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Judges Commentary 2018 by Grace Wells and Martin Dyar:

On the task of selecting winning poems the judges Grace Wells & Martin Dyar shared that “With extraordinary heart and delicacy, ‘New York, It Had a Ring to it’ brings together themes of immigration, resilience and love. It also presents a subtle evocation of the life of the imagination: the poem’s protagonist is defined as much by vision and verbal sensitivity as by hurt and desperation. There’s additional power in the poem’s uncanny spoken style, the effect of which is deepened by the decision to let punctuation and capitalisation bow to the felt reality of the narrative. But if ‘New York, it Had a Ring to it’ incorporates the rhythms and the intimacy of speech, it is also charged with an original urgency of passion. The beautiful closing line, emerging as it does from a sequence of dynamic and resonating images, reveals the hallmark of true poetic skill, and transports the reader to a place of profound feeling.”

Regarding the Emerging Category's winning poem, Martin Dyar and Grace Wells commented; “The poem ‘Helen’ is a new and invigorating poetic engagement with an old poetic source. There are remarkable achievements in the way the poet has located the humanity of the original myth and in their skill in presenting it through the medium of a voice that compels with a sense of real experience. But though we, as readers, directly access a vividly imagined world, the words which transport us are not simple; rather, they are deliberately strange, beguilingly original. ‘Helen’ is replete with confident abstractions and brilliantly arranged metaphoric gestures. And yet the poem’s intelligent obliqueness is no obstacle to understanding. To read ‘Helen’ is to encounter a subtle-minded, passionate character, a spirit dwelling in a poem.”

Winner - General Category

Sighle Meehan "New York, it had a ring to it "

Winner - Emerging Category

Sarah Ang "Helen "

Highly Commended

Glen Wilson "Traybakes "

Highly Commended

Maeve McKenna "Tree-lined Intravenous "

Winner - General Category

Sighle Meehan

New York, it had a ring to it , by Sighle Meehan

the way the words fell in his head
a place his mother was, near the pier, maybe,
where he was not allowed to go
or somewhere people went in cars,

the way the words grew like sand in his throat
would not pass his mouth
the whispers telling him they were bad
the way his granny spat them out,

the way he walked for days to get there
out of bed at night
the guards with the words behind their eyes
his granny shouting “you’ll not take him”

telling him “your mammy’s gone”, her arms 
tough and hard about him, hot milk, 
sleeping in beside her, walking with her 
up to Grogan’s for one of Bessie’s pups

he built a fort inside him to hold
the words:  an island, a long island,
a statue bigger than Our Lady in the chapel; 
the sky across Lough Swilly 

got lost beyond Buncranna to a place 
where buildings scraped it; he learned to count 
to one hundred and forty nine, the way
when he’d be big he’d count the streets and find her

© Sighle Meehan

Winner - Emerging Category

Helen , by Sarah Ang

When dawn slipped under the heavy lids of curtains,
we were gone. Only the whiff of sea salt remained.
We danced intoxicated, feet whirling
onto a ship, across an ocean, behind fortress walls.
A scattering of ashes strewn in our wake. 
Then, I learnt not all cities are the same.
Also, that some fires start fast but die faster.

I trace my memories on marble floors,
weave disillusion into tapestries of red and black.
Sometimes I think of fruit, unripened, untouched.
The apple that started it all,
poison wrapped in gleaming gold.
Perhaps some of it was on his lips
when he closed them over mine,
like a trap springing shut with a vengeance.
Other times, I dream of the ones I left behind –
my son, ice-filled, storm-eyed,
my daughter, edged like a knife.

Now, I spread my arms, imagine
a bird in flight, wheeling over the city.
Flying straight on until morning.

© Sarah Ang

Highly Commended

Traybakes , by Glen Wilson

I never eat them myself but I always pit 
glacé cherries in the marshmallow 
and digestive biscuit mix, they stick

to my knucklebones as I knead and roll, 
desiccated coconut coats the surface 
but today licking fingers seems sacrilege.

In the fridge chill a tray of caramel squares, 
from the hall the landline trills,
I let the stoic machine pick up the calls.

Pages of recipes litter the counter,
lists of ounces, where and when to cut,
how long to leave anything on the cooling rack.

Clingfilm covers griddle scones and cakes,
a translucent skin so everything is seen,
grieving needs fed with fresh food.

I take out the caramel squares and slice
four lines across and three down, 
smaller squares than I’m used to, 

many will come, 
the wake is tonight, 
these were his favourites

© Glen Wilson

Highly Commended

Tree-lined Intravenous , by Maeve McKenna

Tree lined avenues house Victorian buildings of fire red brick
and heavy oak doors and elegant stained glass and
white bay windows and steps at the front and curved,
arch shaped cobble lock drives and manicured lawns 
and a glass house and swings
and walls that hold wounds.
Institution.

There is a certain colour in homes transformed into hospitals.
Is it memory disfigured, a kind of colourless unmemory,
erased from stories you might tell your children?
Reconstruction.

Painted white ceilings melt to walls of creams and light greens,
haemorrhaging through grey floors.
The hallway tiled, black, white waxed floors, follow the tape,
an old rack for coats, a bureau, polished obsolete. 
Directions to reception, a nearly white plasterboard hut,
two glass panels with holes at mouth level.
A collage of unremarkable blandness,
a vain attempt at assisting forgetting.
Recollection. 

The dining room void of a fanciful table but the chairs survive, 
rowed in lines of five, equally spaced,
a hard plastic wall-mount with leaflets 
hangs over the fireless fire place. Sign here.
Invitation.

The elegant staircase stands proudly idle, a velvet rope,
paper plants, a ‘staff only’ sign,
to veiled bedrooms relieved of four- poster thrones, 
single bed by six, military barrack style, paper curtains, a locker.
Formation.

The lift ferries the broken to the attic.
Prep for the unprepared, unbecoming to become.
Resignation.

The heart of this once home now surgical lightheads, a stainless steel table,
machines and a team.
Oblivion.

There was a hierarchy of regret then. And still.
And a cost. 
Still.
Solution.

© Maeve McKenna