Wild Poems Single Poem Contest 2020

Anna wild with ben 

Triage Judge Anna Saunders and
Lead Judge Ben Ray announced the following winners and shortlist.
The three winning poets and their work appear below.

Lead Judge Ben Ray writes:

It has been such a privilege and a wonderfully enjoyable and transporting experience to read and judge all of these poems – thank you to everyone who has taken the time and effort to draft, to write, to edit, to submit.

Creating and sharing poetry is one of life’s joys, and to be witness to the joys of others truly is a beautiful thing.

First Prize:
Tammy Armstrong

Lady Hurricane
Perhaps she cures by sympathy
cold griefs of the head
and stays the inflammation the lurcher winds kick up.

Or maybe she’s man-shaped, man-voiced
a Helio-Arkite superstition
a metempsychosis of a Little King of Everything
or a symbolic account of the Flood
that bloats and drowns elsewhere before rushing here—
            her waters dark as blue can get before becoming black
as the uprights of a forest
burned down for pastureland, for timber
for fuel to make vodka and glass.

From the east
she brings New England’s salts and winds
the Gulf of Maine’s shifting fogs      
and something Floridian like eucalyptus and wetted-down dust
and at dusk, when I think of you most         
and the isopleths we share
her greeny air swamps every porous thing:
barachois ponds, the home scars of limpids on barnacled rock
and creeping Charlie, cat’s foot, gill-go-by-ground, and turn hoof
thicketing beneath the porch steps, under-known.


Dawn and the light catches in the orb spider’s night work
her hexafoil crocheted into the willow withes
and here are the banes~ castor, dog’s teeth amulets, lightning
devil’s backbone, alligator plant, mother of thousands

and here are her sweeps—Lady Hurricane
coatless, lambent
her clouds like boneless sharks
and her selvedge, her self-finished hems
snagging on the ox-eye daisies
the fever plant and spirit spoon
while her winds trough up the shag pines’ tertiaries
and lift them by their crooked feet.

We can hear her frosts working in the bark
while she dead-heads the trees, heavy with ugly fruit                                   
or wraps her daughters in donkey skins
          or tilts the light
or drags the tides for drift junk and marine oil
or floods the trenches
dug from chalk with the shoulder blades of cattle.
In the shallows: the coot and shag haunts
a life-long thing—zodiacal.


Even tonight—
a slantwise shifting around
our cottage’s birds-mouth rafters
and she comes to the edges:
the night’s blind waters         
where the lighthouse’s carotene eye gives way
to its chantless, cotton-mouthed call.

My room is your room, here in the attic
where the roof slants low near the bricked-off chimney
where the forgotten night-light waits out the rain.
Too alone in our sleep
the meaning-unmeaning inside our dreams
we’ll keep the window half-open again
to rat-eyed light and wrecking wind
and rivers shallowing to mud.


Sue Finch


after Liz Berry

The night she bent my elbows to fit the candy floss cardigan
for the twenty-third time, my limbs turned to wings.
She wished me to be a pink girl.

My neck grew and grew,
elongating, extending.
Black eyes, shrunk in the pink like submerged pea shingle.

Light in my fans of feathers
I was lifted like a balloon puffed with helium.
Body and wings held stately,
magically anchored by one leg.
Miniature rough patellas marked my hinges.

When the scent entered half-moon holes in my new beak
I could have salivated at the raw rip of scaled flesh.
But my juices would not run – I was gizzard now.
I couldn’t bear the confinement of the flock but flight
had me fearful.

Passing through flamingo phase I fattened, darkened.
A birch broom in a fit,
I shook my thick cheeks side to side
became a dodo;
with a waddle in my walk that slowed.

She sent my father then. He came alone
with gun and incongruent grin
and shot me dead.
Skewered me above his heaped fire under moonlight,
turned me slowly round and round.


I. Patterson

Fenland Water Village

dig down deep into the wet dark
soil dig further down further

erect a white tent held tight at each
corner over the crime scene

dig further join the archaeologists’
scrum scrape away roots dead

and living pull away stones dig an
oblong trench for insistent water to

creep and lie in brush away dirt reveal
a cartwheel of house-struts more than

one each shaped timber burned to
the bone brush and blow further find

beads without string soft glint of
bronze bowls hold them intact with

their incinerated grain piece together
the people world dig further down

lift out whispers of cloth thin and fine
find at last a bronze blade thumb

its sides clean see its nearly new
shine its beaten edge will still cut you

after this time climb the ladder from
silence to silence brush soil from

your fingers the late sky’s wide and
still reeds touch lean bend the water’s

a mirror see perfect copy of sky
reeds your silhouette sharp in the fen

Ben Ray‘s Adjudication

First place: Lady Hurricane by Tammy Armstrong

The combination of masterly handling of poetic free-form and the sheer richness of language here almost blows you away on the first approach – quite the match for its subject matter. This poem challenges the reader, demanding several read-throughs simply to luxuriate in the various poetic devices used and the word-paintings created. Tough issues are tackled with deceptive lightness amongst a maelstrom that leaves the reader almost dizzy with the sheer energy of the piece. It is only when the reader has been spat out the other side that one can discern order amongst the chaos, with the abstract colliding with the minute and ultimately creating a poem one experiences as well as reads.

Second place: Flamingo by Sue Finch

This poem is so warm, so immediately loveable and welcoming– it almost flows off the page when read. Imagery and colour is used intelligently and carefully here, employed at just the right moments across the piece – as a reader you can feel the pinkness and sensation of feathers seeping through the words! The narrative poem format can often be heavy, but is used with such expert lightness of touch here, with a strong fairy-tale element giving the structure a deeper resonance that questions initial interpretations. The storytelling is deliciously dark, with a fantastic twist at the ending catching the reader unawares. 

Third place: Fenland Water Village by I. Patterson 

There is a beautiful succinctness and delicacy to this piece – the reader is immediately drawn to the playful use of spacing within the tight, rigid couplet form, making the poem much more than first meets the eye. This creates a fascinating experience, with slightly different shapes created by the piece each time it’s read. The subject matter is powerful and boldly painted, with each word crisp and carefully picked – absolutely nothing is wasted here. The overall sensation of unexpected gaps amongst the flowing regularity brings to mind the flat, rolling fenland itself – the reader finds themselves in the trench alongside the poet, amongst the mud and discovering treasures. 

Shortlisted poems

There was nothing tame in the hundreds of entries in Cheltenham Poetry Festival’s Wild Poems competition. Judges Ben Ray and Anna Saunders worked extremely hard to develop a longlist of 14 excellent poems, each of their authors vying for the prestige and value of a prize.

Anna & I have had great fun, and some quite fiery debates, drawing up a longlist. [Ben Ray]
Longlisted titles

Towards Earth
Wild Goose Barnacle Chase
Take Me Away Takeaway
The Last Day
When Lightning Struck Our Mare
Roe Deer
The Labours of Athena

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