The winner of the Hamish Canham Prize 2006 is Matt Barnard, for his poem ‘The Sore Thumb’.

Judges; choice – Carole Satyamurti reports on the judging process:

The poems we consider for this prize already constitute the equivalent of a shortlist in any other competition, as they have each been selected from a large post-bag of submissions to appear in Poetry News. There are no duff poems among the candidates for the prize.

We started the judging process with each of the six people on the panel nominating and ranking the three poems they considered the strongest. This could have yielded a list of eighteen poems; in fact it resulted in many fewer.

We arrived at a shortlist of six poems, each of which had strong support. We then had a really enjoyable time, reading each of the six poems aloud, and discussing them in turn. We liked Ann Leahy‘s ‘Pulling Power’ for its gloomy humour, and for the detailing of life’s catastrophes that seem to add up to Sod’s Law. ‘The Painter’, by Caroline Gilfillan aroused enthusiasm in several of us – the complexity of what it takes on, and the large historical sweep. There was a lot of support for Frank Dux‘s ‘Phenomena’, a tiny, accurate poem, consisting of eight short lines, beautifully rhymed and metred. It is about the way things secretly contain the forms they will take in the future.

The last three gave us most difficulty. Frances Green‘s ‘Telegram Boy’ went beyond what could have been a dutiful look backwards at the way bad news was once delivered. In her poem, the telegram boy becomes Death itself, a figure who reminds us that no one is exempt from bad news, or from the “shadows of (his) wheels”.

Alison Jesson‘s ‘Foreigner’, too, lifted away from the expectable things that can be said about being alone in a foreign city. The isolation tips over into the surreal as we are invited to entertain the idea that a map of the protagonist, with its “well-kept avenues? childless parks” and unexplored back streets lies “neatly folded on the bed”.

In the end, it was Matt Barnard‘s ‘The Sore Thumb’ (published in Poetry News, Spring 2006) that easily secured the majority vote, and wins this year’s Hamish Canham Prize. Set on an island, in Scotland perhaps, the poem wonderfully captures the unease that arises from the contact between established members of a small community and people who come in from outside. Nothing dramatic happens, but the landscape is strongly evoked in language that is precise and graceful. The lineation, at first sight random, but actually carefully patterned, serves the poem well. We are left with a sense of desolation at the missed opportunity for contact between islanders and incomer. The islanders don’t welcome it; the stranger doesn’t have the words that could perhaps have made it happen. It is a poem about a particular time and place – and about language itself.

Matt Barnard writes:

“I was delighted to learn I’d won the Hamish Canham Prize and it felt particularly poignant as I’d just found out that my school English teacher, Greg Brown, had recently died. He inspired my love of literature and I have been trying to write poetry and fiction ever since. I have had poems published in a number of magazines, including Acumen, London Magazine, Magma, Other Poetry and Outposts. I have regularly attended Poetry School courses over the last seven years and was one of the poets featured in their 2004 anthology Entering the Tapestry. As for the day job, I work for the National Centre for Social Research, specialising in qualitative research.”