2018 Winners and shortlist

Announcing the winners of the Oxford Brookes International Poetry Competition, 2018!

We are delighted to announce the winners of our competition, which this year was judged by the award-winning poet and editor Kayo Chingonyi. 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. We would like to warmly thank all the poets who entered!

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). You can find the list of winners and the shortlisted poets below, as well as the judge’s report by Kayo Chingonyi.

Kayo’s first full-length collection, Kumukanda (Chatto & Windus), won the prestigious £30,000 Dylan Thomas award for the best literary work by an author aged thirty-nine or under. He is a fellow of the Complete Works programme for diversity and quality in British Poetry and the author of two pamphlets, Some Bright Elegance (Salt, 2012) and The Colour of James Brown’s Scream (Akashic, 2016). He was awarded the Geoffrey Dearmer Prize, was Associate Poet at the Institute of Contemporary Arts from Autumn 2015 to Spring 2016 and co-edited issue 62 of Magma Poetry and the Autumn 2016 edition of The Poetry Review. He is poetry editor for The White Review.

Many congratulations to the winners and those poets shortlisted! 

Open category

First Place: 'Coronary' by Eleni Philippou

An incision,
delicate as a paper cut,
in your groin.

The komboskini I gifted you,
around your wrist. Baba, keep it, I said.

We open your heart
like a human mouth,
and feed in a plastic tube
for the movement of blood,
and the sake of two selfish daughters.

When finished, the blood flows
quickly, like the years that we
spent, still spend,
in a country far away from you.

Eleni Philippou

Second Place: 'Bugs' by Katie Hale

In that morning before her husband
woke and hitched the horse, she discovered bugs
had crawled under the blanket in the night.
They clung like a second skin to her bare legs.
They were a tattoo crawling on her back.
They sheathed her arms like gauntlets.
She pinched one between her thumbnails
and it burst the red of river rock—
and though the dawn was sharp with dew
and the fire had all but died, and though
the baby still snuffled and burred in sleep,
she left the wagon and stood,
shifted in insects, against the red rising sun.
Against the red sun she was a city
working at her own making; her skin
commuted and flowed like water. She stood
against the rising sun and plunged
her hand into the covering of bugs.
They parted like lips to let her pass.
Plucking at her own skin – thin,
translucent – she peeled it away
like shucking the husks from corn, till her skin
gave way to her flesh and her flesh
stepped aside for her bones.
Her bones she buried in the unmappable
prairie, cryptic, unmarked,
and the prairie gave her back
a body of bugs.
She wore it the rest of her life.
On nights her husband lay beside her,
they tingled and swarmed to his touch,
became a nest of desire. When he hit her,
tiny mouths bit and scratched at his fists.
Later, her children were born with insect
hearts; they dispersed and gathered like a colony.
The day she died, her body
scattered. The bed, rippling in the lamplight,
smelled of her life: of leaf mould and of hunger. 

Katie Hale

Special Commendation: 'Ionian' by Isabella Sharp

I come back to Greece
burn of bright beach flayed open
that essential sea
not wine dark but grape blue
the ocean an open blue mouth
gulping at my feet on the beach
flickering light and susurrus of olive leaves overhead

the cliffs around are bare, stripped of plant
from the rough waves smashing
cicadas crying in the heat
my mother told me fingerprints are created by the waves
of amniotic fluid
I think I was formed here
bobbing around
As her bare feet attempted the shores

I pluck a grape from a vine
Throw it into the sea, unburst.

Isabella Sharp

EAL category

First Place: 'Jean Rhys' by Helena Fornells

she is         the end fire
at the end

unnamed      (wrong name)
look back:

what may happen
when you grow up by the sea
they do not know

they do not know
it is white          warm
blue and everywhere: sounds

woman and
land occupied       not sea


I cannot be like her
who writes from above
moved to the same country

that journey I understand
cold in many respects
that’s it                        

I can understand her fury but
she’s not me now not this me”


mother! mother we think
of you
before death all our lives

your hair is red but
it is with her that the fire was

I do not have that fire.

Helena Fornells

Second Place: 'Sweet Like A Bao' by Rachel Ka Yin Leung

(A pastiche of Michael Ondaatje’s poem, 'Sweet Like a Crow')

Your voice sounds like the red of a lampshade
at the wet market
like the flopping of fish on the chopping block
like swearing taxi drivers
like a leaky AC unit, like the innards of a
too-hot dimsum, like a stray cat meowing,
a chow-mein being chowed
a truck mixing concrete
a canton opera at the Central Pier.
Like an Octopus card beep,
like a plethora of neon light boxes
like pergolas in the park,
a chestnut shell, an MTR crowd
when the doors are closing
like the speed meter on a red minibus
like Char Siu Bao,
an old-style cash register, like a million
Mark Six balls being scrambled, like someone
trying to sub-divide a flat,
the opening jingle of a TV documentary three doors down,
a really uninteresting PSA on Radio One,
the sound of a waiter when someone is slow to order,
like durians being opened on a rock
like a whole housing estate airing out their dirty laundry
on a Monday, like an enthusiastic beginner
shuffling the Mahjong tiles, like Cha Chaan Teng,
like 7 oranges rolling down the slope
like 5 pickpockets pickpocketing
like the sound I heard when having an afternoon sleep
and someone tried to tune the piano.

Rachel Ka Yin Leung

Special Commendation: 'Lune' by Rachel Ka Yin Leung


sink, sink deep
carve a niche into my head
fish scales falling
fall the way
still-green leaves
fall like rain

a concrete lightness
simmering stones and
stale week-old tea bags
a splinter
a lancet
a three-inch tarantula in my side

i cannot look you in
the eye, the eye, the eye.


it sings
it stops
it threatens to turn me inside out
from the throat
from the seams

fingers you were holding as we
navigate the crowded platform
in the warm wind,
white light
on the train
kite-running from the smashed window-panes
a fishing line
a telephone line
a flying
crescent ridge, half lune

never the sun but always the moon.

it sighs in technicolour
spin, spin, spinning.

Rachel Ka Yin Leung


  • 'Girl Poets' by Polly Atkin
  • 'All Souls’ Day, Masham' by Geraldine Clarkson
  • 'The Swans' by Lauren Colley
  • 'Richey Edwards Driving Home, February 1995' by Jonathan Edwards
  • 'Revisionist' by Carlos Andrés Gómez
  • 'Counting Cars' by Onjezani Kenani
  • 'She is at a funeral. In the evening I do not hear from her' by Simon Murphy
  • 'Touching Base' by Judith Rawnsley
  • 'Walk With Me' by Roger Robinson
  • 'sound of August' by Sevda Salayeva
  • 'Losing my virginity to Frankie Goes to Hollywood' by Di Slaney

Judge’s report

There is a durability to a good poem that I find endlessly inspiring. Here we are beset by so many pressures on our attention and still a line of poetry, a turn of phrase, can stop us in our tracks. In reading this year’s selection of poems for the Oxford Brookes International Poetry Competition I was struck by how many of the poems proceeded with assurance, wedging themselves in my mind. In particular I was moved by the clarity of the writing as well as what these poems seem to say about the wider environment that is giving shape and space to poetry at the moment. Some of the poems I read collapsed and interrogated the act of poetry writing to frame questions about how and why we write in the ways we do; others revelled in wordplay, placing sonic patterns at the heart of the poem’s argument; elsewhere the narrative impulse was celebrated in poems that foreground, or eschew, story. In the end, the poems I chose as winners in each category were those that seemed to me exceptional examples among their field of the ways a poem builds its own logic under the right steam.

I have decided to award first place in the open category to ‘Coronary’, a poem which is movingly precise in its evocation of guilt. The poet exhibits an understated but nonetheless impressive flair. There is not a word wasted in this poem and it carries the hallmarks that make a memorable poem feel like it has always existed. The second place poem in the open category, ‘Bugs’, unsettles and haunts its reader. There is a well-wrought quality to the poem which is illustrated in particular by the endurance of the central metaphor, the poet’s confidence in the reader’s capacity for interpretation, and the propulsive flow of the poem’s syntax. I cannot get the image of a ‘gauntlet’ of bugs out of my head. I wish to award a Special Commendation to ‘Ionian’, a deceptively simple account of origins that feels both contemporary and arcane in its frequent recourse to the language of myth.

In the EAL category there was a great deal of variety such that choosing between the poems was difficult. The first place poem, ‘Jean Rhys’, was striking on first reading because it moved in such an unexpected way. On reading the poem a number of times I was beguiled by its idiosyncrasies; a tendency towards fragmentation; a polyvocal sensibility; the poem’s ambivalence towards neat rhetorical ‘strategies’. It is helpful to be reminded that language cannot be used as a utensil and often has its own designs and this poem is an exemplary affirmation of this. I read, in both categories, a number of poems that riff on other poems and the second place poem in the EAL category, ‘Sweet Like A Bao’, takes this impulse and extends it to become a piece reflecting on how we subvert received tropes and, thereby, refresh our notions of ‘representational’ writing about place. With its cumulative, insistent, form the poem creates a finely woven, expansive, picture. I decided to award a Special Commendation to ‘Lune’, a poem underscored by an insistent musicality that places the sound and texture of the words in the foreground in a manner that is finely balanced so as to eke out the resonances of each word.