Wells Festival of Literature Poetry Competition - The Prizegiving - Winner's blog

Sunday saw the prize-giving for the 2013 writing competitions (Poetry, Short Story and Crime Novel) at the Wells Festival of Literature.

This year I had one of my poems shortlisted, and the prize-giving at the Bishop's Palace was preceded by a reading of all 27 poems that made the cut. Those writers who could make it read their own work, the rest were well represented by the Festival's own readers.

I felt blessed to be included in the shortlist from more than 400 entrants - particularly once we got to the reading, and it became apparent just what a high standard we were dealing with. I think a good half of the poets included were there, and everyone did a great job of delivering their work. I had a few family and friends with me and - truth be told - at the outset, the prospect of listening to 27 poems read aloud sounded dangerously akin to an endurance test. None of us felt that way at the end. It was a joy to be there.

By the time we'd heard all of them I just felt proud to have read my own poem in that company and not made too much of a hash of it. When the Wyvern Prize for local entrants went, deservingly, to Clive Birnie for 'The Flesh-Maker's Wife' - a superb fantasy (almost horror) vignette from the shoreline of the subconscious - I thought, well, that's that for my hopes of a gong, good to have been here.

I heard Trak E Sumisu's 'Stoney Street' as a compliment to the Rural Life Museum's current exhibition, Drawing Museum Lace, which I'd visited a few days before. 'Stoney Street' gives strong voice to Nottingham's 19th century textile factory workers and is by far the 'real'est of the prize-winners. It has some of the same spirit as Frank Higgins' deeply moving 'The Testimony of Patience Kershaw' (performed lately by The Unthanks). All of these works are vital reminders of the present as much as the past.

David Clarke took second prize for his evocative 'Song of His Sooterkin Brother', and prefaced his reading with a brief but helpful explanation of what a Sooterkin is(!). Having encountered them on the same afternoon, I can't help imagining the narrator of David's poem (who sets off to sea) winding up on Clive's Flesh-Maker's shore to be made again.

The judge was Sean Borodale, who announced each of his choices slightly teasingly with a description of the as-yet unspecified piece in question, which gave the announcement a sweet tension (though very different from the sickening kind of tension you see on TV talent show announcements). I wish now that I had been recording it when he spoke about the winning poem, as I thought as he did that he might well be talking about my poem - if he was being very kind about it! And then, what joy for me, it was indeed 'Catwoman' that he'd picked out of all the entries we'd been treated to that afternoon.

This is my first win in a poetry competition of this sort and I'm thrilled to bits. Thanks to Sean Borodale and to Wells Festival of Literature for making me their winner this year.

Hilly Cansdale won the public vote with 'Elegy for a Hidden Pool', whose 'strange grow of light' brought the 'Wood Between the Worlds' in The Magician's Nephew to my mind.

Of a great batch with not a duffer among them on the shortlist, I also especially enjoyed Ros Carne's comic 'Johann Sebastian Looks Back' ["Come in, Herr Bach," St Peter said, / "we're all delighted you are dead."]; Polly Atkin's 'Miracles of Light' [...May the beams // of your chapel be delivered by stags. May beasts / respect your flesh...]; Nick Pallot's 'Mr and Mrs Moore and Henry', which certainly outdid mine as cat poetry goes (sincerely!); Andrew Morris' 'Pubs' [There were four pubs, one for each bend / and hill, divided by chance, and finally chosen / like football teams and hats.]; and Derek Stanley's ever so familiar 'Tree' [And the same every year of course, / the finding of the lights / and the unpacking of the decorations / and the finding that the lights do not work...]. A bit early for that one, yet!

You can read all the prize-winning poems (and short stories, for that matter) on the Festival's website. I don't know if copies of the programme containing the entire shortlist are still available, but Wells Museum and possibly the local branch of Waterstone's are a good bet for them if so, and at £2 they're an absolute snip.

If you missed the link further up and haven't read it yet, here's my winning poem.


  1. You beauty. You deserve every inch of that gleaming trophy.


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