Carole Bromley
Carole Bromley (photo: Michael J Oakes Photography)

Congratulations to Carole Bromley, the winner of this year’s Hamish Canham Prize for her poem ‘First Year’. The Prize, judged by a panel of Poetry Society staff, is awarded to the best poem from a year of members’ poems competitions.

Carole’s poem, ‘First Year’, is a tiny five-line punchline, a poignant tale of blundering lust in among the stacks. “Oh Tom,” it begins, “I’m wearing my lucky pants in the reading room” – and thus the source of the poem is revealed. Members’ poems competitions are always themed; Carole’s winning poem was inspired by a wordcloud made from winning entries from the forty-year history of our National Poetry Competition. Carole’s particular prompt word? Pants.

This year’s judging panel comprised Julia Bird, Helen Bowell, Paul McGrane and Mike Sims, chaired by Poetry Society Trustee Chris Beckett. Helen, who was a first-time judge this year, spoke of the pleasure of an afternoon spent poring over the twenty-four contenders. What stood out especially were the vivid images and emotions in all the poems – from the powerful melancholy of animals under threat to terrifying fathers heaving themselves out of the soil. It was pleasing to award the prize to one of the shortest and funniest of the poems we considered, which yet managed to convey a humongous scale of longing.

Carole’s poem was originally published in the Spring 2019 Poetry News. Ian Duhig said of it at the time, “the bittersweet joy of [it] sparked joy in me on first reading, and still does after many more. Make them laugh, make them cry, curtain – a whole artistic approach informs this witty and charming miniature.”

Among the other poets whom the judges wanted to congratulate were Lesley Saunders for her complex, brilliant ‘The Nature of Glass’, Joanne Key for her horticultural zombie-fest ‘The Father Field’, and Carl Griffin for the clear and present danger of his ‘Polar Bear’.

Hamish Canham (1962-2003) was a poet and psychotherapist; the Prize in his name was founded in 2004 by his parents Sheena and Hugh Canham, and is further supported by a generous anonymous donor.

Liberating the personal: Mike Sims speaks to Carole Bromley

Mike Sims So, how does it feel to have won?

Carole Bromley It was a total and very welcome surprise – especially as all the poems in Poetry News are so good. I’ve found it hard to keep the news under my hat!

Mike Sims Your poem is so deft in execution and in the emotional weight it carries.

Carole Bromley It’s very kind of you to say that. I loved working from the NPC wordcloud. I think it liberated me to key into something deeply personal from the past which I have written about before but in a more directly autobiographical way. If this works it’s because I invented a character and imbued her with my own feelings. The randomness of the words really helped.

Mike Sims You’ve been a writer and poet for a long time. What have you learned about your craft?

Carole Bromley I’ve been writing (and, perhaps more importantly, reading) poetry for about twenty-five years. Not sure what I have learnt about the craft though I have been lucky enough to go on many wonderful Arvon courses and the Jerwood/Arvon mentoring scheme where I was able to try out various forms. I still have a great deal to learn – how dull it would be to feel otherwise!

Mike Sims You write for children I think. Does that affect your writing generally?

Carole Bromley Yes, I think it does actually. I have only been writing children’s poems for about ten years and only seriously for five or so but in that time I think I have had fun playing with rhythm and rhyme, with sounds, with narrative and humour etc, and also thinking more about my audience – if you get that wrong with kids, you’re lost! It’s a useful lesson. It also reminds you that writing poetry can be fun as well as deadly serious.

Mike Sims Any particular plans for your prize (money)?
Carole Bromley I know I should say I will save it and put it towards an Arvon course but, if I’m honest, I will probably treat myself to a new outfit for a couple of readings I have coming up and also go out and celebrate. Thank you for giving me this prize. I feel touched and honoured.

Carole Bromley’s pamphlets (Unscheduled Halt and Skylight) and her three books (A Guided Tour of the Ice House, The Stonegate Devil and Blast Off!) are published by Smith / Doorstop. She lives in York where she is our Stanza rep. She is currently working on a second children’s book and a pamphlet about her recent experience of brain surgery.