I’m ashamed to see that my last post was well over a year ago, referring to the Poetry London Prize 2019! What a lot has happened since then. A terrible time in many ways, but a strangely good one for me as a writer, and for Poetry London, the magazine I have been working for for nearly three years now. This year’s Poetry London Clore Prizes were won by Eleanor Penny, Pat Winslow and S. Niroshini. Below are the links to the poems and biographies of the poets. I myself was lucky enough to be shortlisted in the Bridport Prize 2020, and win an Arts Council England grant to complete my first collection, tentatively titled Psychogeography, with the help of an incredible mentor, teacher and Forward Prize-shortlisted poet, Rachel Long, founder of the Octavia poetry collective for women of colour. I also started the process of making tell it slant, the poetry bookshop I founded in Glasgow in 2013, which is now being run by Shetlandic poet Christie Williamson, a Scottish charity. Looking at its website, I can see we need some updates there as well! Lockdown has been good for me, forcing a stillness and focus I rarely give to myself, leading to more writing, walking, and time with family. It has not all been easy – Covid-19 affected my family early on and there have been health consequences – but on balance, the way of life we have developed as a result is a gift. I also learned the lesson that as my own boss I am a slave-driver, and work too hard for my own wellbeing! I will try to be less hard on myself. I just hope the collective learning on lessening climate impact, local networks, community spirit, international collaboration, the importance of our NHS, and flexible learning and work patterns, stays with us all.
The biggest news we have at Poetry London is our new Poetry Editor, André Naffis-Sahely. A leading poet and translator, André was the Poetry Editor at Ambit for the last three years. He will takes over as editor from February, and his first issue in post with Poetry London will be Summer 2021. Martha Sprackland, who has managed the magazine so ably as Acting Editor, bringing in many innovations including facing page translations and originals in many languages, will step down after the Spring issue, to be launched February, when the Poetry London Competition will also be relaunched. After this, André will take over, with the Summer issue (our 99th!) as his first.
André Naffis-Sahely is the author of the collection The Promised Land: Poems from Itinerant Life (Penguin, 2017) and the editor of The Heart of a Stranger: An Anthology of Exile Literature (Pushkin Press, 2020) and is a translator with over twenty titles of fiction, nonfiction and poetry to his name. He will be a visiting fellow at Manchester Metropolitan University. He is from Abu Dhabi, born in Venice to an Iranian father and an Italian mother. I very much look forward to seeing the development of André’s plans for Poetry London in 2021.
Poetry London Prizewinners 2020
Eleanor Penny, ‘Winter, a biography‘
Pat Winslow, ‘1971, Northaw‘
S. Niroshini, ‘Letters to Sunny Leone‘
The three winning poems were published in our autumn issue,
and all can be read online here. You can also read interviews with Eleanor Penny, Pat Winslow and S. Niroshini by following the links in their names. Below is the judge’s report, by the hard-of-hearing Odessa poet Ilya Kaminsy.
I am so grateful to Poetry London for the chance to read so many incredible poems all at once, to immerse myself into various different tonalities, perspectives, voices. It was an experience of a lifetime. Each poet I read taught me something new. When the works arrived in my mailbox, I quickly realised there was something special about every piece I read.
I found it nearly impossible to choose from such a talented company of voices. I was asked to select just the winning poems, but I fell in love with so many more! Therefore, I simply can’t resist sharing these brief notes on a number of other marvellous poems that I was lucky enough for read for this competition. I hope they all find good homes.
First Prize: ‘Winter, a biography’ by Eleanor Penny
This poem travels from narrative to lyric and back, making many interesting, mysterious discoveries along the way. The author looks at the world and finds something utterly strange, teaching us to love it: ‘I held the weight of snow in my arms like a sleeping animal’.
Second Prize: ‘1971, Northaw’ by Pat Winslow
This prose poem has an otherworldly quality. ‘I saw myself. What I mean is I saw myself inside the tree’, the journey begins, taking us to the unexpected.
Third Prize: ‘Letters to Sunny Leone’ by S. Niroshini
The perspective here won me over instantly. The way the author observes how we live inside bodies, how we negotiate our days, and the (lack of) possibilities, is unique.
‘Mantelpiece with Bananas’ by Luke Allan: This poem is terrific; like a painting done by a master, with psychological insight and nuanced brushstrokes.
‘Evening Scene’ by Mel Pryor: This poem is a moving elegy that becomes far more than an elegy. The voice here is memorable and renders the emotion with clarity and poise.
‘untitled’ by Sean Cooper: This piece finds a surprising music for civic commentary, and ensures that the commentary is memorable as the music is touching.
‘Tallow Beach’ by Laurie Keim: The music of this poem is inimitable. I was thinking of Stevens, but, really, this music is all its own. Beautiful work.
‘Lobotomy’ by Natalie Crick: This poem does so many things: it is moving, it is vivid in its imagery, it is unexpected in its thinking. Wonderful.
‘Trespassing’ by John Haynes: ‘A spirit with long pointy elbows runs’ begins this poem, and it goes on where I least expected. I loved it.
‘Republic of Mackerel’ by Mukahang Limbu: The vivid imagery in this poem is electrifying. I thought of Lorca: ‘poet is a professor of five senses.’ Indeed.
‘Bible Study’ by Angelina Mazza: This inventive brief lyric had real emotion and marvellous delivery. A delight.
‘Eve’ by Mari Dunning: The humor and insight couple here to make something entirely new from an ages-old parable.
‘You are An Aubergine’ by Luke Yates: This poem constantly surprised me. Such good energy. I mean: when you get ‘a barbershop quartet of pregnant liquorice parrots,’ what else do you need?
‘Secret life of the house at night’ by Claire Allen: The insight here is unmistakable. The attentiveness to detail made me think of Simone Weil’s suggestion that ‘absolute unmixed attention is a prayer’.
‘Poem Where Every Bird is a Drone’ by Tarik Dobbs: I loved the invention and passion of this poem, its bravery to go into uncharted territory and assert that ‘conspiracy comes true: a tree in which every bird is a drone’.
‘Variations on a Theme from Isaac Holland’ by Seán Martin: What a graceful poem, and with such a heartbreaking final stanza: ‘where a woman / stood on some rocks in a storm / and screamed at the sea’.
Eleanor Penny is a poet, essayist and journalist based in London. Her awards include the Verve Poetry Festival Prize 2020 and multiple prizes with the Young Poets Network. A former Barbican Young Poet, she has twice been shortlisted for Young People’s Poet Laureate for London. She has been commissioned by the Poetry School, the Barbican and the Cinema Museum. Her non-fiction work has been featured in publications including the New Statesman, In These Times, the Independent and the London Review of Books. She hosts the poetry podcast ‘Bedtime Stories for the End of the World’. Her debut book is forthcoming with flipped eye.
Pat Winslow worked for twelve years as an actor before leaving the theatre in 1987. She has published seven collections, most recently Kissing Bones. Pat also works as a storyteller. She collaborated with composer Oliver Vibrans on her version of ‘The Coat’, a folk tale from the Caucasus, for the Royal College of Music last year. For more information see www.patwinslow.com.
S. Niroshini is a Sri Lankan-born writer and poet based in London. She is the author of a forthcoming pamphlet with Bad Betty Press and has published work in The Good Journal, On Bodies (3 of Cups Press), adda stories and harana poetry. She is working on her debut novel.
Luke Allan is poetry editor at Partus Press and co-editor of the journals Pain and Oxford Poetry. He studied literature and creative writing at UEA and Oxford and is former managing editor at Carcanet Press and PN Review. He received the 2019 Charles Causley Prize, placed third in the 2019 Mick Imlah Prize and the 2020 Poets & Players Competition, and was highly commended in The Rialto’s 2020 ‘Nature & Place’ Competition. He is currently working on a first collection.
Mel Pryor’s collection, Small Nuclear Family (Eyewear, 2015), was chosen by Bel Mooney as a poetry choice in the Daily Mail and the TLS described it as ‘a remarkable debut’. She was a 2017 Huffington Post poet to watch and in February 2018 she was the Scottish Poetry Library digital poet-in-residence as part of ‘The Blue Crevasse’ project. Recently her poetry has been published in Poetry Review and Magma and her short fiction in Ambit.