Jolly, Tess
Tess Jolly.

Congratulations to Tess Jolly, the winner of the Hamish Canham Prize 2015, with ‘Goldfields’. The poem, one of 24 members’ poems published in Poetry News between summer 2014 and spring 2015, was selected by judges Carole Satyamurti (chair) and a Poetry Society team of Sophie Baker, Paul McGrane, Mike Sims and Kate White.

Judges’ choice

“I was delighted by our choice of ‘Goldfields’,” said Carole Satyamurti. “It’s a poem that delivers fresh nuances and layers of meaning on repeated re-reading. Despite a strong field, it thoroughly deserves the prize.”

“It seems at first to avoid the very subject it sets up in its opening line,” added Kate White. “The beauty of it is how, by the end, you realise you have been reading a love poem all along.”

Winner’s comments

Tess Jolly, who lives in Shoreham-by-Sea and has been a Poetry Society member since 2010, was delighted to win. “It feels like a dream coming true, a huge boost to my confidence as a writer and a big encouragement to keep going,” she said.

‘Goldfields’ was written in response to the ‘gold’ theme set by Kei Miller in Poetry News winter 2014. “I was mulling things over, wondering how to approach the theme, when something I read somehow sparked the first line of this poem. I researched the gold rush a little and the poem grew relatively easily from there.

“The poem’s subject is inspired by meeting my partner fifteen years ago – how we happened to be in the same place at the same right time in both of our lives, and how fortunate I feel for that to have happened. It is about whether we believe in fate or chance, and whether or not life is a random lucky dip – something I’m still not certain about – and what we teach our children accordingly.”

The references to children add to the poem’s emotional pull. “As a child, my Mum read a lot of stories to me, so I was happy when the theme of telling stories to our children began to emerge,” Jolly said. “Hearing the Narnia stories had a lasting influence on my psyche I think! I enjoy alluding to fairytales in poems, drawing from that rich, ancient, universal fabric. And I suppose the fact that the poem opens with the idea of the speaker telling stories to children is also to do with the good luck and gratitude I feel to have had my own children.”

A part-time library assistant, Jolly also runs creative writing workshops for young people. Her poems have appeared in magazines including Magma, Agenda, The New Writer and The North. She was highly commended in The Poetry Society’s 2012 Stanza Poetry Competition, in the Mslexia Women’s Poetry Competition in both 2011 and 2013, and in this year’s Four Counties Poetry Competition. A pamphlet is due next year from tall-lighthouse.

“Poetry for me is my passion and my purpose, something that fulfils and frustrates me in equal measure,” she adds. “Reading a poem or writing one that successfully distils an experience into words and a form is one of the most important ways in which I assimilate and understand the world.”

Judges also admired Kim Moore’s ‘In That Year’ (shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem), Lesley Saunders‘s ‘Minuscule’, Anna Kisby‘s ‘Portrait of the Mother as a Pitcher’ and Paul Stephenson’s ‘The Guest’.

The Hamish Canham Prize is awarded annually to the best members’ poem in Poetry News. It was founded in 2004 by Sheena and Hugh Canham, in memory of their son, Hamish Canham (1962-2003).

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