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The Gregory O'Donoghue Poetry Prize 2013


Gregory O'Donoghue Poetry Prize

painting © R. Noonan


2013 Winning & Commended Poets

More about the 2013 O'Donoghue Prize

Winning Poets from previous years




Announcing the 2013 winning poems.

These poems will be published in the next issue of Southword Journal.


1st Prize: 'The Conversation'

Judith Barrington

by Judith Barrington of Oregon, USA



2nd Prize: 'in the space between'

Gerry Boland

by Gerry Boland of Roscommon, Ireland


3rd Prize: 'Sashimi'

Maya Catherine Popa

by Maya Catherine Popa of New York, USA


Click here to view judge Thomas McCarthy's statement on the winning poems.

The best poems always demand our attention. They make demands upon us with an almost aggressive mildness. This is much more than a matter of style, more than a mere turn of phrase. A really good poem creates a clearing in the language, using both personal sensibility and technical adroitness. The fact is, when we read such a poem we see that is something we never thought of – it has created within us the illusion of a unique back-story. Yet it might be a poem about the most common thing in the world. For that one moment of the poem the most common thing will seem to be strange, fresh and unforeseen territory. This is how we recognise that we are in the presence of a new poet. The really good poem offers itself as an unexpected gift, sometimes a small gift but always sensational.

When I received the first batch of the over eighteen hundred poems submitted to the Munster Literature Centre I knew that I was in for weeks of good hunting and fishing. I was determined to watch for everything that rose from the crisp thicket of words. Which fine-plumaged poem had been resting in its own clearing, awaiting the hunter? I was hoping to be amazed. And I wasn’t disappointed. The Gregory O’Donoghue Prize is such an important literary ribbon – it is named in memory of one of the finest poets I ever met; a poet for whom the making of poetry was a lifelong task and an honourable vocation. As far as Gregory O’Donoghue was concerned it was the only lifelong task worth pursuing. I was hoping to find poems that would be fit companions for such a named prize.

A winter migration of nearly two thousand poems, arriving by email and regular post, gives one the opportunity to see the world working and meditating. More than half of all the poems submitted were of  a high enough quality to be published. No editor would be ashamed to stand over them and be their public advocate.  There were poems about wildlife, the sea, travel, deserts and mountains, fathers (fathers feature more than mothers), parents in nursing homes or surviving cancer, recession, politics and sport.  But the recurring motif than runs through much of this poetry is that of attachment and subsequent separation. Attachment, to lovers, fathers and places, was an overwhelming theme; or, more specifically, an overwhelming anxiety. Nearly all of the winning and Highly Commended poems share this communal poetic enquiry into our one great contemporary existentialist crisis: the difficulty of attachment in a world that has lost the great Father.

My winning poem ‘The Conversation’ (123) carries this anxiety into its most extreme exposition. Here, the narrator is beyond life but yearning to complete unfinished business in a world abandoned. Human life is presented in all its ordinariness within the parentheses of Frost and Lorca, cleverly invited as Father-witnesses. This is a poem that has made a wide clearing for itself, slow-burning and attaching itself more compellingly to us at each rereading. Here, the dead, the ones ‘lost for language’, may never return to familiar and familial attachments. Upon rereading, one sees that it is the world and its capacity for attachment and disappointment that ‘has kept the words that belong in that talk/ stuffed inside my mouth which is firmly closed/ like my eyes.’  The entire poem with its four robust stanzas and one orphaned line coheres as a single thought. This is a brilliant technical achievement; it reminds us all that great poetry is both fine thinking and achieved style. The narrator describes and teaches, telling us that death – and death in life – is ‘too late now for that conversation we never had’ – We can’t leave ‘The Conversation’ without becoming implicated in its anxieties. Technically, this is a mindful, thoughtful, calculated and superbly pre-meditated work. I have no hesitation – dare I say it, no anxiety? – in advocating it as my winning poem for the Gregory O’Donoghue Prize.

In second place, the runner-up, is ‘in the space between’ (1201), a superbly controlled and uncannily paced study of damaged, continuous attachment. The wonderful first line ‘the pillow wears the round indent of your absent head’ is bettered only by the closing, novelistic noir statement ‘you leave me as you always leave me.’ The repetition of ‘but better’ in the closing couplets is a master stroke and could only have been engineered by a highly sophisticated poetic talent. Here is a dramatic, traumatic, relationship, with the narrator cast in the role of Robert Graves’ ‘good angel’ and, therefore, constantly waiting for the return of the one true carrier of value. Here is a soul with one foot on the grass and one foot at the bedside, torn between the ‘inside’ of survival and the outside of ‘yearning.’ This is one of the best, and certainly one of the most heart-wrenching, love poems that I’ve read in the last few years.

In third place is ‘Sashimi’ (1275), a real peach of a short lyric, a masterpiece in painted miniatures. Cold as a fish, this narrator serves minimal portions of emotion ‘on iceless beds of clean bamboo.’ Here are seven observations compressed into a single poetic serving, but only after the superb knife-work of thought. Here is a dismembering of attachment, but with the hope of further bloody attachment as the bell signals the start of another auction. Ultimately, it is the narrator’s heart that shivers. This is a clean-cut, tightly organised, lyric; a poem that shows great skill and linguistic, as well as culinary, expertise. It is, quite simply, beautiful.



Highly commended poems 2013

alphabetically by poet

These poems will be published in the next issue of Southword Journal.


Judith Barrington--Oregon, USA: 'Martha, 1630'

Lisa Bickmore--Utah, USA: 'Hill Country'

Ron Carey--Dublin, Ireland: 'My Father Built England'

Mark Fiddes--London, UK: 'The Lost Gardens of West Norwood'

Helen Gaynor--Wexford, Ireland: 'Can't Get Out of Bed'

Seamus Harrington--Cork, Ireland: 'Open Day'

Usha Kishore--Isle of Man, UK: 'Marginal or Peripheral'

Jayne Stanton--Leicester, UK: Sin É

Laura Walker--Washington, USA: 'Gladiator Days'

Simon Williams--Devon, UK: 'House By a Burmese Lake'

Click here to view judge Thomas McCarthy's statement on highly commended poems.

Martha, 1630 (Judith Barrington)

This is a chilling account of misogyny in its early seventeenth century form. Here is a headpiece with a bit to hold a woman’s tongue, metaphor for so much of organised religion and our male dominated politics. Except that the metal bit in this poem, a ‘brank,’ is very real.  The narrator is the victim and this poem builds a relentless but understated scenario. The sense of regret here is more powerful than any exclamation of pain. The story is organised to make cruelty reasonable and this astonishing understatement is what makes this powerful poetry.


 Hill Country (Lisa Bickmore)
This is a superb love poem that begins faraway from the place of love-making. The pacing and movement, the controlled layering of descriptions, all drive the poem to an inevitable conclusion where land and history are enfolded by the loves’ final tasting of what birds in the sky already know. Lovers take their cue from nature, from birds that fly, swoop and dive, rather than from the acquisitive old politician, LBJ. The poet here shows great control and steady technique.


My Father Built England (Ron Carey)

This is a wonderful poem about our Irish migrations, about the navvies of Kilburn, piss, sweat, gaffers and fifty pounds pinned to the inside of an overcoat. It describes a life of sweat and wellies with a quietly assembled latter-day chauvinism. There is a clarity of description, certainty of naming and complete confidence in the paternal material. The closing couplet is understated and deadly.


 The Lost Gardens of West Norwood (Mark Fiddes)

This is a rare and excellent railway poem, reminiscent of the giant work by Philip Larkin,  echoed very cleverly in  the kissing couple, their embrace ‘blooming deep within us.’ But instead of the water meadows of Lincolnshire we have ‘the claylands of South London.’ The formal verse structure, the relentless movement towards Crystal Palace that contains love behind glass, creates a terrific sense of movement and control.


Can’t Get Out of Bed (Helen Gaynor)

A robust and formal poem, this is terrific fieldwork in depression. It is a philosophising therapy, an ability to lift the narrator reflexively through the reader; an effort to haul oneself through the power of words out of darkness. The poet, as always, wishes ‘for you not to be truly you’ – which is the pivotal poetic act that always has wishing at the heart of it. The poem works like the script of a late 1940s film, the moralising is the action. It is adamant, formal statement.


Open Day (Seamus Harrington)

Very few concrete poems are successful. Generally the theme has little to do with the form and the flight of the lines collapses. ‘Open Day’ is a notable exception in a sea of technical failures. It soars up the centre of the page ‘a helical spiral/of concentric cir-/ cles as each course/ of stonework narrows.’ It is a perfect description of our lemming-like communal walks in an unexpected weather-window. Descriptions are compressed and crowded so that they spill through the egg-timer of the centre. This is a beautifully made poem.


Marginal or Peripheral (Usha Kishore)

This poem is honest, painful and difficult narrative; an effort to come in from the race periphery to the racist core of the West. Here, the educated poet makes an effort to teach students who ‘mimic my accent in hyperboles.’ It is a call to action, to defeat grimaces, harsh words and jibes’ with a ‘subterranean coloured poetry/ in gender coded interlanguage.’ The poem reminds us, too, that racism is a geographical condition, like the weather of our North Atlantic; and that implicit racism even alters the meaning of words. It is a cry of despair at our unshared lexicon.


Sin É (Jayne Stanton)

The local also has its bragging rights and the poet in ‘Sin É’ has binged ‘on ambience, high on E minor.’ This brief lyric is a double description, of a poet’s late night progress through the wet Cork streets and of music’s slow progress through the poet’s sensitised imagination. Rising to his attic room on Wellington Road, the poet sees a ship on the Lee, a maritime movement that seems like liquid fingers playing a local music. This is a perfect, short lyric, that exists at a number of levels.


Gladiator Days (Laura Walker)

‘His name in my mouth is savory’ and ‘what is the penalty / for wanting a killer?’ might be the key phrases of this powerful poem. A thread of desire and the forces of attachment create a fretwork of humanity to hold all the bleak information contained within. It is a complex work, dense with information and ideas, a poetic contest between desire and death row. The poem cleverly moves from his phrases to his name, the whole work propelled by lines of great precision.


House By A Burmese Lake (Simon Williams)

Myth is the arrangement of the incidents and no myth comes as finally arranged as the images in a photograph. The intriguing final stanza of this poem is what lifts it away from mere narrative into a world of poetic speculation. It doesn’t take 15 years, nor does it take two open gates, to become open to the world as it changes. History changed, one feels, after this photograph, as did the destiny of ‘Burma.’ This is a very fine poem, a work that has great power not only through what is said but what is left undescribed.





Commended Poems 2013

listed alphabetically by poet


Judith Barrington, Oregon, USA: 'Yom Kippur'
Sylvie Baumgartel, New Mexico, USA: (title withheld)
Eric Berlin, New York, USA: 'What I Could'
Lisa Bickmore--Utah, USA: 'Thaumaturge'
Elizabeth Bodien, Pennsylvania, USA: 'How To Be An Enigma'
Gerry Boland, Co Roscommon, Ireland: 'red clock'
Dean Browne, Tipperary, Ireland: 'Fishing in the Flood'
Ron Carey, Dublin, Ireland: 'Carrownlaisheen'
Sarah Clancy, Galway, Ireland: 'Harvesting Underwater'
Lynn Deming, Connecticut, USA (2):
'Morning Route'
Julian de Wette, Napier, South Africa: 'Pit Bull Territory'
Simon Peter Eggersten, New York, USA: 'Moving About Unnoticed'
Alyn Fenn, Co Cork, Ireland: 'Face Painting at the Fete'
Margaret Fulton-Cook, Renfrewshire, Scotland: 'Exodus: 2012'
Eleanor Hooker, Tipperary, Ireland: 'What Now?'
Tania Hershman, Bristol, UK: 'Me and Elvis on Dartmoor'
Deirdre Hines, Donegal, Ireland: 'La Chasse'
Stevie Howell, Toronto, Canada: 'Inspector’s Field Notes on the Death of Robert James Moore'
Victoria Kennefick, Co Cork, Ireland: 'Eating Wild Garlic'
John J. Kelly, Dublin, Ireland: 'Warrenpoint'
James Lavin, New Jersey, USA: 'Sunset at Doolin'
Ann Leahy, Dublin, Ireland: 'A Blackthorn Winter'
Wes Lee, Wellington, New Zealand (3):
‘black smoke’
'Leaving Work in Winter'
'Tin Sky'
Daniel Lenaghan, Seoul, Korea: 'I Would Explore You'
Donald Levering, New Mexico, USA (2):
'Shadows Cast by Four Birds'
'The Great Plains in Fog'
Finbarr MacEoin, Provence, France: 'Coming Out'
Patrick Maddock, Wexford, Ireland: 'Louise Latour'
Jane McKinley, New Jersey, USA (2):
Paul McMahon, Sligo, Ireland: 'Terremoto'
Jennifer Militello, New Hampshire, USA: 'A Dictionary of Venery in the Voice of Artemis'
Noel Monahan, Cavan, Ireland: 'Ghost of the Leaving Cert'
John Newton, Alberta, Canada: 'September of Forty-Four’
Don Nixon, Wolverhampton, UK: 'Olympic Bronze'
Patricia O'Callaghan, Dublin, Ireland: 'Special Care Unit'
Hugh O'Donnell, Dublin, Ireland (2):
'The Ballad of a Quiet Man'
'To My Sister in Faversham'
Finn O'Gorman, Armagh, Northern Ireland (3):
'Do Not Enter'
' Fir Beaga'
'Skippy’s Last Tour'
Josephine O'Grady, Cork, Ireland: 'Badrashi Boy'
Marie O'Halloran, Co Cork, Ireland (2):
'The Carer'
'The Heavy Boot'
M.R. Peacocke, Durham, UK: 'Re-entering the House'
Shannon Quinn, Toronto, Canada: 'Thaw'
Michael G. Rather, Jr., Texas, USA: 'The World After The Fall'
Nicholas Samaras, New York, USA: 'To an Infant Not Taken'
Deirdre Shanahan, Middlesex, UK: 'At the Marine Hotel'
Valerie Sirr, Dublin, Ireland: 'The Crease in John McCormack’s Shoes'
Joan Sullivan Gray, Massachusetts, USA: 'Purgatorio'
Charles P.R. Tisdale, North Carolina, USA: 'The Double Life'
Jean Tubridy, Waterford, Ireland: 'Nature'
Cliff Wedgbury, Cork, Ireland: 'Tea with Dad'
Lesley Wheeler, Virginia, USA: 'Belief'
Pat Winslow, Oxon, England: 'Beyond Frame'
Peter Wyton, Gloucester, UK: 'Dreaming the Dread'





The Prize


The Munster Literature Centre is pleased to host an international poetry prize for single poem, named in honour of a late Irish poet long associated with the Centre. The Gregory O’Donoghue International Poetry Prize will have a first prize of €1,000 ($1253.92 USD/ £806.80 GBP @ xe.com on 11th June 2012) and publication in Southword Literary Journal. The MLC will subvent travel costs for the winner up to €600 and provide hotel accommodation and meals for three days during the Cork Spring Poetry Festival. There will be a second prize of €500, third prize of €250, and ten runners-up will each have their poems published in Southword and receive Southword’s standard fee of €30. The 2013 Judge is poet Thomas McCarthy.


Click here for more information on how to submit your poetry in the competition.


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Previous winners of the Gregory O'Donoghue Prize

Suji Kwock KimSandra Ann WintersJohn F Deane


Suji Kwock Kim, 'Sonogram Song' (Judge 2012: Patrick Cotter)
Sandra Ann Winters, 'Death of Alaska' (Judge 2011: Leanne O'Sullivan)
John F. Deane, 'Shoemaker' (Judge 2010: James Harpur)


To view previous years' commended authors, please visit the Gregory O'Donoghue Competition page.


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