Poetry Pamphlet Prize

Announcing the winner of the Paper Swans Press Poetry Pamphlet Prize 2019:

Judge’s report

As poets, I believe we should be physicists, not photographers. When I read a poem, I want to experience a kind of ‘fusion’ on the page. As a judge, it’s this fusion that I was after. I was looking for a sense of immediacy in a poem—was it clear? Was there something at stake? Was something divulged? And a sense of authenticity—was it honest? Did it feel like it cost the poet something to write? I have judged quite a few single-poem competitions in the past, but I had never judged a pamphlet competition before. Now, although I was still looking for that sense of immediacy and authenticity in individual poems, I was also looking at how the poems hung together as a group. Was there an attempt to play with form? Did that form add to the poem’s content? I also looked for a unity of theme—was there something that held the poems together? Was there a single idea running through them all? The entries for this Paper Swans Press pamphlet prize fell into two rough categories—those that were collections of highly personal poems and those that were presented as ‘projects’ of some kind. Most of the pamphlets that were highly personal unfortunately remained purely descriptive. They lacked this fusion. Unfortunately, many of the projects lacked that fusion, too. But, those pamphlets that had all these qualities presented themselves fairly easily and I was able to put together the shortlist pretty quickly. The three winning pamphlets all have that fusion on their pages. They have the power to transform the reader and change them in some profound way. It was a pleasure to read them and I wish them, and those commended and shortlisted, every success. Here goes:

‘Control’ by Sallyanne Rock

‘Longwave’ by Dan Stathers

‘The Mersey—its permanence and maybe’ by Maria Isakova Bennett


‘Hireling’ by Pam Thompson

These poems are mostly written in the voice of the poet, Mary Leapor, who was born in Brackley, Northamptonshire in 1722. Thompson manages so well to capture the voice of ‘Mira’ (her nom-de-plume) in all her simple complexity, her sense of vocation and the unjust circumstances that prevent her from becoming who she knows she is. It’s so hard to write convincingly from a historical perspective, but this sequence does so supremely well.



From the Bottom of the Wishing Well’ by Lizzie Holden

These poems face the horror of paedophilia full on, without flinching. Those poems written from the child’s point of view describe her world in dispassionate detail because what happens to this child is normal to her. Later, the adult voice talks to soothe and heal. Desperate and frightening though the sublect matter is, Holden avoids falling into the traps of voyeurism or sensationalism. A magnificent sequence.



LYME’ by Jared A. Carnie.

These poems were written in the wake of Carnie’s partner falling seriously ill with Lyme Disease. What’s unusual about them is that they are written from Carnie’s point of view so that his partner appears only occasionally as hands, tubes, a smile. Carnie skilfully avoids all the potential pitfalls of writing about such a tragic event, into which lesser poets would surely have fallen headlong. These poems aren’t angry, yet, they are just numb.

This year, our poetry pamphlet prize was judged by Richard Skinner.Richard Skinner

Richard Skinner is a writer working across fiction, life writing, essays, non-fiction and poetry. He has published three novels with Faber & Faber, three books of non-fiction and three books of poetry. His work has been nominated for prizes and is published in eight languages. Richard is Director of the Fiction Programme at Faber Academy.

POETRY PAMPHLET PRIZE SHORTLIST 2019 (in alphabetical order)

‘Amber’    Lizzie Holden 

‘Becoming Rosa’    Lucy Maxwell Scott

‘Control’    Sallyanne Rock

‘Fig. A’    Claire Cox

‘From the Bottom of the Wishing Well’    Lizzie Holden

‘Hireling’    Pam Thompson

‘Longwave’    Dan Stathers

‘LYME’    Jared A. Carnie.

‘The Mersey—its permanence and maybe’    Maria Isakova Bennett

‘Most Notorious Pirates’    Thomas Tyrrell

‘Rue and Thyme’    Vasiliki Albedo  

‘spectroscope’   Alice Hiller

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