tenth time lucky

I’m feeling very lucky, and rather giddy, and very grateful. My poem A Cure for Rosesickness is one of three highly commended in this year’s Live Canon International Poetry Prize, judged by Zaffar Kunial. It’s also published in the competition anthology, which features all 50 longlisted poems.

The giddiness may be due in part to a certain amount of Prosecco I imbibed at yesterday’s anthology launch/performance/prize-giving bash at Greenwich Theatre. It’s the performance part which makes this competition so special. All 21 shortlisted poems were performed, from memory, by three members of the Live Canon Ensemble – on this occasion Guy Clark, Jim Scott and Rebecca Hare. What an amazing achievement by these super-talented actors, who brought each poem vividly to life at such short notice – the shortlist was only announced on Friday! It was a privilege to hear Rebecca read my poem so beautifully. You can get a flavour of the Live Canon experience on their YouTube channel.

And after the performances, the prize announcements. The Borough prize for a local Greenwich poem was awarded to Steph Morris, for his funny and sharp poem Keep calm and cross off, one of several poems tilting at the current political climate. I’d come to enjoy the afternoon, and still couldn’t quite believe my poem was on the shortlist. So to hear it was highly commended – gasp! Really?? And by a poet whose work has moved me to tears . . . oh my word! Also highly commended, and coincidentally next to each other in the anthology, very fine poems by James O’Hara-Knight and E. E .Jones. The overall winner, for her wonderful poem Ouroboros, was Ella Duffy.

Then there was more Prosecco in the bar, catching up with poetry friends and making new ones, while I was still in a disbelieving daze that the poem I’d written over 4 years ago for a Mixed Borders residency that didn’t happened, that I’d sent out nine times before without success, was now, not just out in the world, but highly commended.

Thank you, Live Canon. Thank you, Zaffar Kunial. Thank you, well wishers everywhere. And congratulations to everyone who made it into the anthology, onto the shortlist, my fellow ‘commendees’, and especially Ella Duffy. What a super Sunday afternoon!

in the bar at Greenwich Theatre, post prize announcements

on the train home 

Photos: Nick Rogers

how my breakfast inspired a prize winning poem

I won first prize in the City Harvest Holiday Poetry Competition! My first first prize, and City Harvest’s first poetry competition. And it all came about thanks to the local surplus food project, Waste Not Want Not, that Nick and I have benefited from over the last couple of years.

WNWN circulated details to all their contacts a few weeks ago inviting us to enter City Harvest’s poetry competition. The theme was “What Food Means to Me”, with the top three winners receiving a crate of goodies from City Harvest, including a turkey. I’m vegetarian, so the turkey was not a draw, but the idea of a hamper of foodie treats just before Christmas was very tempting. The deadline was quite tight though – 1st of December – and I often struggle to write to a theme.

Nevertheless, I sat at my desk one morning, determined to give it a go. Eating my breakfast and thinking about food and what angle to take. I’m lucky never to have experienced hunger. Food can be one of the great pleasures of life. And one of the things I love about the surplus food we get from WNWN is having to be creative with the ingredients that end up in our bag. Food is definitely more than fuel in my book. So I mused, munching on my piece of tahini on toast. And lo and behold, a poem started to take shape on the page.

I emailed it off, and last Friday received the wonderful news that I won first prize! It was too late to save the turkey, but it won’t go to waste. Hadas from WNWN is planning a shared community Christmas dinner, where the turkey is sure to be enjoyed by the meat-eaters amongst us.

Huge thanks to City Harvest for running the competition, to Howard Altmann for judging it, and to Waste Not Want Not for prompting me to enter, and more importantly for keeping dozens of Battersea households supplied with fantastic food that would otherwise end up in landfill.

Here’s my prize winning poem:

More than Fuel

A piece of toast
to start my day

from which a world expands
in every bite

a crunchy thought
to chew upon

and savour distant
olive groves

whose drizzled oil
anoints my toast

and with tahini
slathered on

thoughts shift
to countless seeds

and what each sesame
may open —

a hoard of ancient knowledge
dancing on my tongue.


prize winning breakfast