The 2023 prize winning poems

We are delighted to publish the three winning winning poems  from our 2023 competition judged by Philip Gross.

First Prize: Laura Theis (poem and video below)

Joint Second: Sara-Jane Arbury (poem and video below)

Joint Second: Steve Pottinger (poem and video below)

Also, many congratulations to the five poets whose poems Philip Gross has singled out for commendation (in alphabetical order):

Ken Evans

Naoise Gale

Vlad Pasca

Thea Smiley

Christian Ward

The Winners

Laura Theis (1st Prize)

in my mother tongue the name for grand piano is wing

in my mother tongue
words can be feathered

which turns them into
old jokes or proverbs

owning a bird
in my mother tongue

is sign of great madness:
you can accuse someone

with an outrageous opinion
of cheeping and chirping

if you want to convey
that you are flabbergasted or awed

in my mother tongue
you might say: my dear swan

which is what I think
when I first hear you play

as your fingers move over
the keys I wonder

what gets lost
in translation

between music
and birdsong

whether both soar above
our need to shift between words

then I remember
in my mother tongue

the name for grand piano
is wing

What judge Philip Gross said about the poem:

‘in my mother tongue the name for grand piano is wing’

Among several differently compelling poems, this one came through as a winner for its bold but subtle simplicity. Its small stanzas shorn of punctuation read like an agreement to walk naked in the hinterland simultaneously between spoken languages, between words and music, between the speaker’s past and present, between the familiar and the strange. This is a poem that both loves and relishes language, and points beyond it, letting the visible silence of its white space speak.

Writing in her second language, Laura Theis received a Distinction from Oxford University’s MSt in Creative Writing. Her work appears in venues such as Poetry, Mslexia, Magma, Rattle, and Strange Horizons, and anthologies by Candlestick Press, Broken Sleep Books, Pan Macmillan, and Aesthetica, amongst many others. Her Elgin-Award-nominated debut ‘how to extricate yourself’, an Oxford Poetry Library Book-of-the-Month, won the Brian Dempsey Memorial Prize. She was the recipient of the Society of Authors’ Arthur Welton Award, the AM Heath Prize, EAL Oxford Brookes Poetry Prize, Mogford Prize, Hammond House International Literary Award, and a Forward Prize nomination. 

A runner-up for the Mairtin Crawford Award, she was shortlisted for the Women Poets’ Prize, the Bridport Prize, the Margaret Reid Poetry Prize, the Hippocrates Prize, the Alpine Fellowship, and a finalist for numerous other literary awards including the National Poetry Competition and the BBC Short Story Award. Her forthcoming book  ‘A Spotter’s Guide for Invisible Things’ has won the 2022 Live Canon Collection Prize.

She lives in Oxford with her partner (a neuroscientist) and her dog (a lunatic).

Sara-Jane Arbury (Joint 2nd Prize)


Gobbet of God’s phlegm made flesh,
O oktō, O pous, globular mind-boggle

sucker-punching the concept of curious.
You’re crawling stone, you’re passing cloud,

you’re spiky coral reef. You’re a gobstopper.
Ocean’s soft vowel, locomoting with jet

propulsion, trailing streamers of arms.
Or are you the nearest myth to a gorgon?

You fondle rocks like endless lovers, press
bulbous mass down the ossified mouths

of holes. Taste what you touch.
O, moans Hokusai’s fisherman’s wife,

with a throat full of tentacle, and you
suctioned to the sweet salt of her. O,

boneless lover, erotic comet, you’re
too overwhelming for this world.

An alien equation maybe, with your nine
brains, eight arms, three hearts, blue blood –

No? OK, then squeeze through the chink in science,
octopod. Slop into another aquarium. Writhe

amongst yourself. Write mesmerism.
Or simply unscrew the lid off intelligence,

belief-beggar, and shake this little globe.
We are snow drowning around you. Ogle us.

What judge Philip Gross said about the poem:


This is a glorious brain teaser of a poem, both witty and serious, grounded in up-to-the-minute scientific knowledge and alert to the gaps in human understanding. Mimicking its subject, it reaches in many directions at the same time, with an exuberant delight in exploring the whole register, from the uncanny to the erotic, always keeping one step ahead of the reader. This is word and image pushing itself to the limits of the intelligence on which we pride ourselves, just to find the octopus (is it watching us?) still its unknowable self, just out of reach.

Sara-Jane Arbury is a writer, poet, performer and tutor. She has collaborated with many organisations including Oxford University Press, the National Literacy Trust, Ledbury Poetry Festival and Writing West Midlands, and is a former Director of the Voices Off programme at Cheltenham Literature Festival. Sara-Jane was a finalist in the 2021 Mslexia Women’s Poetry Competition and longlisted for The Plough International Poetry Prize. Her poems appear in anthologies, most recently Tools Of The Trade: Poems For New Doctors published by The Scottish Poetry Library. Sara-Jane is Writer-in-Residence for Herefordshire’s site-specific theatre company Feral Productions.

Steve Pottinger (Joint 2nd Prize)

7.19 in the evening, and the boy outside

New Street station is singing
a lament for us all, he sings

for the puffa jacket kids clothed
and camouflaged in swagger, he sings

for the electric bike takeaway riders
who criss-cross the city, silent

and determined, their two-wheel
spinning gig economy, he sings

for the husk of a lad who totters
tram tracks like a ballerina, trailing

a sleeping bag, who is going nowhere
good in his own slow time and is lost

to us, he sings
for the young couples, still

in love, touching hands
and clasping ready meals

heading back to city apartments
to share each other’s dreams, he sings

for football fans and figures folded
in the shadow of doorways, he sings

for shift workers, their aching backs
their fallen arches, he sings

for the quiet conversation of women
on their way to clean offices, he sings

for the is this isn’t this
flirtation of friends, he sings

for our mistakes, our wrong turnings
our missed opportunities, the bright future

that slipped through our fingers, the better
world that disappeared, he sings

and his voice, pure and soft, a gift
spirals out to join satellites and stars

seeking nothing but the joy of its being
an offering to god, if god is listening

and I think, we should all be crying
here, we should all of us be crying

it is 7.19 in the evening and
the boy outside New Street station sings.

What judge Philip Gross said about the poem:

‘7.19 in the evening, and the boy outside’

Sometimes a poem seems to take a deep breath and unfurl from stanza by stanza by the sheer momentum of its vision. Without a full stop in sight, it flows rippling over its commas and finely judged line breaks, through shifts and modulations but with no loss of momentum, right up to the humbling climax of its ending. This is a state of the nation address with no pomposity, teetering on the edge of metaphysics, all the stronger for its grounding in the utterly mundane.

Steve Pottinger is a founding member of Wolverhampton arts collective Poets, Prattlers, and Pandemonialists. He’s an engaging and accomplished performer who has performed the length and breadth of the country, and his work regularly appears online in CultureMatters and the Morning Star. His sixth volume of poems, ‘thirty-one small acts of love and resistance’ published by Ignite Books, is out now. His website is at 

Judge: Philip Gross

Photo credit: Stephen Morris

Philip Gross has published 25 collections, for adults and for young people, over 40 years of publication; his latest, The Thirteenth Angel (Bloodaxe, 2022), a PBS Recommendation, is shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize. He won the T.S. Eliot in 2009, a Cholmondeley Award in 2017, and is a keen collaborator, e.g. with Lesley Saunders on A Part of the Main (Mulfran, 2018), with scientists on the young people’s collection Dark Sky Park (Otter-Barry, 2018) and with artist Valerie Coffin Price and Welsh-language poet Cyril Jones on Troeon/Turnings (Seren, 2021).


About Janet Rogerson

Janet Rogerson
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s