The Frogmore Poetry Prize Winners 2016

Adjudicators Report
and winning entries


How Firstly – thank you to everyone who entered their poem, or poems, to this competition; you’ve offered your work to a stranger, invited their judgement. That’s both generous and brave. I asked myself, before I started to read the entries, what I was looking for; what’s my definition of a really fantastic, memorable poem, a poem that deserves not only a cash prize and publication, but, if I had my way, an annual public holiday held on that poet’s birthday?.... And I come back to Emily Dickinson; ‘If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.' The best poems, for me, startle and discombobulate, offer no easy or cosy ‘answers’ to life’s greatest mysteries or injustices; are grounded in the poet’s own truth – which isn’t to say they’re factually accurate, but that the poet had to write that poem, as a poem; it would never have worked as well in any other form. I wanted to be not just reeled in, but unable to wriggle off the hook. I wanted to feel that the poet had, in writing this poem, brought a new and fabulous creature into being, and that without this creature, the world would be a less interesting and exciting place. I selected an initial long list of forty or so poems, and whittling that number down to ten was, frankly, excruciating. I read each one out loud, several times, listening for cadence and rhythm, for sound effects and surprises, asking myself if the top of my head was still attached. Finally, I whittled the list down to ten fantastic poems, all of which I wish I’d written, and all of which will, I hope, become part of a longer collection. Each offered me a fresh perspective; each drew me in to its own world, its own language, imagery and premise. Finally, though, the three top poems drew me back again and again, insisting that I read them in different lights, different rooms, at different times of day and night. All three winning poems require a certain amount of decoding – the necessity to ask, What’s really going on here? What lies beneath? ‘Cabbage on a Leash’ was, as a title, a wonderfully surprising and surreal image, and immediately plunged the reader into a series of challenging, resonant, audacious images, referencing the ‘real’ world, full of unsettling contemporary references,  but also the psychological disturbance of an individual narrator whose ‘state’ may be a metaphor for the madness of a world where politics and war have shattered lives. ‘Blackheath, Early Morning’ drew me in from the first, seemingly quotidian, lines, and then taking me, as a reader, on a dream-journey where a specific London borough at a particular time of day shifts between a philosophical discourse on ‘the miraculous in failure’ and why a river flooding a street outside transforms people. I loved the risks it took, and its boldness. ‘Calves On A Carousel’, though, was the poem which, from the first reading, did strange things to the top of my head. One way of reading it is to say that it describes calves in a field, before they embark on their final journey to the abattoir. Not a comfortable subject, perhaps, but also an ‘everyday’ one. And yet this poem dazzled me with its quietly devastating imagery – Wet dummy nose and silver dribble was so startling that I felt as though the calf was breathing and dribbling beside me. Each calf, initially compared with a Flybe-sized weigh cage becomes, by the poem’s final stanza, heroic, tragic, its fate stamped on my memory as surely as Their destination stamped on patterned/leather. This is an extraordinary poem.

Catherine Smith


The winner, and runners-up
arrow CABBAGE ON A LEASH (Catherine Edmunds)

Shortlisted entries
CUT’N’DYE (Sharon Black)
SCENT (David Hale)
HER PORRIDGE (Andrew Sclater)
button MOSS (Natalie Whittaker)