Announcing the winners of the Oxford Brookes International Poetry Competition, 2017!
This year our International Poetry Competition attracted a record number of entries and we were delighted to see more entries from poets living in many different countries. Two top prizes of £1000 were on offer in a competition that seeks to celebrate the great diversity of poetry being written in English all over the world.
Poems were submitted in two categories: EAL category (open to all poets over 18 years of age who speak English as an Additional Language), and Open category (open to all poets over 18 years of age).
The competition attracted more than 1200 entries from over 500 different poets. Poems came to us from writers in over 54 countries including: the United States, Canada, India, Nigeria, Australia, Belgium, Japan, Mexico, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Greece, Pakistan, St Lucia, Italy, and Malaysia.
We were really delighted to welcome Helen Mort as our judge this year. Helen’s first poetry collection Division Street, published in 2013, won the prestigious Fenton Aldeburgh Prize. In 2014, she was named as one of the Poetry Book Society’s Next Generation poets, a list that appears only every decade. Her latest collection, No MapCould Show Them (Chatto & Windus), was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, whilst her first novel, Black Car Burning, is forthcoming. In 2017, she was a judge for the Man Booker International Prize. Helen was a Douglas Caster Cultural Fellow at The University of Leeds from 2014-2016 and now lectures at The Manchester Writing School.
Many congratulations to the winners and those poets shortlisted! We will be holding a prizegiving ceremony at Oxford Brookes University on Friday 24 November, which will feature readings from the winning poets and from Helen Mort herself. Everyone - whether you entered the competition or not - is welcome to attend! Just e-mail us to register your interest: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Shortlist for the Oxford Brookes International Poetry Competition 2017 consists of the following poems:
One of the best things about judging a poetry competition is that it allows you to recognise very different writing styles you admire equally and simultaneously. When I look back at the poems I was drawn to, it’s a bit like glancing round a room full of my friends at a (slightly drunken) house party: there’s the friend who sings beautifully, the friend who does impromptu breakdancing on the table and somehow doesn’t smash any of the furniture, the friend who makes everyone laugh until they cry, the friend who slips away into the garden to look at the moon. Then others: the man who sneaked into the kitchen late on but is now everyone’s best friend, someone you feel you’ve known your whole life.
The poems I picked out as my ‘top three’ in the open competition this year are about as different as they could be and yet I wish I’d written all of them. The winning poem, Jonathan Edwards’ brilliantly titled ‘Kurt Cobain Proposes to Courtney Love, TJs, Newport, December 1991’ is a narrative tour-de-force with a light touch. It manages to be surreal and utterly convincing at the same time and it filled me with a longing for the magic beneath the everyday, the sense that our lives proceed in their strange parallels, the sense that history might be happening under our noses. It’s also a celebration of places like ‘TJs’, places every town has. The second placed poem, Natalie Whittaker's ‘Stay’, is a crepuscular, taut lyric poem which I couldn’t get out of my head from the first time I read it. I was haunted by the ‘shadow dogs’, the obedience of the sun. The highly-commended poem this year, ‘Mary Wants To Sleep With The Painter, But Pretends Otherwise’ by Maddie Godfrey, felt totally original. Each stanza aches with yearning, surprising images: Mary likened to a building ‘that longs to be abandoned/ but still stays full with people.’ Three very distinct poems. But what united them was the way each satisfied my longing for a piece of writing that could convince me - briefly - that the world it created was the only one that mattered. This was true of all the shortlisted poems too, from the brilliantly-observed college scene of Dean Atta’s ‘The Chronic’ to the delicacy and precariousness of Sally St Clair’s ‘Potting Quinces’.
The poems I read for the EAL category were all daring and memorable and it was extremely difficult to choose between them. Many of them were incredibly ambitious and wide-ranging in their scope, charged with an almost novelistic quality. The winning poem was ‘Memory Talkies’ by Jonaki Ray, a poised, closely-observed narrative full of striking imagery: a woman trembles ‘like the skeleton of a snail being picked clean by a colony of ants’, farms have ‘stakes in their hearts’. The ending took me quietly by surprise and I kept returning to it. In second place, ‘Halcyon’ by Vasiliki Albedo is tender and hopeful, a testament to the way poetry connects people. I read it as a piece that stands in playful opposition to Tony Harrison’s ‘Book Ends’, in which literature divides child and parent. The Special Commendation this year was Iulia David's ‘Notes for a Canary Fancier’, an allegorical poem which refuses to spare the reader, a warning against exoticising and attempted ownership. I felt enriched by these poems, but also jolted awake.