Books: Poets Triumphant, Marvellous Sisterhood ; National Poetry Competition Winners

Article excerpt

This year's winners are a hedonistic lot, judging by their poems. They like a drink and enjoy the good life. So the humid, palm- filled atrium of a City law firm was a suitably exotic location for last week's lively prizegiving ceremony.

"Sex and death," commented Michele Roberts, chair of the judging panel, when asked about the predominant themes of the 8,775 entries sifted by the judges (Jean "Binta" Breeze, Michael Donaghy and Ian Duhig). All the entries are assessed anonymously, so it was a complete surprise that all three winners were women (the first time in the history of the competition).

This year's winner, Beatrice Garland, has yet to publish a first collection, and is hoping that her competition success will make it easier to find a publisher. Like all winners, she will be automatically entered for the Forward Prize (last year's winner Ian Duhig won that as well with his poem "The Lammas Hireling"). Second place winner Ann Drysdale is already a published poet with a third collection, Backwork, on the way from Peterloo Poets, while Rhian Gallagher's debut will be published by Enitharmon next year.

Carol Rumens, a very well-known figure in the poetry world, won the supplementary "Stay in touch" award, inaugurated by BT during its three-year sponsorship. Her poem is a splendid celebration of maturity: "Gather round me now, you older poets - / Poets in your late forties, early fifties ... Poets triumphant in your racy seventies, / and you, especially you, in your eighties and nineties ... marvellous sisterhood" (for the full text, see The Poetry Society's website, www. poetrysociety.org.uk). Carol's new collection Hex will be published by Bloodaxe in the autumn.

The deadline for entries for the National Poetry Competition 2002 is 31 October 2002, and the judges will be poets Simon Armitage, Whitbread prizewinner Selima Hill and Hugo Williams. Suzi Feay, literary editor of the Independent on Sunday, will chair the panel. The winner will get pounds 5,000, the runner up pounds 1,000, with pounds 500 for the third prize and 10 pounds 50 prizes for special commendations.

For an entry form, send an SAE to the Competition Organiser (IoS), Poetry Society, 22 Betterton St, London WC2H 9BX, or visit the website.

The Poetry Society can be contacted on 020 7420 9880.

First `Undressing' by Beatrice Garland

Like slipping stitches

or unmaking a bed

or rain from tiles,

they come tumbling off:

green dress, pale stockings,

loose silk - like mown grass

or blown roses,

subsiding in little heaps

and holding for a while

a faint perfume - soap,

warm skin - linking

these soft replicas of self.

And why stop there?

Why not like an animal,

a seed, a fruit, go on

to shed old layers of moult,

snakeskin, seed-husk, pelt

or hard green-walnut coat,

till all the roughnesses

of knocking age

are lost and something

soft, unshelled, unstained

emerges blinking

into open ground?

And perhaps in time

this slow undoing will arrive

at some imagined core,

some dense and green-white bud,

weightless, untouchable.

Yes. It will come,

that last let-fall of garment,

nerve, bright hair and bone -

the rest is earth,

casements of air,

close coverings of rain,

the casual sun.

Beatrice Garland started writing seriously in 1989, following the death of her father. She read English Literature at university, which picked up on a deep interest in the complexities of human behaviour. She went on to follow this interest through the study of social behaviour in chimpanzees, research into the behaviour of new- born infants, teaching in state primary schools, working as a television presenter, retraining as a psychologist, and finally training and working as a psychoanalyst. …