Clean sweep for Poetry Society Members in Poetry Business awards

Ian Duhig & Mimi Khalvati have chosen four Poetry Society Members as winners of the 2016/17 International Book & Pamphlet Competition.

Josephine Abbott was born and grew up in Manchester, went to Sheffield University and now lives in Derbyshire. Her poems have appeared in Acumen, Agenda, Stand, Staple and other magazines. She has led poetry workshops and worked with a range of community groups. Competition successes include placings in the Mslexia (2011) and the Bridport (2009) and third prize in the National Poetry Competition (2013). Her first collection was ‘Trying not To Levitate’ (Blinking Eye, 2006).

Josephine Abbott’s The Infinite Knot, a sequence of mostly sonnet variants, doubling back on itself like a kind of knot, has radiance spilling all over it. With an ear finely tuned to cadence and syntax, Josephine listens ‘below the threshold of hearing’, reaching out for a deeper understanding of the world she lives in. A world she celebrates lyrically, forensically, and we celebrate her too for a pamphlet, delicate and precise in its parts, but with the reach of a full collection. — Mimi Khalvati

Katy Evans-Bush is a poet, critic, essayist and blogger. Born in New York City, she has spent most of her life in London, where she works as a freelance writer, editor and poetry tutor. She is the author of two poetry collections with Salt Publishing, ‘Oscar & Henry’ (Rack Press) and ‘Forgive the Language: Essays on Poetry and Poets’ (Penned in the Margins). She blogs at Baroque in Hackney, and is a Fellow of the George Orwell Foundation.

“The best way to learn how to write well is to investigate how good writers write, not by trying to apply tiny rules” Michael Rosen advised recently and Katy Evans-Bush’s Broken Cities proved the wisdom of that for poets. Instead of looking for tricks and secrets, broad reading will deliver the sweep and originality that really makes new work stand out, as Katy’s did, for the sheer range of reading in English and US poetry enriching her poetry. From this platform, her joy, inventiveness and pleasure in the music of language really engages. It came as no surprise then when I first learned the author was a well-known poet, critic and teacher: with her, a reader is in good hands.— Ian Duhig

Ruth McIlroy grew up in Kingston, Jamaica and in Edinburgh, and now lives with her family in Yorkshire where she works as a freelance psychotherapist. She’s a Quaker, and loves the idea of her literary forerunners stomping the North of England declaiming the vital necessities of silence and right speech. She does the Endcliffe parkrun most Saturdays and sometimes a 10k. Her poems have appeared in The Rialto, The North, and the Templar Poets Anthology. In 2015 she was highly commended in the East Riding Philip Larkin Poetry Prize, and in 2017 she gained second place in the York Literarture Festival Poetry Competition.

Ruth McIlroy’s Guppy Primer also stood out for its distinctive humour as well as the strengths evident in Katy’s work. I’d noted one of Ruth’s earlier this year picked as a major prizewinner in the York Literature Festival and thought how triumphantly it demonstrated the fallacy of the notion of a “competition” poem with its daring and originality, qualities we also see in Guppy Primer. Believe me, competition judges welcome originality not formulas and Ruth proves that, turning her collection’s themes and motifs through fresh new language, narratives and scenarios. Expect to see Ruth’s name on more prize lists in the future. — Ian Duhig

Lesley Saunders is the author of several books of poetry, and a new collection ‘Nominy Dominy’ is due out from Two Rivers Press next year. Having won the 2016 Stephen Spender Award for poetry in translation, she is currently working on a book of translations of selected poems by the acclaimed Portuguese writer Maria Teresa Horta.  She has performed her work at literary festivals and on the radio, and has worked on collaborative projects with artists, sculptors, musicians, photographers and dancers. 

Lesley Saunders’ Angels on Horseback at first catches you off-guard, seduces you with gorgeous vocabulary, then leads you unerringly through ‘ordinary treasure’ made wondrous and extraordinary to culminate in a chilling intensity. Lesley ranges through her pantheon of heroines, exploring the violence done to them, by others and themselves, not through worn rhetoric but through defamiliarising tropes of disturbing beauty and pleasure. It is a rare to find poems as perfectly controlled, a pamphlet as assured and startling, as this.— Mimi Khalvati

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2 June 2017