2019 Walter Swan Trust Poetry Prize Results

Walter Swan Poetry Prize

1st. Border Patrol by Deborah Ballantyne

2nd. What Are You, Puffin by Rob Miles

3rd. honey suckle by Jo Peters


Judge Colette Bryce’s Feedback

It was a pleasure to read the shortlisted entries for the Walter Swann Poetry Prize. Amongst the range of subjects, several themes recurred: affectionate portraits of older relatives, sometimes described in absence, through domestic space and the ghosts of familiar routines; and some artful, observational poems where the writers seemed to be painting with words, paying very close attention in the landscape. Within the poems that didn’t make it to the top three, as in the winning poems, were precise and memorable images that will linger in my mind. Thank you to everyone who submitted work this year, and my congratulations to the three winners whose poems drew me back to them for the reasons outlined below.

1st prize goes to ‘Border patrol’, a dramatic monologue spoken by a border enforcement agent on the US Mexico border. The dispassionate tone of the ex-military speaker is well achieved, the casual acceptance of an ‘us versus them’ mentality reflecting a perspective that seems particularly resonant today. In the space of four sestets, a picture of life in this treacherous landscape is vividly imagined, from the banality of the patrol on the one hand, to the desperate journeys of the migrants on the other.

2nd prize goes to a lively ode to one of our most distinctive seabirds, the puffin. I enjoyed the energy in this poem, as the speaker strives anew for each apt comparison, from the ‘plectrum-shaped’ face of the bird, to its clown-like landing style. An affectionate and often comic portrait, it ends with a sudden change of tone and a warning note about the effects of climate change.

3rd prize goes to ‘honey suckle’, a pared back lyric where what is unsaid seems just as important as what is said. A poem about a modest gift, chosen for a childhood memory, it creates a mood where the complexities of parental love for adult children are brought to mind. I admired the restraint in this poet’s approach, eschewing conventional punctuation and instead making use of the line-breaks to best effect.

Walter Swan Poetry Prize for Young Writers

Isadora by Annabelle Fuller

Fox Spirit by Sarah Ang

Job Interview by Freya Carter

Judge Shash Trevett’s Feedback

1st Place: Isadora

A technically accomplished poem which deals with the death of Isadora Duncan with a light touch. A wonderful use of anaphora and a sophisticated shortening end-rhyme captures a sense of the carnivalesque, which makes this poem a joy to read.

2nd Place: Fox Spirit

A wonderfully measured poem with beautiful imagery, sustained throughout, which surprises and delights equally. The poet has a lovely mature voice – the pacing and story telling in this poem is exemplary.

3rd Place: Job Interview

What delighted me about this poem was the strong narrative voice which is sustained beautifully from start to finish. There is a terrific pace and energy in this poem. So skillfully has the speaker been brought to life, one almost forgets the pen of the poet lurking in the background. A wonderfully believable poem.