The Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre ran its International Poetry Competition for the second time in 2016. Two top prizes of £1000 were on offer in a competition that sought to celebrate the great diversity of poetry being written in English all over the world.
Poems were submitted in two categories: ESL category (open to all poets over 18 years of age who speak English as a Second Language), and Open category (open to all poets over 18 years of age).
The competition was a great success once again this year, and attracted close to 1000 entries from over 450 different poets. It was truly international, with entries from over 30 countries including: Argentina, Canada, China, India, Iran, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, St Lucia, Taiwan, Turkey, and Uganda.
Our judge was the award-winning poet Daljit Nagra, the first poet to win the Forward Prize for both his first collection of poetry, Look, We Have Coming to Dover!, in 2007, and for its title poem in 2004, Daljit was also selected as a ‘New Generation Poet’ by the Poetry Book Society in 2014 and is Radio 4’s first ever Poet-in-Residence from October 2015-October 2017.
Many congratulations to the winners and those poets shortlisted! We will be holding a prizegiving ceremony at Oxford Brookes University on Friday 25 November, which will feature readings from the winning poets and from Daljit Nagra himself. Watch this space for more details.
The Shortlist for the Oxford Brookes International Poetry Competition 2016 consists of the following poems:
A slice of eccentric English costal life where the folk of Cromer are celebrating all things Russian. The poem works as an exotic yet politically charged poem which is humorous, rueful and ominous through its parade of cultural references. The free verse enables for the succession of convincing and original images which include the great ballerina Galina Ulanova, whose ghost ‘looks out/ across the waves balanced on a single toe’, while ‘the faces/ of the tsars are imprinted in the sand.’ An efficient, generous imagining of Russia in a coastal town which inspires us all to embrace difference.
A powerful, moving and tender poem about a child caught between divorced parents. The wistful, nervous tone of the speaker is unsettling when she visits her father. The succession of interior thoughts, in simple diction, capture the emotional complexity of the child. The pronoun ‘you’ leaps out at us because we’re not sure who is being addressed but we assume it is probably the mother; the effect of the pronoun is subtle as it evokes the epistle form which is enfolded in the consciousness of the speaker, and this technique seems to deepen our empathy for the child who is caught in the middle.
Poems come alive when they make the ordinary world tilt a little. This poem seems ordinary enough yet we are left intrigued by the speaker, who is this person and whose mouth is having crumbs brushed away? The ordinary details of daily life become intriguing because of their delay into the evening. The poem is quotidian yet with a hint of magic, and the sensual details in the prose-poem form carry a languid air that is full of other possibilities insinuated by the imagery and the tone.
A heart-breaking poem, set in 1950s Shanghai, about a wet nurse who has lost her own child. The tight tercets structure the narrative and control the delayed disclosure so we feel the sense of the wet nurse’s pain. The poem is full of lacerating diction, her guilt at the loss of her own child is sharp, ‘I cut my wrist/ to say: Forgive me’, she recalls ‘leaving behind a carcass of memories.’ This historic poem speaks powerfully for our contemporary global politics.
Some poems have a hold over us before sense has asserted its austere control. This peculiar poem has an astral mystery, a horoscopic charm and soemone who is governed by the moon. We are enticed by the opening, ‘This year the sky/in Paris is interpreted/with horror, horse and stethoscope.’ This image of Paris is developed with a succession of images, that include people who will wear ‘love/ and hatred on the seventh day’. The poem takes off at the end when the speaker considers someone who has embraced ‘the origin of stars, planets, rocks.’
Confident poets can make unusual leaps, or refuse to disclose the full laboured possibilities of each image. This poem is arresting for the strange disclosure that we can set books on fire if we like to, and then the speaker’s consciousness moves on to find itself ultimately fearing the brutal British attitude to its migrants. The power of the poem lies in the attrition of the free verse, and how the rhythm is sustained through abrupt phrases that capture the speaker’s interior anxiety.