Susannah Hart won the 2020 National Poetry Competition. She studied Russian and French at Cambridge University and her first job was creating brand names for international companies; she now works as a freelance writer. Susannah is also a primary school governor and on the board of the poetry magazine Magma. Her debut collection, 'Out Of True' was published by Live Canon.
We are proud to announce the imminent publication of the three winning collections from 2021.
Hound Mouth - Barbara Barnes The Great Comet of 1996 Foretells – Konstandinos Mahoney A Reader’s Guide to Time – Rebecca Cullen
Shortlist: unreal engine - Henry St Leger
No blood in IKEA - Joanna Ingham
Best Selected Healing Manifestoes – Helen Kay
D H Lawrence Painted My Bathroom - Natalie Scott
Stapling Postcards to a Chinese Mattress - Craig Barker
I think I could be wrong - Gillie Robic
Shopping With My Aunt - Molly Donachie
The Lost Runner - Stuart Pickford
The Presence of Absence - Jane Thomas
Here's what guest judge, Kirsten Irving, had to say about the winning collections:
Hound Mouth - Barbara Barnes
Hound Mouth turns a life into a theatrical tour, stopping sometimes at warm and welcoming spaces and sometimes at bleak theatres with hostile audiences nursing threats. Revealing that “our show came to an end where the road did,” Barnes takes the reader back and forth across the Atlantic, pausing for intimate moments with mothers, partners, children, friends and strangers; even the makeup artist preparing the speaker for a show accesses a vulnerability in their subject, even as they cover them in a fresh persona.
There is a sense throughout this collection of time changing the meanings of places, objects and rituals, and altering the speaker’s relationship to key people. The show itself shifts and changes from naturalistic performance to alienation to freak show, as we witness ghost pregnancy, tiptoeing toward early sexuality, satire on North American sales patter, the voyeurism of the extra and the terror of the audition.
I loved the vulnerability and the unsaid in Hound Mouth - the pauses between actions and the set changes between numbers. Barnes leads us on a dance between wealth and poverty (the workhouse boy, the Queen herself), innocence and experience, learning afresh and recollecting. The empathy and darkness in these poems is genuine and fully embodied, and it gets into your bones.
A Reader’s Guide to Time – Rebecca Cullen
I really enjoyed the blocking of this collection into varieties of time, from psychological windows to era-sized fossils, in forms we recognise and in new varieties that Cullen names along the way.
'Women’s time', for example, feels like a sharply-observed response to the devaluing of time taken for tasks coded as feminine, such as child-rearing and the running repairs on emotional connections. Sections vary wildly in size and style, tone and format, as if Woolf’s Orlando, mentioned late on in the book, who shifts between times, genders and forms, is the invisible curator.
Shapeshifting, costume and freakery dog many of Cullen’s characters, from the giant lad crossing the causeway with his mother to the opening folklore of the rock at lizard point, to Lark, nervously heading to her dinner party, garotte tucked inside her bag. We see the painful transition to adulthood and disturbing changes in the body, alongside the regression of an adult through illness to a childlike state. These modern folktales do not come with warnings or morals and I love the openness of their presentation - yes, there are horrors and threats and uncertainties, and we cannot change those any more than we can stop time.
There’s a hint of Queneau’s Exercises in Style in the headers in this collection, but stylistically, Cullen’s work is more acerbic and intricate. She has an ear for texture in sounds, with subtle half-rhymes, abrupt shifts in rhythm, register and line length, and a strong sense of the uncanny. These are poems that perch in the shadows, observing everyday darknesses to the ticking of the clock.
The Great Comet of 1996 Foretells – Konstandinos Mahoney We never learn the full text of the prophecy in ‘The Great Comet of 1996 Foretells’, but the collection is littered with myth, modern hearsay, totems and transformation. Mahoney brings the characters of Greek legend into the modern day, seeking sex, closure, companionship. Fluidity and elasticity shape these poems, from the playful timebends that place Tyburn hangings next to the Millennium Bridge to geographical shifts, dollying camera shots of memories and the permeable border between life and death. This collection wriggles with impatience to get going and explore by itself. There are nods to deschooling, finding oneself in random encounters and getting caught in a tsunami of people and life on the streets of Manhattan. I responded at once to its barrelling energy and sensory cascade. The male body is unveiled again and again, but unlike a classical statue its pimples and imperfections are not omitted. With each shift and translation, we see more of the speaker, from their desires to their pains and flaws. Whether the memory is of loud family squabbles or the strange broken link between a boy and his bird, here and now or thousands of miles away, the colours and tastes are bright and uncorrected.