Stanza Poetry Competition: Lies

The winner of the 2019 Stanza Poetry Competition on the theme of ‘Lies’, judged by Geraldine Clarkson, is Penny Boxall (York Stanza) for her poem ‘The Dub Artist’. As part of Penny’s prize, she will be one of our guest readers at The Poetry Society’s AGM on 27 November at the Poetry Cafe, London, and will receive professional feedback on her poems-in-progress from Judy Brown as part of The Poetry Society’s Poetry Surgery scheme.


Geraldine: “This gorgeous poem shone out from the beginning, a refreshingly original subject, with piquant examples and precise images… An original take on the the theme of ‘lies’, which was both authentic-seeming and thought-provoking.”

Penny: “I was idly watching the pondlife outside my room at Cove Park this year, and – as described – a waterboatman’s actions synced up briefly with the sound of a donkey. It was quite funny visually, and it linked in with a conversation I’d had with a group of sound artists about first impressions and how, in new company, we can accidentally come out with things that we don’t fully recognise as ourselves – not lies, exactly, but things that don’t quite ring true. I’ve taken this thought further away in the poem and fictionalised it a bit, which probably adds to the confusion…”

Our joint runners-up are Belinda Rimmer (Cheltenham) for ‘Being Swedish in Pontlottyn Rugby Club’ and Bernie Cullen (also of York Stanza) for ‘When Ursula Tyrwhitt was Gladstone’s Lover’. 

Geraldine has chosen ten Commended poems:

‘On Reading Professor McGrath’ by Alastair Llewellyn-Smith (Barnes & Chiswick)
‘The second lie’ by Niall Firth (Forest Poets, Waltham Forest)
‘On Draining the St. Martin Canal’ by David Canning (Mosaic, Colchester)
‘Sloes’ by Hannah Brockbank (Chichester)
‘The Mask’ by Antony Mair (Hastings)
‘Home County’ AND ‘Whitewash’ (two poems) by Isabella Mead (Chiltern Poets)
‘Sp/lit’ by Claire Booker (Brighton)
‘They Came From Somewhere Else’ by Veronica Zundel (Palmers Green)
‘Blakeney, moonlight’ by Michael Shann (Forest Poets, Waltham Forest)

This year, we received 433 poems on the theme of LIES from 270 poets, which is the second highest total ever.

Geraldine: “Judge not, lest ye be judged… As might be expected with a Poetry Society Stanza competition, this one produced startlingly high-quality entries and it has proved exquisitely challenging to choose among them. I’d expected and looked forward to many political entries and there was a happy abundance of provocative, original, funny, angry, and cogent topical poems – no small number featuring our current PM and the US President, including the wonderfully-titled ‘A Portrait of Donald Trump with Eleven Random Objects’… Plus some superb riffs and rants. ‘On Reading Professor McGrath’ (Commended) bravely married politics and religion in a neatly controlled and finely-turned sonnet with two brilliantly salutary final twists. Brexit and the Irish Border featured in quite a few excellent poems, including the clear-eyed ‘Where the Border Lies’ and a riproaring poem with the aptly-punning title ‘On the Leave of All Hallows’. There were many first-rate ‘first lie’ poems, and lacerating, well-told personal stories of deceit which I felt privileged and sometimes physically jolted to read. Gravestones and epitaphs – quoting the immortal words ‘Here Lies…’ – appeared in many poems, as did the phrase ‘the lie of the land’, including some which were contenders up to the final cut… and there was as an unlikely coincidence of less expected themes such as cows, crows, Emily Dickinson, the Bayeux tapestry (two crackers were ‘Fake News’ and ‘La Tapisserie de Bayeux’), duvets, masseurs, the Moon (and mooning) and supermarkets/cupboards of lies/alibis… Music, art, and poetry offered interesting angles and metaphors for exploring ‘lies’ and I kept returning to the quiet but affecting ‘Blakeney, moonlight’ (Commended), reminiscent of Helen Schlegel’s synaesthetic enjoyment of Beethoven’s Fifth in E.M. Forster’s Howards End. As well as ‘first’ and ‘last’ lies, I relished the irrepressible creativity of ‘The Second Lie’ (Commended), tantalisingly told with generous and specific local detail. And in general I enjoyed looking for and finding poems which were non-derivative, doing their own thing, which popped up complete, unassailable, not showing their workings-out. One insightful poem (‘Lessons in Lying’) explored Aspergers’ antipathy for ‘bent truths’. I admired the skill and nerve of two wittily epigrammatic poems (just 3 and 4 lines long) and they stayed in play for a long time… I’ll repeat sincerely the competition judge’s cliché that on another day I might have come up with a completely different final selection… Also, that several of the Commended could have been (and a few, at various stages, were) winners on a different day… Towards the end it came down to very small points – another competition truism: I lost count of the times when it was the last line which let a whole poem down, and of other poems which might have been winners with the tweaking of a single image, or even a word (or the closing or adding of a line space, or an altered line break, for clarity…). Gallingly, for the purposes of this competition, a couple of my favourites were over the 40 line limit… Other favourites were gloriously experimental and ambitious, but with tiny flaws, and although I held on for as long as I could, ultimately that necessary requirement for competition poems to be finished and ‘there’ – as opposed to journal/anthology poems which have further opportunities for minimal adjustments or polishing – meant I had, sadly, to relinquish many of them at the eleventh hour. This goes with the territory for competition entries, I expect, and I think I’ve learnt a lot about entering – as well as judging – competitions!”

Geraldine Clarkson
Geraldine Clarkson

If anyone knows how to win a poetry competition, Geraldine Clarkson does. She’s been the winner of the Ambit Poetry Competition, the Poetry London Competition, Magma Editors’ Prize and the Ver Prize, and The Poetry Society’s Ann Born prize – as well as countless runner-up prizes, Commendations, and shortlistings. She is also one of four winners of The Poetry School / Nine Arches Press Primers scheme. Her pamphlet 25 is out now with Shearsman Books. Twitter: @GBClarkson

History of the competition

The annual Stanza Competition began in 2007 and is open exclusively to Stanza members who are also Poetry Society members. Free entry. Prizes: The winning poet is given the choice of a free Poetry Prescription or a year’s Poetry Society membership – or the equivalent. There are two joint runners-up and ten commended poets. The theme for the competition is the antithesis or balance to that year’s National Poetry Day theme.

Previous winners

2018: Richard Westcott (North Devon), judged by Penelope Shuttle
2017: Konstandinos Mahoney (Barnes & Chiswick), judged by Andy Croft
2016: Pat Winslow (Oxford 2 Stanza), judged by Ros Barber
2015: Graham Burchell (Exeter Stanza), judged by Jo Bell
2014: Robin Houghton (Brighton Stanza), judged by Les Robinson
2013: Jan Bay-Petersen (Cambridge Stanza), judged by Neil Rollinson
2012: Angela Stoner (Penzance Stanza), judged by John Siddique
2011: Julia Webb (Norwich Stanza), judged by Carrie Etter
2010: Michael Swan (Oxford Stanza),  judged by Sheenagh Pugh
2009: Julie Lumsden (Nottingham Stanza),  judged by Philip Gross
2008: Rich Goodson (Nottingham Stanza),  judged by Eleanor Cooke
2007: Emma Danes (Cambridge Stanza),  judged by Roddy Lumsden