A thought-provoking poem by a lecturer at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) has earned first prize in a well-regarded contest which attracted more than 360 entries.
Dr Kathleen Bell, Principal Lecturer for DMU’s English and Creative Writing courses, won the Nottingham Poetry Society’s Open Competition 2016, judged this year by award-winning poet Liz Berry.
The contest has been held annually for more than 25 years with respected poets such as Neil Astley, Ruth Padel, Bernard O’Donaghue, Helen Mort and David Constantine among its adjudicators in the past.
It ran from May to August with Liz selecting the winners a month later and a presentation of prizes taking place in Nottingham on October 22.
Commenting on Dr Bell’s winning entry, Testament: in an Embankment Garden, Liz said: “This poem is a beauty and I don't think I'll ever get tired of reading it. It's a wonderful mix of melancholy and hope, a beguiling, lyrical tale of re-wilding, of our human world yielding to nature.
“I loved the direct address to the singing blackbird and the odd ecstasy of the ending. The couplet form and language work so well together too. What a gem of a poem.”
Dr Bell said: “I have entered the competition before because I like to support something local and have received three merits in the past – but when opening the envelope which revealed I had won first prize, I was stunned.”
The poem went through numerous drafts while coming into being, which she has now shown to her Creative Writing students so they can see the scrupulous process involved.
“I always carry notebooks around – with squared paper – so I can make amendments. I don’t write hastily. It’s a good example to the students of how poems are always a work in progress and the subtle changes made,” she added.
It was the second poetry award of the year for Dr Bell after the Brittle Star literary magazine praised her work in the summer.
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The competition, which enticed 560 entries, was judged by George Szirtes who awarded second prize to Dr Bell’s sestina poem Variations on a Half-Remembered Theme, in a ceremony at The Barbican in London this June.
She was also longlisted in the 2016 National Poetry Competition run by The Poetry Society which received nearly 13,000 entries from across the world.
Last year Dr Bell was part of a team that edited, wrote and crowd-funded a poetry anthology to raise money for refugees – all in the space of three months.
The collection, Over Land, Over Sea – Poems for those seeking refuge, featuring 101 poems, examined the plight of refugees and the venture was inspired by recent migration across Europe. It was published by Five Leaves in Nottingham who produced it free of charge so customers buying directly from Five Leaves can know that the entire price of the anthology goes to the three charities supported.
As an editor, Dr Bell worked with Siobhan Logan and Emma Lee while Ross Bradshaw and Pippa Hennessy were responsible for design, typesetting and publishing. The project was initiated by poet and activist Ambrose Musiyiwa.
Poems in the anthology came from the UK and beyond representing a range of poets from established names to newer voices. So far the anthology has raised more than £3,000 for Médecins Sans Frontières, Leicester City of Sanctuary and Nottingham Refugee Forum.
Now Dr Bell is working on an ambitious project about Scottish inventor and mechanical engineer James Watt, renowned for his improvements in steam-engine technology.
She has been poring over his exhaustive archives in Birmingham with a view to publishing a long sequence of poems by 2019 – the 200th anniversary of Watt’s death.
Testament: in an Embankment Garden
Blackbird, I see this garden
should have been planned for you
and now it’s yours, as the woman
sprawled on the bench spits phlegm
and the man clutching the railings
taps at his phone, willing the screen to load
but there’s no reply, and the sky brightens
and doves descend, a bicycle crumples
and roots wrench roads out of true, a tree twists
to demolish a wall, leaves break through brick –
so sing, blackbird. The river rises. We dying bequeath
this garden to you and to your heirs
and ask that you use it well who stay
and look at me, blackbird, now and sing
till you splinter air with your sweetness –
here, blackbird, here – let me hear you sing as I vanish
Posted on Monday 19th December 2016