Poetry Pamphlet Prize

We are thrilled to announce the winner for this year’s Poetry Pamphlet Prize.

Sub/urban Legends by Pam Thompson

Judge’s Report

There are far too many accomplished poets around in my opinion. It makes judging a competition like this very hard, and I changed my mind about the placings numerous times. The ten longlisted pamphlets stood out for me in the end partly because, in each case, the group of poems pulled together as a team. Beyond that, I was also impressed by their originality, the ability of the poets to move this reader via unexpected imagery and phrasing, and through angles of approach that felt fresh. Each featured a degree of playfulness and found variation and contrast, even when the pamphlet concentrated on a very particular poetic form or extremely specific subject matter.

The winning pamphlet Sub/urban Legends gripped me because of the way it married poignancy with a really bold imagination and stylistic flair. Its poems exploring both experiences of parenthood and mourning the loss of a maternal presence find a great balance of a lively eye and, where it’s most needed, a heartfelt clarity and directness: ‘What kind of mother would stay out for so long, / stay out this late?’ The quiet surface of compassionate pieces such as ‘The Glass Strawberry’, which probes self-care, feels hard-won. Elsewhere the constructions thrillingly blend the abstract and the concrete to summon sparks (‘The problem starts to smell of terriers’) and the poems find exciting juxtapositions, giraffe facts nestling beside Zygons from Doctor Who. It’s a mature and intellectually satisfying gathering that showcases not only formal dexterity through abecedarians and acrostics but a healthy wildness and vitality, thanks to the writer’s engagement with the work of New York School poets including Barbara Guest, James Schuyler and Frank O’Hara, who also feature in a number of the poems.    

There is a compelling physicality to the language in the runner-up, Cupid, Grown, which unpacks masculinity as it charts an autobiographical narrative of queer development informed by the poet’s Italian heritage. The phrasing here is textured and visceral. This pamphlet arrested me with its intensity – the writer is highly skilled at pulling the reader in and making them feel. A standout is ‘God in a Bathhouse’ which conjures up a mind thinking and turning over erotic ideas through deftly disjointed images. The tender pieces which bring in lovers or family members (like ‘Snow’) are beautifully stirring and the erasure poem ‘The Interior of a Heart’ is fantastically creative.

The third-placed pamphlet A Cartful of Artefacts is a concept album. Its short poems tightly focus on a range of commonplace domestic objects, with my favourites including ‘Chisel’, ‘Nail’, ‘Umbrella’ and ‘Bottle’. The tightness of its project is daring yet the imagery and phrase-making are consistently highly inventive. These delightful, linguistically surprising poems put me in mind of Les Murray and Billy Collins. 

Turning to the other longlisted pamphlets, highlights for me included the magnificently surreal Night Shift at the Bird Factory, the title poem of which I found stunning. Fray captivated me with its sustained emphasis on metaphors of stitching and fabric as a means of investigating social and historical hierarchies; it’s an intricately structured pamphlet and the accuracy of its descriptions reminded me of Elizabeth Bishop. The panoramic Royal – a chain of nineteen 7-line rhyme royals – dazzled me with its passion, a fierce social commentary delivered in fabulously adept sound patterning. Mistresses of Arts is a gloriously intelligent pamphlet with a playful central narrative thread concerning a mysterious beloved, its mid-line ruptures and metapoetic swerves allowing it to create then complicate ideas around writing, queerness and neurodivergence. Carving Knives combines an epic scope with urgent feminist arguments and marvellous wit. The botanical precision and careful linking of poems in Start with the Thing that Can’t Fly Away enhance, in particular, its stirring pieces about a mother. Finally, Rehearsed Lives tenderly examines the way an individual life can be shaped by language, landscape and literary history, and features gorgeous observations (‘Drops of rain punctuate the half-light with air quotes’). Well done to all the longlisted poets and, if you send in a pamphlet that wasn’t among the final ten, sorry to disappoint on this occasion and I hope you are able to place it somewhere else.

John McCullough


Sub/urban Legends by Pam Thompson

Second Place

Cupid, Grown by Adam Panichi

Third Place

A Cartful of Artefacts by Stephen Payne


Carving Knives by Ruth Aylett

Fray by John Kefala Kerr

Mistresses of Arts by Olivia Tuck

Night Shift at the Bird Factory by Fokkina McDonnell

Rehearsed Lives by Christopher M James

Royal by Steve Bowbrick

Start with the Thing that Can’t Fly Away by Chrissie Gittins