Hamish Canham Prize

The annual prize for the best members’ poem in Poetry News was established in 2004 by Sheena and Hugh Canham, in memory of their son, Hamish Canham (1962-2003).

Congratulations to Ramona Herdman, the winner of the Hamish Canham Prize 2017 for her poemMy name is Legion: for we are many’.

The prize is judged each year by a panel of judges, including members of The Poetry Society staff team, and the winner is announced annually in the spring.

Carole Satyamurti, long-time judge of the competition, on the founding of the Hamish Canham Prize

Hamish Canham was an outstandingly gifted child psychotherapist. From his early twenties onwards, he also had a passionate interest in, and love of, poetry. He knew very early on that he wanted to work therapeutically with troubled children, and spent several years, while training, working in residential settings. He showed great patience, imagination and unsentimental accuracy in trying to understand both the young people in his care, and the working environment in which he and his colleagues struggled to help them.

After qualification, and for the rest of his life, he worked at the Tavistock Clinic where, in addition to his clinical work, he became involved in teaching and writing. He was a memorable teacher and supervisor and, in 2000, became joint leader of the child psychotherapy training programme, the biggest in the country.

The following year, he became co-editor of the Journal of Child Psychotherapy. He wrote important papers both on clinical and theoretical subjects, and on the wider relevance of psychoanalytic ideas, notably on the way that the reading of a poem can be illuminated by thinking about it psychoanalytically. His paper ‘ Group and Gang States of Mind’ (Journal of Child Psychotherapy, 2000), for instance, includes a marvellous discussion of Philip Larkin’s ‘Aubade’.

In 2002, Hamish asked me to edit with him a book which would be a collection of papers on the links between poetry and psychoanalysis. When I agreed, a bit reluctantly, it was one of the best decisions I ever made, because collaborating with Hamish was a real privilege. The combination of intellectual rigour, insight and responsiveness to poetry made working with him both easy and delightful. He contributed an excellent paper on Seamus Heaney. The book, Acquainted with the Night: Psychoanalysis and the Poetic Imagination (Karnac) was published in 2003. Sadly, Hamish never saw it, but all the decisions and preparation were made before he died, and it is very much his book.

Hamish’s death was an enormous loss to everyone who knew him. As well as possessing great kindness and gentleness, he was immensely intelligent, and he had a very rare quality of openness and clarity. He died at home, surrounded by his loving family. A few days before, I sat beside his bed and read poems to him – Frost, Larkin, George Herbert. By that time, he was speaking very little, often restless and drifting in and out of consciousness. But I will never forget his complete attention and stillness as I read. It renewed my sense that poetry – the sound and music of it, perhaps even more than the sense – has power to reach across even the deepest chasms. And it was a lasting reminder of what poetry meant to him.