The winners of the 2022 competition, judged by Kim Moore (the poems are below as are videos of the three winners reading their winning poems).
1st prize: Isabelle Thompson, ‘The Weight of Sparrows’
2nd prize: Kathryn Bevis, ‘The Smuggler’
3rd prize: Rosie Rockel, ‘Whooper Swans’
Julia Deakin, Rosie Jackson, Justina Hart, Grevel Lindop, Day Mattar, Maria Ferguson
Judge Kim Moore’s Report:
I always enjoy judging competitions and have said before that it feels like getting a glimpse into hundreds of windows, scattered far across the country, perhaps the world. I thought it would be relatively easy to get down from nearly a 1000 poems to a manageable number. I don’t know if it is the calibre of entrants that this competition attracts because of the regular reading series that runs, but the quality was very high, and it took me a long time, probably twice as long as it would normally take me to get down to a long list.
This year I also noticed a larger-than-usual number of ekphrastic poems – perhaps this is the legacy of the Poets and Players reading series and its strong association with the beautiful surroundings of the Whitworth Art Gallery. I am ashamed to admit, previous to reading for this competition, I had an unfounded and illogical prejudice towards ekphrastic poetry – often finding myself impatient with poems that needed the reflection of another work of art to truly sing. However, after reading the many wonderful entries which in fact didn’t need the painting or work of art to lift from the page, I am now a convert! I’ve even given first place to one. I might even try and write my own.
So it took me a lot longer than expected to get from 1000 to 150, and then even longer to get down to 50 poems and a week to get from there to my final few. I feel really sad still when I think of those last 50 poems, that their authors might give up on them, thinking they have no value, because they weren’t in the top three. Please don’t! Your poem may have been one of the ones that just missed out and I don’t like to think of any of those poems languishing unrecognised or unloved. I hope you send them out into the world again.
I would like to say congratulations to everyone who submitted a poem, who put a small piece of themselves out there – thank you for making my job so enjoyable.
Isabelle Thompson: 1st Prize
Isabelle Thompson is a graduate with Distinction of Bath Spa University’s MA in Creative Writing, where she now works part time as a research assistant. She has been published or has work forthcoming in The Interpreter’s House, Rattle, 14 Magazine and The New Welsh Review, among others. She was a finalist in the 2021 Mslexia poetry competition. Her reviews appear regularly in Sphinx
This poem was at the top of the pile – I think it was the fourth poem I read, and it completely took me by surprise. It actually frightened me – I didn’t expect to find something so good so quickly. I knew after one reading that it would be in my top three. It has a strange, surreal quality to it which begins in the first sentence and continues throughout but this strangeness is always held in check by its own inner logic. I was transfixed by the imagery used throughout – the sparrows pouring from the empty eye sockets of a horse, the horse as an angry moon. The idea of the removal of eyes as a kindness. This is a poem about looking – who gets to look, who decides who looks, and about what happens when we look away. It’s a poem that leaves readers room to move around inside its empty spaces, inside its mysteries. Watch how that sparrow flies from a woman’s chest to the eye of a horse in despair. Doesn’t it make you want to follow?
Kathryn Bevis: 2nd Prize
Kathryn Bevis is a neurodivergent poet and poetry teacher. She was Hampshire Poet Laureate in 2020-21 and is the Selected Poet for Magma’s Solitude issue Her poems have appeared in Poetry Wales, Poetry Ireland Review, The London Magazine, Mslexia, and The Interpreter’s House. In 2019, she won the Poets & Players and the Against the Grain competitions. This past year, her poems have come second in the York Poetry Prize and the Edward Thomas Prize, have been commended in the Verve Poetry Competition and longlisted for the National Poetry Competition. Her pamphlet manuscript was highly commended in the 2021 Mslexia Pamphlet Competition. She designs and delivers Poetry for Wellbeing courses for adults in mental health settings, substance-misuse recovery settings, and prisons and is working towards her first collection.
It took me a lot of reading to find this poem – I think this was entrant 364! I loved the playfulness of this straight away, and the way the rhymes seemed to slip around on the lines, in the same way the reader’s perception of the ‘she’ slips from being someone completely in control, who is taking everything they can when leaving a relationship or situation, to being someone who is abused, and finally escaping. This darkness that erupts at the end, with the revelation of the ‘he’ shouting, comes as a surprise, and is more chilling because of this. By the end of the poem, the strangely detached voice that tells this story, that makes the comments ‘What a boon!’ and ‘how droll!’ enacts all of our complicity when we sit back and watch violence acted out. I also found myself strangely and disturbingly sympathetic to the figure at the end of the poem ‘crouched on all fours, howling at the moon’.
Rosie Rockel: 3rd Prize
Here is entrant number 436 – this poem I put to one side to come back to and read more slowly later on, and unlike the other two poems, it grew on me with every re-reading. It feels as if this is a poem that has the scope of a novel – it starts at the end of a relationship, although we are not told what caused this ending. The description of the swans as ‘Big lovely swoopy’ (I won’t go on – read the poem!) could just as well describe this poem – it swoops along, creating its own charge of energy, from one train of thought to the next, full of wonderful details – the ‘bluebottle corpses’, the unheeded advice that ‘You can’t fall in love / with someone’s potential’, the strange and heartbreaking realisation that ‘When I think of you, / I think of something just out of sight’. It’s exploration of beauty and love as something we can never quite see, and its detailing of the way the mind searches and tries to make meaning from pain, is both fearless and compelling.