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The Poetry Centre is excited to announce the winners of our 2021 competition, which this year was judged by award-winning poet Will Harris. Two top prizes of £1,000 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). We were delighted to receive over 1,000 entries again this year from a wonderful range of poets and countries. You can find the list of winners and the shortlisted poets below, as well as the judge's report. Read the winning poems by clicking on the links and scrolling down the poems page.
We will be holding an online awards ceremony this year on Tuesday 7 December from 6.30-7.30pm GMT and we warmly invite you to attend! Join us at this free event to hear from the winners in both the Open and EAL categories and from the judge, Will Harris, who will talk about judging the competition and give a short reading from his work.
To register for this Zoom webinar, please sign up on
this page. Closed captioning will be available at this event and we hope to make a recording available afterwards.
Many thanks indeed to all the poets who entered and to our excellent judge, Will. We very much look forward to seeing some of you at the awards event on 7 December!
Any form of judgment is shadowed by inevitable misjudgment. I already feel sorry about all the poems I'll have missed or misread in the process of misjudging this competition. And I know that even these "winning" poems – which stayed in my bag for days and followed me to and from work – are not here, with you, because I've judged and understood them. They're here because these are the poems which felt most open to being misunderstood. I could move around between their images, feel their soundshapes and shifts in tone. They existed, in some sense, beyond the bounds of judgment.
The winning poem in the EAL category is a case in point: 'a poem in which I use the word 'betoken' for the first time in my life' foregrounds Artifice (as Veronica Forrest-Thomson meant it) in its title, disavowing the idea of naturalised speech. We know the word "betoken" will appear at some point and that it's not a part of the poet's regular lexicon. So the "little bauble of dust" on the first line shouldn't take us by surprise, but it's still heartstopping. This is a poem built wonderfully - as only poems can be - around contrasts (down/up), internal rhymes ("dripped/dipped") and unusual etymological/aural links ("grave/gravity," "mare/mark") which stretch the texture of language to the point where, when the poet reveals this to be an elegy - for one who made "a mark that betokens/ the death of light" - the commonplace of that sentiment has been entirely aerated, made new and true and sad.
The second-placed poem, 'Bark of a Dog', does similar work in exerting control over - to the point of withholding - information that would allow a quick paraphrase of its content. Carefully reticulated sentences "snake and bite" as its narrative turns back on itself, revelling in the "inside-outness/ of tales". The special commendation goes to 'Underwater Tongue', whose first three lines blew the top of my head off, not least because of the strange ecological-familial power invested in the poet's use of "anomalies". I'm also still puzzling over the powerful relationship between "speaking/ fish" and "fish/ words".
In the Open category, the first-placed poem is 'the thing about the eating disorder ward is:'. Again, I was struck by the opening. Its perfectly paired adjectives - "tired and pruned", "shoehorned and swelling" - are, like the rest of the poem, precise and moving in their evocation of a specific place, capturing the ways in which a body/mind adapts to - and resists - an institutional setting. But the poem as a whole is more than self-disclosure, and more than the hope or pain it describes. It's more than description ("distraction!"). It has to be read and heard to be felt.
The second-placed poem is 'Little Cuckoo', which is clear and astringent, elliptical and expansive. Its declarative confidence ("I'm sure," "there is no...") and singsong rhymes crawled under my skin, but what marked it out was that, despite the fable-like tone, it seemed to refuse the possibility of anything like a simple moral. Instead, the "slack white jaws" of the cuckoo's putative mother and the blackbird's beak "crammed with stones" are held in permanent awful tension. The special commendation goes to 'Thirteen Versions of the Day After Our Abortion'. The poem's charge comes less from the surprise of its images - though its images do find amazingly varied and moving ways to upturn expectation - than from its sustained and modulated honesty. Like all the best poems, it speaks with a kind of honesty that can only mirror the logic of dreams.
If you have questions about the competition, please consult our
FAQs page. If your question isn’t answered there, contact us at:
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