2016 Winners and shortlist

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. 

Open category

First place: Today Cromer is Moscow, Christopher James

Today Cromer is Moscow

Seagulls preside on the spires
and onion domes of Cadogen Road.
There are snowdrifts in the belfry
of the parish church. In the Hotel de Paris;
they’re serving Rassolnik soup
and vodka so cold it makes your glass
smoke with ice. In an upper window,
the ghost of Galina Ulanova looks out
across the waves balanced on a single toe.
At the end of the pier the oligarchs
are watching The Tremeloes sing Kalinka
while on the seafront, crab fisherman
dance the troika in their wellingtons.
Ice-cream men wear bearskin hats
and play Stravinsky to summon
the children from their homes,
because today Cromer is Moscow.
In the lighthouse they’re reading
Pushkin and playing chess to pass the time.
Down on the beach old cosmonauts
skim stones into the sea while
beneath their feet, the faces
of the tsars are imprinted in the sand. 

Christopher James

Judge’s report

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.

Second place: Visitation Rights, Sarah Askew

Visitation Rights

With my rucksack from Argos,
and my hoodie from Gap Kids,
I am a miniature traveller in navy blue.

Dad meets me at the arrivals gate,
grinning like a plasticine model.
My mobile doesn’t work here;
you will be checking the live flights online.

His house is full of wooden statues,
ethnic throws and food with foreign labels.
I am afraid to ask if the phone works
like it does at home.

I sleep on a mattress on a hand-made rug,
the sound of his voice- and hers-
rising up through the floorboards.

We ride trams, visit parks, museums;
I buy postcards of prints
that I think you will like. But I know that

on the return flight, just before we land,
I will slip them inside the flight safety cards;
souvenirs of the place he left us for,
that you do not need to see.


Sarah Askew

Judge’s report

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.

Special Commendation: In Seville, Caroline Adams

In Seville

When living alone it is easy to overlook beating the carpets and airing the linen, she said, closing the shutters on the jangle of trams from the streets below, the clattering hooves and the distant neighing. Forgive the disorder, she said.

And the shutters snapped shut, shrinking the light to strips of gold that lay in ribbons across them.

They drank tea, its amber hue danced with tiny leaves, such a strange flavour in the fluted glasses. The cups are all broken, but the tarts are fresh, and the oranges not too bitter, she said, brushing crumbs from his lips with her thumb. 

Later came a knock at the door. Forgive the disturbance, she said, winding the sheet around her. Tradesmen call when the sun has dropped. And Maxim concurred. His farriers thought nothing of shoeing the horses at night, he said, watching her fasten rosemary to the knocker, as the sheet fanned in a tail behind her. 

In the small hours, when only the dead speak, the moon drew phosphorescent bars across their bodies as they lay on the couch and she asked his forgiveness no longer. The trams were silent and no callers came. Neither did they speak of tradesmen, nor servants, nor of their own luminosity, nor the dangers of moonlight, its enchantment, its bane. 

Caroline Adams

Judge’s report

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.

ESL category

First place: Wet Nurse, Mary Jean Chan

Wet Nurse
for the woman who raised my mother

Shanghai, 1953


The milk pours from my body into a
strange mouth. It is always hungry
and so am I. The yulan magnolias

are rioting in the back garden, unruly
children bored with yet another Spring.
The mouth frees my nipple and sprays

tributaries down my skin. It has been
ninety-seven days and eight hours since
the city swallowed my flesh and blood,

leaving behind a carcass of memories.
My husband and I have not spoken
since. He shall never touch me again.

When the mother leaves the house
to preach the gospel to the workers,
I pretend I am her, holding my own

daughter – promising to never let go.
Yet arms are only arms. The baby is
no fool: she sees no problem with

having two mothers. The father adores
her from a distance. Seventh child, third
daughter, beloved one. Each time I kiss

those milk-scented cheeks, I cut my wrist
to say: Forgive me. Sometimes I dream
about a disaster in the mind, so I could

bury the moment when I abandoned my
daughter on a train station bench, fearing
my breast-milk would not be enough for

two: one who smiles up at me, another
brushing my breasts with breathless lips.


Mary Jean Chan

乳母

(給養育我母親的女人)

上海,1953年

乳奶從我的身體注入
一雙奇怪的嘴。它始
終是餓了,我也如此。

玉蘭騷亂在後花園裡,
不守規矩 ,像厭倦了
春天的孩子。口釋放

我的乳頭 ,奶如支流。
97天8小時已經消逝,
城市吞噬了我的血肉,

留下屍體般的回憶。
我和丈夫已經沒有
聯繫。他再也不會

碰我。當母親離家傳
福音給工人,我假裝
我是她,捧著自己的

女兒,承諾絕不放手。
然而,手臂只是手臂。
寶寶不是傻瓜:她認為

有兩個母親是天經地義。
父親從遠處崇拜她。第
七個孩子,第三個女兒,

唯一的寶貝。每次我親吻
那奶香味的臉頰,我都會
痛切自己手腕說:原諒我。

有時候,我在腦海裏幻想
一場災難,希望能夠埋葬
由于擔心乳奶不夠而遺棄

自己女兒在火車站長椅上
的那一刻 。今天,一個
寶寶對我微笑起來,另一

奄息的嘴唇
刷著我的乳房。

Judge’s report

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.

Second place: That Space, Belle Ling

That Space

This year the sky
in Paris is interpreted
with horror, horse, and stethoscope.
In April, they say:  
love conquers all. In May,
when Venus is in sextile to Neptune,
your lover wishes for a break-
through; or a semi-break,
if a meteorite interrupts
the Saturn’s orbit, like a heart
unsettling the stethoscope can’t mend.

So contented to be charmed,                                                                                            
the horse bathes
in the cabochon jade,
making sure that the grass
is an illusion. This will happen
in December—
it means self-deception, or inspiration.
People wear love
and hatred on the seventh day
of the seventh 
lunar month, when Zhinü and Niulang,  
separated for three hundred
and sixty four days, reunite
over the star Deneb. It is destiny.
Once in every year. The diamond dial,
so promising, brags about the hope.

Once, you told me
you are governed by the moon—
you dream of turquoise, which has been proving
energy since the pre-historic era; you
turn it into a warp, let it burden
your wrist, like your pulse
distancing the beats from your heart;
you let it tell you
to love or not to; you let
it centre your mind in that space,
narrating the origin of stars, planets, rocks.  

Belle Ling

Judge’s report

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 someone 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.’

Special Commendation: Saturday night fish fry, Luis Elvira

Saturday night fish fry

Everybody
is more than welcome
to set
the books
    on fire
the forbidden ones
the ones
which cause
the most
    of the troubles
they are
    dangerous
poison
    for our souls
-They say-
those
who build
    the houses
we live in to
those who draw
the maps
    of the roads
we drive through
don´t get me wrong

we sleep well                  
       tight

we don't complain
it´s just
    this fear
of uncertainty
    or what Britons
name
    cash in hand


Luis Elvira

Judge’s report

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.

Shortlist

The Shortlist for the Oxford Brookes International Poetry Competition 2016 consists of the following poems:

  • Virginia Astley, 'Like a brass player'
  • Angela Carr, 'The Daughter I Didn't Have'
  • Mary Jean Chan, 'Inheritance'
  • Mary Jean Chan, 'One Breath'
  • Geraldine Clarkson, 'August 2016'
  • Tony D'Arpino, 'Algorithm for a Bridge'
  • Patrick Errington, 'In the Event of Winter'
  • Helen Etty, 'Tiff'
  • Helen Etty, 'To Morocco'
  • Ho Cheung Lee, 'Firework'
  • Kat Lockton, 'Playing the Barber'
  • Kat Lockton, 'Poem in which I am Anne Boleyn'
  • Kat Lockton, 'Rubix'
  • Maya C. Popa, 'My Godfather Votes Trump'
  • Maya C. Popa, 'Horoscope for the Past'
  • Jonaki Ray, 'Missing Child Report, Amar Colony, New Delhi'
  • Jane Robinson, 'Elegy for Benjamin, Last Tasmanian Tiger'
  • Sevda Salayeva, 'James and I'
  • Daniel Thornton, 'You will never fly'
  • Tom Weir, 'The Book of British Birds'

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