Results of the Frogmore Poetry Prize for 2019, sponsored by the Frogmore Foundation and adjudicated by John O’Donoghue.
The Frogmore Poetry Prize for 2019 is awarded to Polly Walshe of Oxford for the poem OUR DISTRICT. She receives the sum of two hundred and fifty guineas and a two-year subscription to The Frogmore Papers.
The first runner-up is Michael Swan of Chilton, Didcot for the poem WE REFUGEES. He receives the sum of seventy-five guineas and a year’s subscription to The Frogmore Papers.
The second runner-up is Robert Hamberger of Brighton for the poem SLEEPING WITH UNCERTAINTY. He receives the sum of fifty guineas and a year’s subscription to The Frogmore Papers.
Other poems shortlisted were:
ADVICE FROM PETER THE GREAT by Tony Hendry
THE RETURN by Miriam Patrick
TRAD. ARR. (Cecil Sharp, Hambridge, Somerset 1903) by David Shields
HOUSES by Ben Strak
NEW-BORN by Michael Swan
RINGED CHANGES by J S Watts
These poems will all be published in number 94 of The Frogmore Papers in September 2019. Entrants for this year’s Prize can order a copy for the special price of only £3.50. Please quote ‘prize entrant’ with your order. All the authors listed above will receive one copy gratis.
Should poets enter competitions? Some people decry them – poets aren’t show ponies, they say, and poetry is not a sport. But the idea of poets winning awards goes back to ancient Greece, when crowns of laurels where bestowed on poets. The tradition was revived during the Renaissance, and continues in various forms to this day. Personally, I think poets should enter competitions. I entered the City of London Festival Poetry Competition back in the mid-Eighties. I had to turn up at The Cheddar Cheese on Fleet Street and read my poem out to my fellow competitors and the judge, Alan Brownjohn. I won a small prize – I was asked to choose between a bottle of wine and a book of my choosing. I chose Robert Graves’ The White Goddess. But it wasn’t the token that meant so much, valuable as Graves’ book was to me. No. It was the recognition by an older poet that my work was worthy of recognition. Up to then I’d been dabbling in verses; now they became my life.
So what of our Frogmore poets? By what standard should they be judged, by what criteria? I read close to 400 poems, sifting and sorting, making three piles under the headings Yes, No, Maybe. Certain themes recurred: there were quite a few elegies, quite a few ekphrastic poems, quite a few Nature poems, some poems related to contemporary events or anniversaries – the Moon Landing, for instance – and quite a few humorous poems. The majority of poems were written in free verse, with only a handful in the old forms: ballad, sonnet, sestina.
In the end, I was looking for originality of voice, facility with the craft of poetry, and felicity of expression. The poems on my shortlist all possess these qualities and I commend them to you.
The Prize goes to ‘Our District’ by Polly Ealshe. Any poem that starts ‘If the whole of time was a town’ is going to get the reader’s attention. ‘Our District’ has the atmosphere of certain poems by those great East European poets Czeslaw Milosz and Zbigniew Herbert, or the fabulous short story by Ursula Le Guin, ‘The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas’, and unfolds like a parable. I have read the poem over and over and find new depths and meanings in it every time. On one level it could be about the insignificance of our times compared to the rest of history. On another level, about our deracination, our mistreatment of Mother Nature and the planet. And on yet another level about our present divided times. And I am sure there are other levels too. There was no poem quite like ‘Our District’ in the great sheaf of poems I read. So for its haunting, mysterious quality, its originality, and its distinctive power I award ‘Our District’ the golden laurels.
First runner-up is ‘We Refugees’ by Michael Swan. This poem explores what only recently was called ‘the refugee crisis’ through the voice of a refugee. It catalogues the journey from oppression to safety through images we have all become familiar with: wire, trucks, the road. But what the poem brings home to the reader is the how the legacy of oppression remains, how the feeling of contingency and uncertainty never leaves anyone who has fled war and persecution in lines of great economy and power. I award ‘We Refugees’ the silver laurels.
Second runner-up is ‘Sleeping With Uncertainty’ by Robert Hamberger. This sonnet also explores uncertainty, but in this poem it is the uncertainty those facing a potential cancer diagnosis have to endure. With the restraint a given form can often instill, ‘Sleeping With Uncertainty’ manages to compress into its 14 lines that depth of experience we look for in poetry, and I award ‘Sleeping With Uncertainty’ the bronze laurels.
Congratulations to our laureates, to our shortlisted poets, and to all who entered. If you have not been recognised this time, keep going. It took me a long time to get anywhere, and I experienced a lot of rejection along the way. But I kept working at it, kept sending my work out, and eventually I was published. I wish you all the very best of luck.
John O’Donoghue, 2019