2015 Winners and shortlist

The Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre ran its inaugural International Poetry Competition in 2015. 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 Second Language), and Open category (open to all poets over 18 years of age).

The competition was a great success, and we received almost 900 entries by over 400 different poets from right across the globe. Our judge was the poet and memoirist Hannah Lowe.

Many congratulations to the winners and those poets shortlisted and longlisted!

Open category

First Place: Framed, Siobhan Campbell


Because he had a large growth on his neck they called him
Dinny of the unborn twin and the worst of them asked 
if he ever voted for labour. When the ships came in 
there were containers to lift with the new- fangled thing-uma- 
jig that took away the jobs of fourteen dockers. Once 
a smallish wooden pallet that got sent the wrong way from 
Guyana. Pineapples, smelling to high heaven. The scent of 
the Caribbean, though we argued about whether Guyana 
was South American or part of the Anglo-Carib proper. 
Sparks who had BBC World Service said it was; he’d heard 
a long-boat-man from there tell how they roasted coconuts 
on fires till they burst with the heat of their milk, making a 
splatter that they ate all up, washed off the stickiness in 
the tide. But there was a reason to begin this… yes, the 
question of the unborn and the rights of same. Well, we 
brought Dinny in, all scrubbed up, to the minister. Frame 
was his name, from somewhere down west where they’ve 
those long towns built toward the worship hall and they’re 
trained to stare straight and to think straight. Reverend, 
we said, there’s a growing boy out the back of this man’s neck 
and we think, as you are the upstanding and the outstanding 
you should now stand up for the rights of the yet to be born 
and get it out for us, yes, get it out. Well, he’s still looking at us 
with one eye forlorn as a burnt out tree and the other whipped 
clean to the whiskey. We turned him that day, it’s true as god, 
and he left for Scotland once the spring came in and didn’t even 
have a farewell do for his leaving. Somewhere in the outer or the 
inner Hebrides they say, there’s a squinter of a man who was 
once of the cloth and his crossing is and his crossing was and 
his crossing always will be forever and ever

Siobhan Campbell

Siobhan Campbell is the author of four poetry collections, the latest of which is Cross-Talk from Seren Press, a book termed ‘poetry with attitude’. Siobhan uses the lyric to skewer our most cherished human foibles. Her poetry has been called fierce and uncompromising and is ‘full of clear-eyed compassion’ says Bernard O’Donoghue. Siobhan has won the Templar prize for poetry and holds awards in the National and Troubadour International competitions. She is the editor of Courage and Strength - poems and stories by Combat Veterans (Combat Stress UK). Her work is widely anthologized including in New British and Irish Poets (Bloodaxe) and Womens’ Work: twentieth century poets writing in English. Recent work has appeared in The Hopkins Review, Magma and Asymptote. Siobhan is on faculty at The Open University in the UK and is the co-editor of the forthcoming book of essays, Inside History: the work of Eavan Boland (Arlen House). Siobhan’s new book which contains the Oxford Brookes International prize-winning poem is called That Other Island and is forthcoming from Seren Press.

Second Place: Domonic, Claire Askew


This time of year I think of you the most:
springtime, when I'm in love with everything.
Behind the bar you liked on Candlemaker Row

the kirkyard laburnums are budding;
come the summer they'll be yellow Texas hairdos
dropping pods of blossom on the old graves.

I'm amazed that I still observe the days
since you went wherever you went;
that I still want to tell you things.  Like:

I look for you in crowds of out-of-towners,
and in spring sometimes there'll be a man
who makes me pause, heart spilling its blooms.

But there was only ever one of you,
born with a misspelled name even Google
corrects.  Like: see?  I'm searching.  

Like: I've learned there are collectors who want
only broken things – porcelain so loved that
when it smashed, the cracks were sealed with gold.

That's how I was broken by your going:
although it was a wrecking, it was also
a making-better.  Like: thank you.

Like: what I'd choose to do with you right now
is go to the bar in the big white afternoon,
no one else drinking, the window seat a giftbox 

of jewelled light. Laburnum light: amber
in the tall glasses lit up like bulbs.  And after,
I could walk away, every break and closure glowing.

Claire Askew

Claire Askew is a poet and writer originally from Cumbria, now living in Edinburgh. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Guardian, Poetry Scotland, New Writing Scotland, Mslexia and PANK, and has been thrice selected for the Scottish Poetry Library's Best Scottish Poems anthology (in 2008, 2009 and 2014). Claire is the author of the pamphlet collection The Mermaid and the Sailors (Red Squirrel Press, 2011), and has just published her first full length collection, This changes things, with Bloodaxe. The manuscript of This changes things was shortlisted for the Edwin Morgan Poetry Award in 2014, and formed part of the submission to Claire's PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Edinburgh.

Special Commendation: Glass Eye, Wes Lee

Glass Eye

The real one lost to the North Sea
or so we were told. You served on submarines –
I imagine you in the dark, a long way down,
listening for that echoing ping. You would stab
at our fingers with a fork when we tried to pinch
food from our plates; our mother’s clench
at that blinkered stare we forgot most of the time.
You carried a wad of rolled up notes and bought me
my first LP: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.
And when we left for good you cried so hard
you had to take out your false teeth.
Our mother was amazed, she had never seen
you cry before. You found it hard to smile: a strangled
grimace as if a genie would forever be released.
And when you trimmed the rabbit’s claws,
outside one afternoon on a sweltering day,
you pushed your glasses up on your nose: sweating,
clipping, snipping – you went on,
ignoring our pleas, all protests – blood, red in its fur,
but we could see you wanted to stop.

Wes Lee

Originally from Burnley, Lancashire, Wes Lee emigrated to New Zealand with her parents in the late 70s. She was a lecturer in Fine Arts at Auckland University of Technology and now writes full-time. In 2010, she was the recipient of The BNZ Katherine Mansfield Literary Award, New Zealand’s foremost award for the short story. Her chapbook of short fiction Cowboy Genes, was published by Grist Books at the University of Huddersfield and launched at the Huddersfield Literature Festival in 2014. Most recently she was selected as a finalist in The Troubadour Poetry Prize in 2014, and The London Magazine’s Poetry Competition in 2015. She is currently working on her first poetry collection.

ESL category

First place: Vareniki, Marie-Aline Roemer


In the morning we buy butter,
fat as moons. There is time to count 
the bitter cherries from the bag, 
swirl their stones against our teeth, 
wait for the silence of the afternoon.

The last time your hand touched his, 
they were like this, gloved in flour, trembling 
with a goodbye. As he went, your white fingers 
glowed through the kitchen like shooting stars, 
fizzing at the night.

You make vareniki. The tough dough 
is your mother’s skin, stretched thin 
across her knuckles. You knit their bellies shut, 
trap cherries like you wish you could trap
the good in that place, all those fat-mooned nights, 
and all the soft, red fruit

that flow from the skin of the vareniki,
that form pools like thawing seas— these are 
the fingers, red around the barrel of a gun, and the cherries 
are the backs of young boys, bent beneath the rubble 
of this foreign city. It is a name like vareniki to anyone

who has not tasted the bitterness of losing a son. 
Outside, the lard moon spreads in a cooling sky,
and we suck sweetness from our fingers like we are eating
all the lives and all the country and all the soft, red fruit
that spread into the silence of a day 
like dough, rising.

Marie-Aline Roemer

Marie-Aline Roemer was born to East German parents just in time for one of the last GDR birth certificates. She lived in Russia for four years, six months of which she spent in Vladivostok. Russia, the dissipation of the Eastern bloc, and in particular the stories of its women, feature in much of her poetry. Marie-Aline studied Chinese and Social Anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, and is currently pursuing a Master’s programme at the Free University of Berlin.

Second Place: Gerrymanderings of the Mind, Armel Dagorn

Gerrymanderings of the Mind

As newcomers to the town
we didn’t know rue Crébillon

was, always had been
the poshest street in Nantes,

home to the bourgeois 
since guillotine times and beyond,

and that we would raise eyebrows 
and oh la las

simply by giving our new address,
despite the not-hugeness

of our flat, the not-high ceilings
bearing no chandeliers,

the lack of a doctor or 
lawyer’s plate on our door.

The Kafka fans guarding the dole coffers
eyed us, suspicious, but stamped our demands

all the same, warily, weighing 
their words – you’d half think

they expected us, like in some ancient eastern tale,
to be sultans slumming it down to their level

for a day, trying the life of the jobless
before heading homeward to our palace.

Armel Dagorn

Armel Dagorn is now back in his native France after living in Cork, Ireland for seven years. His poems have appeared in magazines such as The Rialto, THE SHOp, Poetry Ireland Review, Southword and The Interpreter's House. He was the winner of the 2014 Bailieborough poetry prize. 

Special Commendation: Prayer, Hanne Busck-Nielsen


Faðer uor som ast i himlüm,halgað warðe þitnama 

                                                We watch night climb 
the fells around us. The scree slope buries its face 
with dark and below Wast Water puckers
a last flutter-dash across  its pewter sheen.  
                Tilkomme þitrikie. Skie þin uilie so som i himmalan

Its depth is foreign to me,
these serious mute mountains not mine;
so oh bo iordanne. Wort dahliha broð gif os i dah.

only the names: Eskdale, St Olaf’s Church 
feel almost homely – almost like relatives
you’ve never met but for your parents’ memory. 

                                                 A bird calls above us,
then a rustle in the meagre margins along the lake.

Wast Water, black omphalos of a wounded earth –
                Oh forlat os uora skuldar
we are soon gone, our lives hidden again –
but you draw deep, back to the source.

so som oh ui forlate þem os skuüldihi are.

In this darkness there is no pretence, not much at least.
                Oh inleð os ikkie i frestalsan utan frels os
ifra ondo.
Here the scale is another, requiring a growing stride. 
                Tü rikiað ar þit oh mahtan oh harlihheten 
The mountains mutter their knuckled prayer i ewihhet.  Aman.

Hanne Busck-Nielsen

Hanne Busck-Nielsen is a Danish poet and translator, born in Copenhagen and now living in the UK. Her poems have appeared in various pamphlet anthologies, in The Interpreter's House magazine, and her translations of one of Denmark’s major contemporary poets were published in POEM, International English Language Journal, edited by Fiona Sampson. Hanne belongs to several poetry groups in Oxford and London. She is a long-standing member of English Pen and Amnesty International. During the past four years she has read at a variety of venues, including The Henley Literary Festival and Woodstock Poetry Festival. She has also given talks on Tomas Tranströmer. Hanne has a background in psychology and psychoanalysis, with a particular interest in child development.


The Shortlist for the Oxford Brookes International Poetry Competition 2015 consists of the following poems:

  • Mariel Alonzo, 'Noli Me Tangere'
  • Claire Askew, 'Things'
  • Geraldine Clarkson, 'Edwardiana'
  • Mario Petrucci, 'Night at the rock'
  • David Underdown, 'Snow boys at the Castle Flats'
  • Jennifer Wong, 'The netizens'

Judge’s report

The standard of the entries for the inaugural Oxford Brookes Poetry Competition was very high – I was spoilt by poems to choose from. Many of them seem to emerge from a broad range of life experiences, and some of the finest had a sense of urgency to them, of needing to be written.

The First Prize winner in the Open category, 'Framed', had exactly this sense, of witnessing, or testimony to a very strange course of events, and that is what I loved about it – the range of movement in the story it tells, from Guyana to the docks of England to the Inner Hebrides. The Second Prize winner, 'Domonic', also had wonderful temporal movement, from heartbreak to renewal, and a poignant use of colloquial language. All of the winning poems are about relationships between people, and the Special Commendation goes to 'Glass Eye', a beautifully observed child’s eye portrait of a grandfather.

Many of the poems entered into the ESL category spoke of life lived in a different country, and this was a focus of all of the winning poems. The First Prize winner, 'Vareniki' expertly weaves together a culinary ritual with a story of loss and grieving, while the Second Prize winner 'Gerrymanderings of the Mind' explores immigrant arrival to a new city in a wonderfully irreverent style. In 'Prayer', the Special Commendation, it is the natural landscape that alienates the speaker from home, yet the poem’s linguistic dexterity weaves two languages cleverly together to reflect this experience of duality.