We’re really excited to announce, after months of deliberation, that the winners of the 2019 Verve Poetry Festival competition, on the theme of ‘community’, are finally decided. The three winning poets will appear at the competition event on the Saturday morning of the festival. They will read alongside the 21 other commended poets and 6 others who have been commissioned for the anthology by Verve. Tickets are free, and can be booked here.
Here are the thoughts of Joelle Taylor, competition judge, on the process. See below for a full list of commended poets:
“When asked to judge the Verve 2019 competition I expected my inbox to be crammed with poems celebrating the diversity of our communities. Though there were certainly some of those in the submissions, the majority however wanted to address our dystopian and dislocating times; those fissures running down the centres of our streets. The writers of this anthology are clear that our communities are under attack both in the literal and figurative sense. Subsequently the book has become one about the fracturing of society, about dissonance, loss, and fear – as exemplified by the many hard-written Brexit themed poems. But it is also resolutely hopeful; the fact that so many feel the same is a hopeful thing, something that will eventually lead to a regaining of ourselves.
It takes a long time to judge a poetry competition, especially one in which all the winners will be featured in an anthology. That meant that I was reading each poem and imagining its place in the book, including whether the subject matter was broad enough throughout the anthology, whether there was enough variance in voice, in mood and tone. These poems have travelled the span of the UK with me, reading them on long train journeys as I was touring or perched at the desk in flickering hotel rooms. I kept a spreadsheet and made notes on each poem as I read through, ending up with a ‘yes’ pile to rival our abandoned social housing. Narrowing down the final selections was not an easy process.
The poems in this book discuss contemporary gentrification, austerity, racism, gender politics, migration, colonisation and more. They take us on a journey across both space and time; they take us back to ourselves.
We have understood for decades that the art form variously described as spoken word or underground poetry is part of a dynamic and vibrant community of artists, thinkers and dissidents. We meet across the country in darkened bars, the backs of bookshops or in spotlit theatres to watch the words drop from poets’ mouths before transmuting into something tangible.
We are a community of poets, and these poems are where we live.”
– Joelle Taylor, Judge of 2019 Verve Poetry Festival Competition
FIRST PLACE: ‘Every Girl Knows’ By Amy Acre
This is the kind of poem that will make you stand up as you read it. It is visceral, dark, elegiac, muscular and cinematic. It leaves splinters in your mouth when you speak it out loud. I love the boldness and confidence of it, and the rolling film of flickering images from female adolescence that forms its structure. I Iove that it quietly countered stereotypes of femininity, of what femaleness is, as well as its inherent sense that all women share these memories and ideas of ourselves. My favourite poems are the ones in which the pen nib becomes a camera lens, and this piece pulled me straight into the film. A spectacular piece of work from a spectacular poet.
SECOND PLACE: ‘Relationality’ By Jack Emsden
A study of kinship, of what binds us together. In this poem the answer is mundane, both small and of inconceivable width. The poem is packed with sharp metaphors and powerhouse imagery, which when read as one become a comment on our sense of community, and the current state of the UK. My favourite lines from it are ‘I repurposed the sea as a screen saver’ , and ‘houses as empty as January’. I keep re-reading it to remind me how to write.
THIRD PLACE: ‘Mindfulness Begins’ By Oliver Fox
This is a sideways poem, one that comes at the reader in an unexpected way. I loved the way that the gentrification of both place and culture is pulled apart; any contemporary book about community needs a piece about the ravaging of repackaging of our communities. A wry humour forms the spine of the poem, replete with pop cultural references and hack physics to remind us of what is lost – how the mysteries of music are now ‘atoms shaking off their excess’.
A HUGE congratulations also goes out to the 21 commended poets who will all be invited to read at the 2019 Verve Poetry Festival competition event, on the Saturday morning of the festival. Book your tickets here.
Heddwen Bethan Creaney
Zack Ashley Robinson