Skip to Content

Surprise winner for National Poetry Competition

5 April 2010

This year's National Poetry CompetitionAnnual poetry prize run by the UK-based Poetry Society established in 1978; accepts entries from all over the world; over 10,000 poems submitted each year (which actually has an international entry although it is run by the UK Poetry Society) has been won by Helen Dunmore for her poem 'The Malarkey'. Better known as a novelist, Dunmore has produced nine poetry collections and a number of novels. This poem was submitted on impulse just before the closing date, so it was a great surprise for the poet when she won the £5,000 prize.

Dunmore said:

'I was standing in a cold car park putting things into the back of the car [when I heard]. It was very emotional, very moving. I'd written the poem shortly before sending it in - it's quite a tightly organised poem, in terms of the rhymes and the near-rhymes. It's very much about containment ... I've written very few poems over the past four years ... but now I have the feeling that there is the kernel of a new collection. It is a great boost to receive the prize - a confirmation.'

This year's Competition had 10,467 entries, a considerable increase on last year. The judges were poets Ruth Padel, Neil Rollinson and Daljit Nagra. Entries are handled anonymously, with the interesting result that sometimes a well-known poet wins and sometimes it's a complete unknown.

Amongst the poets who have won this well-regarded competition are the current Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, Tony Harrison, the 2009 T S Eliot prizewinner Philip Gross and Ruth Padel. The Competition was established in 1978 and has grown in size and reputation ever since. Entries come from poets writing in English from all over the world.

The winning poem:

The Malarkey

Helen Dunmore

Why did you tell them to be quiet

and sit up straight until you came back?

The malarkey would have led you to them.

You go from one parked car to another

and peer through the misted windows

before checking the registration.

Your pocket bulges. You've bought them sweets

but the mist is on the inside of the windows.

How many children are breathing?

The malarkey's over in the back of the car.

The day is over outside the windows.

No streetlight has come on.

You fed them cockles soused in vinegar,

you took them on the machines.

You looked away just once.

You looked away just once

as you leaned on the chip-shop counter,

and forty years were gone.

You have been telling them for ever

Stop that malarkey in the back there!

Now they have gone and done it.

Is that mist, or water with breath in it?

Entry details for the 2010 National Poetry Competition.

Submissions cost £6.