The winners! Poems by Hannah Hodgson, Pascal Vine, Philip Brennan, Megan Baxter and Jemima Childs
Updated: Aug 27
Content warning: illness, hospital, death, bad language (as in swearing, but seeing as these poems all won prizes, the language is actually very good indeed!)
We are now extremely excited and honoured to give you our five prize winners! We've got a raw, honest, painful, beautiful, empathetic dazzler of a poem as our first prize winner, giving a vivid picture of life inside a hospital ward. Our second-prize winner is a stunning ode to bone cleaning season (which is now, we're told!) with the killer revelation that 'you're never whole in the next life'. In third place, we've got a scene of risk, perseverance and general rad-ness (is that skater language?!) in which the wildness goes on even after the floodlights die.
Our Dragonfly Prize for Potential was set up to reward outstanding promise. The plan was to award it to one young poet, but there was so much of that outstanding promise on show that our judge Fiona Benson couldn't possibly choose just the one, and we don't blame her! We wanted to reward as much potential as possible, so were thrilled to award the prize twice - to a knockout prose poem about a discovery of sexuality that 'broke the nose' of 'everything (the narrator) knew about being a girl', and to a gorgeously heartwarming piece about a mother and a daughter, preparing pomegranates, talking of faraway places and dancing together in the kitchen.
We'll be sharing Fiona's wonderful comments with each poem, detailing why she selected each one, so please do give those a read once you've been being truly amazed by the sensational poems!
Not all Bombs get Dramatic Conclusions
The foam cubes hiding wiring in the ceiling are liquid-stained,
and the ward sister stands on a stepladder every few weeks,
swapping them around so they match. The psychiatrists
point to the ceiling instead of inkblots. It's blood I say,
we’re below a theatre. The drains backed up last night,
and we evacuated the ward. A kid shouted By smelling shit
particles of shit are in your nose! Until a nurse flushed
his nasal cavity with saline to shut him up.
The seated scales, the empty wheelchair, a confused man and his penis.
The codeine is fifteen minutes late, and a woman on dialysis
is screaming. It shouldn’t hurt the nurse says, limping
on her stubbed toe. I want all of this but beautiful I say
to the Matron, her uniform a bright, unread email.
The curtains are brown stained, saliva stained, conversation stained.
Hundreds of people have died on this mattress I say, and I am not one of them.
The man down the hall has an empty pipe in his mouth.
Dementia an orderly mouths, as if hiding this from a child.
by Hannah Hodgson, aged 23, from Cumbria
Hannah says: I am a poet living with a life limiting illness. My work has been published by BBC Arts, The Poetry Society and Magma amongst others. My pamphlet, Where I’d Watch Plastic Trees Not Grow,was published by Verve Poetry Press in February 2021. My first collection is due from Seren in 2022.
Fiona says: ‘Not all Bombs get Dramatic Conclusions’ is a discomfiting poem of survival, spiked with hallucinogenicly vivid observations of a hospital ward. It borders on the surreal – the ceiling stains that double as a Rorschach test, the nurse’s uniform bright as an unread email – but has a sustaining emotional core, an empathy for pain and its inhabitants. Empathy for the kid worried about particles of shit up his nose, for the nurse with the stubbed toe, for the woman on dialysis, for the man with dementia. I love the simultaneous yearning for beauty and knowledge that none of this is beautiful. And I love the bravery and stubborn endurance of that line “Hundreds of people have died on this mattress, I say, and I am not one of them.” Amen.
they become somehow brighter in this open stomach.
Linen scented vertebrae, knuckles, shins
lined up on an old towel in the sun. They chime
when they’re dry. Ready to be pieced into new
heavenly bodies; boxes and incomplete collections.
It’s always hip sockets, never skulls, teeth
never spines. You’re never
whole in the next life. The wishbones
are always in two pieces,
with perfect matching jagged edges,
as if they know they will find each other
again in the dirt.
by Pascal Vine, aged 26 (25 when he entered!), from Somerset
Pascal says: I’m a UK performance poet from the Somerset Levels who enjoys describing the world around them in the touchiest-feeliest ways possible. I graduated Bath Spa in Creative Writing and Religion in 2018 and have been mooching ever since. Published by Bad Betty, Three Drops, Verve and Eyeflash, I have headlined poetry nights across the South West. I’ve worked with punks, interpretive dancers, noise artists, radio hosts and anyone else who will let me. I am one third of the team behind Bristol Tonic Poetry Night. I am disabled, nonbinary (he/they), and tired.
Fiona says: ‘Maceration’ is a different poem, a close observation of bone findings from under the soil – “things that were meals”. I love the details, and the surprising celebration – “these are the joys / that are bones.” It is a surprisingly sensory poem, the laundry powder the bones are cleaned in making them “linen scented’, the chime and chock of the bones when they are dry. I loved the metaphoric power of the laundry powder bath as an “open stomach”, and the idea of piecing together new, “heavenly bodies”. I also loved the assuredness of statement – “You’re never whole in the next life” evidenced by all these disparate pieces of skeleton, the two jagged edges of the wishbones longing for each other in the dark.
for the KG Crew slumpin’ e’ry day
Shirts balled on the grass, the skaters climb their boards
and plunge into the bowl. They knife between the children
tottering on Christmas presents – a mother screams
as Bobby (stark ribs, baggy trousers, 75kg of board and man)
wipes out a little girl who never looked up. She slaps
the concrete, her tasselled scooter snaps its neck.
Young Michael Brown splits scabs on the funbox,
Kiera Summers charges the rail that cracked her coccyx,
while TJ reaches measures of perfection, threading traffic
backwards, carving out gazelles by the half pipe. Inexplicably
he fucks a kickflip and shreds his face down the stairs.
When the floodlights die, a mad few skate on
by the light of their phones. Mark Finnegan
the oldest by years, bleeding knees, tonsured lid
sees his mind in figures of eight around the bowl.
by Philip Brennan, aged 25, from Reading
Philip says: If you fell off your skateboard and hit the concrete, that was getting ‘slumped’. I can’t skate but I love watching people skate, and I felt a growing love and respect for my friends who, no matter how hard they got slumped, climbed back onto their boards and went again. That’s where this poem comes from. I’m a prose writer at heart, but I’d be nowhere in either discipline without Elizabeth Bishop, Raymond Carver, or Denis Johnson.
Fiona says: ‘Slump City’ is a tour-de-force of language and description, as its professional skaters knife through children in the skating bowl. It is rife with the hard bite of concrete, split scabs, cracked coccyges, shredded faces and bleeding knees. The language is gorgeously textured, with its hard consonants (“he fucks a kickflip”) and moments of unbiddable grace (“carving out gazelles”). Perhaps I missed a little emotional investment, but I was blown away by the sheer bravura of the language.
Dragonfly Prize for Potential
I thought the feminine experience
was all about a deep melancholic longing that seems to grip you from nowhere. Binge eating in your underwear. Sleeping with a mean, mean man. A hole in you that the light can’t touch but maybe seventeen Quorn nuggets and a salted caramel milkshake can. I’ve got one foot in the darkness, the other foot in the same darkness, and every time a man has promised to pluck me out of it they’ve just disrespected me in a bar instead. I think the only moment I’ve ever known peace was sleeping next to you. That night, when we slipped away from the city with all of our friends, our arms touched in bed and that was it for me; just us in lace bralettes and oversized shirts from the BHF. I imagined the small movement it would take for our mouths to meet and it broke the nose of everything I thought I knew about being a girl.
by Megan Baxter, aged 22, from Gloucester
Megan says: I am a writer and performer living in Gloucester. I graduated with a BA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University in 2020 and am currently studying for an MA in Writing for Young People. Since being selected as a Spork Up! emerging artist during the pandemic, I have been working on my debut young adult novel and putting together a chapbook, BODY IN TROUBLE, which is available now.
Fiona says:‘I thought the feminine experience’ is an acutely sensitive poem of self-realisation. I loved its tone – that self-knowing voice, its shrewd assessment of cliches – “A hole in you that the light can’t touch but maybe seventeen Quorn nuggets and a salted caramel milkshake can” – and that moment of sincerity at the end – that jolt of contact “our arms touched in bed and that was it for me”. This poem also has one of the best last lines I’ve ever read: “I imagined the small movement it would take for our mouths to meet and it broke the nose of everything I thought I knew about being a girl.” It left my eyes smarting.
I love you more than all the pomegranates in Iran,
my mother hummed in soft Farsi, and
we worked quickly, peeling the jewels
from their cavities;
pretending we were dentists extracting garnet teeth.
She had harpist’s fingers
stained by the pink juice we would conjure into
syrups and chutneys and jams
of ruby - sometimes she breathed in the magenta
fruit, flown like cargo
to Turkey, then Italy, then Dulwich.
We feasted under glowing
paper lanterns on the ripe beads until
we found the sweetest
and she would smile
because we had tasted
I asked if we should throw the shell away,
and she said no, we should dance.
by Jemima Childs, aged 24, from London
Jemima says: I’m a Video Producer living in London. I love the buzz of the city, and how interconnected people’s lives are here, but feel a lot of my writing is influenced by the Welsh coast, where I grew up surrounded by flowers and forests and the ocean. My poem ‘ripening’ draws on this feeling by highlighting the juxtaposition of different places we call home.
There are so many poets whose work I’m influenced by, but my biggest inspiration is my mum. She is a wonderful writer, brilliant editor, and taught me how to truly get to the essence of a poem. I will always remember our long car journeys listening to Dylan Thomas.
Fiona says:‘ripening’ is an intimate poem about a mother and daughter preparing food. I adore the image of the pomegranate seeds as garnet teeth, and the gorgeous space of love that this poem conjures up, woven out of the mother’s humming music, the harpist’s fingers, the sense of faraway landing in the location of the now, the feast under glowing lanterns. What a beautiful room this poem creates. There is a sweet symmetry between the glowing paper lanterns and the glowing orbs of the fruit with their papery pith. The poem’s ending is simply joyous. “I asked her is we should throw the shell away, / and she said no, we should dance.” There is so much need in the world for poems like this, that honour sacred moments of human tenderness.