poetry london clore prize
1st Prize: Roger Bloor
2nd Prize: Amaan Hyder
3rd Prize: Anita Pati
Catherine Higgins-Moore: I’d been waiting months
Nicholas Murray: WODGE
Roger Bloor is a retired consultant psychiatrist, currently a student on the MA in Poetry Writing from Newcastle University studying at the Poetry School in London. He has been published in Magma, The Hippocrates Prize Anthology 2017 and 2019, Affect Publications StillBorn and several anthologies. His pamphlet A Less Clear Dream was shortlisted for the Arnold Bennett Book Prize 2018, and his poetry book Aldgedeslegh was shortlisted for the Arnold Bennett Book Prize 2019. He is Poet in Residence 2018/19 at the historic award winning Trentham Gardens in Staffordshire.
Amaan Hyder's first collection of poems is At Hajj (Penned in the Margins, 2017). His pamphlet when it is beyond was shortlisted in The Rialto Open Pamphlet Competition 2018.
Anita Pati was born and raised in the North West of England but now lives in London. She has won the Wasafiri Prize for Poetry and most recently was a winner of the inaugural Women Poets’ Prize. Her forthcoming pamphlet is Dodo Provocateur, published by The Rialto later this year.
Catherine Higgins-Moore is a Northern Irish writer based in New York. She was commended in BBC’s International Playwriting Award 2018 is nominated for the inaugural Harper Collins Comedy Women in Print Prize. She writes for The Times Literary Supplement and is founding editor of The Irish Literary Review. Her poetry collection Strange Roof was published by Finishing Line Press in the United States as part of their New Women's Voices Series. Catherine is a journalist who has worked in the newsrooms of BBC Oxford and BBC Belfast.
Nicholas Murray is a biographer and poet living in the Welsh Marches where he runs the award-winning poetry pamphlet press Rack Press. He won the Basil Bunting Prize in 2015. His new collection The Yellow Wheelbarrow will be published later this year by Melos and he is the author of the hard-hitting pamphlet-length verse satire A Dog’s Brexit. His most recent collection is The Museum of Truth.
Molly Leigh, a seventeenth-century woman accused of witchcraft, is the subject of Roger Bloor’s winning poem. In ‘The Ghost of Molly Leigh Pleads, Yes Cries for Exemplarie Justice Against the Abitrarie, Un-exampled Injustice of Her Accusers’, Bloor uses found text, and elements from the legends that surround Molly’s life, to create a poem of mesmerising rhythm and accumulative power. It’s a risky endeavour because the poem’s life lies in its fragile balance of shape and voice (Molly Leigh’s own, the anonymous voice of protocol and the mysterious voice of the children’s ditty). The short stanzas are cleverly lyrical, with echoes of rhyme. They strain at sense without ever quite reaching it and have the bewildering quality of folk speech or nursery rhyme which never follows the expected logic. There is no resolution or ‘narrative arc’ in this poem, much like the elusive legend itself, and that openness excited me. It’s a surprising poem, standing at some oblique angle to all notions of poetry, fashion and historical writing and all the better for it.
The repeated phrase ‘a dua for’ gives Amaan Hyder’s poem a hypnotic and chant-like quality. Duas are Muslim acts of supplication, invocations to God on behalf of another, and Hyder’s ‘duas’ are on behalf of his mother, whose emotional and physical journey through life he charts in this poem. I admired this sensitive portrait of a woman, and the contradictions and the sadnesses of her life, all conveyed with the lightest of touches: that anorak she wears as an apron; the sister who would have preferred not to have dressed the body. Hyder charts all the many repressed regrets the mother carries through her life in this poem-act of love and devotion. He celebrates a good woman and mourns with her the personal tragedy of her situation. The apparent simplicity of the structure allows him considerable play in presenting both the personal-psychological and the political, because at its heart this is a poem about displacement, hierarchy and colonialism, and how it affected the twentieth-century family and the individual, that fine needle on the barometer dial of history.
Anita Pati’s ‘Manju’ shares with ‘duas’ the cumulative structure of a repeating phrase, and, of course, the maternal subject. In ‘Manju’ the suffering mother, a victim of terrible abuse, is painted with such sparing tenderness I could hardly bear to read it: her bird-like stature, her thin wrists and the terrible symbolic act of violence that is ‘creasing back her throat’ to see the stars. As the poem progresses the reason why, the ‘because’ shifts subtly, there is some hope in the stars – although hardly for her, only for her boys, her ‘littler’ who will inhabit that sky in his American rocket. There is such subtlety of detail in this tremendous poem, for example the way that the fire, catching on her nylon saree and burning through the roof, mirrors the son’s pining to rise through that same thatched roof of poverty and achieve the impossible: America! The stars! Looking upwards is forced cruelty, then aspiration, and finally hope for this little, beaten down and yet resilient spirit of motherhood. There is no taking apart the elements or setting this tale to rights.
Reading through the entries I often found myself warming to well-constructed poems that told stories or recreated worlds. ‘I’d been waiting months’ by Catherine Higgins-Moore presents a whole tragedy in half-revelations and slant remarks, as if we are overhearing the gossip told by one neighbour to another. This is another poem in which a woman and mother bears the considerable brunt of a man’s dealings, and of wider social and historical injustices and sectarianism, but this poem stood apart in its deadpan humour, its refusal to believe in platitudes and its cold observation of history repeating itself. If the voice in the poem initially hoped for a house on a non-sectarian housing estate, after her partner’s arrest and imprisonment she ends up donating the things she bought for the new house for the Eleventh Night bonfire, her children repeating anti-Catholic slurs. It’s a chastening poem and it speaks to the situation we find ourselves in now. The veneer of modernity unpeels itself from the saucepans from Next and the bourgeois breadbin, and we are left with the black smoke of the conflagration.
I was pleased to commend Nicholas Murray’s ‘WODGE’ as it felt like a poem of hope in hopeless times, and also a poem from another, more innocent era, in which the mispronunciation of a name implied nothing more than unfamiliarity (although Murray’s opening ‘I’d like to think’ indicates the narrator half-doubts this charity). ‘Wodge’ is a beautifully constructed poem, opening itself to schoolboy ‘primal chaos’ before refining itself into gracious adulthood – both the subject of the poem and the narrator are capable of some neat work with the scalpel.
If I’ve not talked much about general trends, then this is because it is hard to judge on the evidence of a single competition. It may seem obvious but a competition judge reads many, many poems, and the successful poems in such a context are poems which have a presence as a single entity, they do not need a body of work to support them. I was reading Louise Glück’s The Wild Iris recently and I ruefully considered the fact that individual poems from that sublime collection might simply not have caught my eye in a pile of thousands, because the energy hovers around the poems, transferring from one to another like an electrical current, rather than residing in a single poem.
I noted that many of the entries were very well-made poems, but their subject was too listless or throwaway to really be of interest. Conversely other poems had eccentric and distinctive subject matter, but couldn’t quite draw themselves into an identity. I was also looking for poems that reflected something of the world they resided in, as the winning poems all did, and sometimes poems ruled themselves out by either reflecting the world too flatly, or preferring to exist at one remove. But I dislike being critical, because my overall impression was of a republic of letters, many people writing with integrity and enthusiasm and in hopeful observation of the world around them. The image I had in my head as I read through was of thousands of tiny small lights – lamps, torches, flares – shining singly in the darkness.
Poetry London is delighted to announce that this year the Poetry London Competition is generously funded by the Clore Duffield Foundation and match-funded by Catalyst Evolve, Arts Council England.