The winner of the National Poetry Competition is…

Stephen Sexton, for his poem ‘The Curfew‘! You can listen to Stephen reading his poem in an interview for The Arts Show on BBC Radio Ulster (from around 21:36 in).

Caleb Parkin has won second prize for his poem ‘The Desktop Metaphor‘, and T.L. Evans has won third prize for ‘Detuned Radio‘.

There are seven commendations: Sam Harvey for ‘Claire Climbs Everest‘; Fran Lock for ‘Epistle from inside the Sharknado‘; Patrick James Errington for ‘Never Say Never Say Never‘; Holly Singlehurst for ‘Hiroshima, 1961‘; Laura Scott for ‘The Grey Mirror‘; Marc Brightside for ‘Eleven Years of May‘; and Peter Wallis for ‘What Can I Say?‘.

Congratulations to all the winners.

The winners of the National Poetry Competition
The winners and judges of the National Poetry Competition. From L-R: Gerry Cambridge, Sam Harvey, Patrick James Errington, Peter Wallis, Laura Scott, Stephen Sexton, Moniza Alvi, Holly Singlehurst, Marc Brightside, Caleb Parkin, T.L. Evans and Jack Underwood. (Also a winner, not pictured, Fran Lock).

Out of 12,580 poems entered for this year’s award, Stephen Sexton’s poem ‘The Curfew’ has been chosen as the winner of the National Poetry Competition, winning him £5,000. Judges Moniza Alvi, Gerry Cambridge and Jack Underwood selected the winning poem from an astounding field of entries from 73 countries worldwide – maintaining the competition’s position as one of the world’s biggest international open poetry competitions for single poems.

Moniza Alvi commented:

“Exuberant in its energies, ‘The Curfew’, while scarcely pausing, admits the contemplative. It’s a poem to read and re-read, to ponder and to experience. Its conclusion tenders that which goes beyond accustomed language, beyond any language”.

Gerry Cambridge added:

“‘The Curfew’ is a complex poem that slowly reveals itself to the reader but remains finally mysterious too. It skilfully intertwines several elements and time-frames: some sort of political suppression, the narrator’s grandfather and an unspecified bauxite mining accident, and the fine comic touch of the ungovernable animals let out of the zoo by ‘the radicals’. At once winsome, strangely happy, and peculiarly touching, it deftly conjures a world.”

Stephen Sexton, from Northern Ireland, has had work published in many poetry magazines and anthologies. His pamphlet Oils was published by The Emma Press to great acclaim in 2014, and was chosen as the Poetry Book Society’s Winter Pamphlet Choice in the same year. He follows in the footsteps of previous Northern Irish winners of the National Poetry Competition such as Medbh McGuckian in 1978, Colette Bryce in 2003 and Sinéad Morrissey in 2007. He described the feeling of having won:

“It’s an outrageous honour to have this poem recognised by the judges and perhaps the most exciting thing for me is the plain old fundamental feeling of being understood. Even if I’m not sure what is lingering behind the poem, there is pure joy in thinking that whatever is being transmitted arrived at its destination intact.”

He goes on to detail some of the thinking behind the poem:

“There’s a lot of history in the poem, but I think I thought more of a series of contexts and the interplay of interior and exterior spaces, each folded within another. I wanted, through an aggregation of these contexts – animals roaming around a town in the present, a mine collapse somewhere in the past – to create a kind of municipal pastoral scene in which what’s happening and what’s happened are overlaid and integrated.”

Stephen Sexton becomes the winner of The Poetry Society’s 39th National Poetry Competition. Since it began in 1978 the competition has been an important milestone in the careers of many of today’s leading poets, with previous winners including Helen Dunmore, Ruth Padel, Philip Gross, Carol Ann Duffy, Jo Shapcott and Tony Harrison. Awarding a total of £9,400 prize money annually, the competition recognises individual poems, previously unpublished, in an anonymised judging process. The judges only discover the identity of the winners after making their final decision. 

This year’s winners include Laura Scott, who won the Geoffrey Dearmer Prize in 2015, and Fran Lock, who won third prize in the National Poetry Competition in 2014, and was commended in 2015. Holly Singlehurst has never been published as a poet before, and is commended this year for a short poem of only eight lines. 

29 March 2017