envoi; The Interpreter’s House: Obsessed with Pipework and an anthology for refugees. Ken gained a Distinction in his poetry MA at Manchester University last year. In May he has been accepted on the residential Masterclass with Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke at Ty Newydd, near Criccieth.

Third Prize: David Wilson

A Student’s Journey

My parents told me in my ancestors’ time
state examination candidates got papers,
a day to write down everything they knew,
bowls of rice, and, for those doing badly,
silk rope for their more honourable course.

Reading all hours, I thought of a poor boy,
his ticking rope, his parents’ broken hearts.
I studied engineering, but still we learned
Xu Zhimo’s ‘Leaving Cambridge Again’.
I dreamed of its river shaded by willows.

Sometimes when I study through the night
I think of Newton doing the same nearby;
and of my mother, unable to write her name.
Did I tell you when developers stole our land
she sold her hair to buy my school books.

Comments from judge Jackie Kay
3rd Prize: ‘A Student’s Journey’ by David Wilson

Third prize is David Wilson’s A Student’s Journey. I admired the supple beauty of this poem, it is a paean to education. The details are memorable, startling – the silk rope, the mother having to sell hair in order to buy schoolbooks. It is a dignified, understated poem that makes you think of the sacrifices people will make to have that most important of all things, an education, so that the dream of ‘the river shaded by willows’ can become a reality.

Biographical note:

David Wilson lives in North Yorkshire. He turned to poetry a few years ago after reading ‘Midsummer, Tobago’ by Derek Walcott on the wall of a hospital waiting room in Leeds. His novel ‘Love and Nausea’ is published by Abacus, Little Brown. A pamphlet of his poems about mountaineering, titled A Question of Balance, will be published by Smith/Doorstop in late May. It includes David’s poem Everest, which won last year’s Poets and Players competition.

Honorable Mention

‘She Won’t Eat Fiction’ (Tracy Davidson)

Information about the Competition

351 poets (212 women and 139 men) submitted a total of 848 poems. We offered both postal and online entry options, 62 poets chose to submit by post and 289 online.

This was an excellent and encouraging number and the overall standard was very pleasing. We were delighted to welcome Jackie Kay as our judge, and offer our thanks and appreciation for her enthusiasm, professionalism and attention to detail.

We received entries from all over the United Kingdom with many from Scotland in particular. Overseas entries included: Republic of Ireland, Malta, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Romania, France, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Germany, Nigeria, USA , New Zealand and Australia. A truly international event.

All entries were clearly addressed and, without exception, appropriate payments included. Thank you to all our entrants for your help in this and for your interest in our competition.

Thank you to everyone involved in the organisation, promotion and success of the fourth Poets and Players Competition. Please look out for future announcements about the 2017 competition.

Videos of the winners performing their poems will be available shortly on our Youtube Channel.

Any feedback relating to any aspect of the competition is most welcome.

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