Winning Poems from the 2021 Ledbury Poetry Competition

Winning Poem

Evolution of a brother gone quiet
by Jess Murrain

driving into accidents
he is the boy who fell from a building site
down he died
to the sound of a saxophone
settling scores he couldn’t play
as it turned out      the boy survived
is now living as jazz
my little brother

won’t ask after his desires
held up against our Father
bleeding lyric       wringing his beard for seawater
my brother the baby
desperate      to scream     on a beach
he is withdrawing on a family
losing the will to hold     my prolonged hand
I’m watching him watch

a Monday      we are returning
from our trip
the weight of    my quiet bundle
in arms             he is a teenager
beside the written word     feeding afternoons
inside his head      rests a library spitting bars
a sanctuary where found
the man

What does winning the Ledbury Poetry Competition mean to you?

I’m grappling with award culture and competitions and what they mean. I have lots of questions still I think and at the same time winning the Ledbury Poetry Competition is an opportunity for me to share more of my poetry with more people and perhaps with those who haven’t encountered my writing before. This feels like a powerful and postitive thing to me. I’m a ‘newer voice’ to poetry, so sharing my work in print and online is something I feel proud and blessed to be able to do. So, yes, it means a lot.

Can you tell us a bit about how you wrote this poem?

I wrote this poem after exploring a compelling provocation from Gboyega Odubanjo. After this initial beginning, the poem began to change and write itself into new and unexpected directions. I began to chip away at it and in this case I felt like I was attempting to sculpt something from the intimacy of memory. I wanted to dig into a sense of falling and observe a protagonist who was moving through time, his life and his air. The form felt integral to this motion.

More about Jess Murrain:

Jess Murrain (she/her) is a queer poet of dual British-Caribbean heritage working mainly in live performance as an actor and theatre maker. Her wider practice explores artist-moving image/film-poetry and she is co-founder of Theatre with Legs, an experimental theatre company. Her poetry has appeared in bath magg, PERVERSE, Powders Press, Queerlings, Tentacular, Under the Radar, and Field Notes on Survival: A Bad Betty Anthology. Her poem ‘Falling Short’ recently won Silver prize in the Creative Future Writers’ Award and she is a member of the Southbank Centre’s New Poets Collective. Her debut pamphlet is forthcoming with Bad Betty Press.

Second Place:
Business Investments in Groundwater Go Belly Up
by Clare Ysabella Heywood

Many years ago, during that long, sad summer,
my father taught me how to dock canoes.
As I recall, he was lonely from the waist up back then
and tall as trees.

I would stand lakeside, by the water’s edge
hoping to ladle the moon into my hands
like cool soup and carry it back to the cabins.
Melancholy, I imagined, like all rivers,

would someday make it to the sea.
Today, I approach the world with a strange kind of quiet.
I pronounce every word like a query, as if coaxing
a stray cat into a warm meal:

I want you to eat well and nothing in return.
When it rains for the first time since I last thought
of my mother, I stand on the porch with my hands on my hips
and remark, “We needed this” for hours before it ends.

More about Clare Ysabella Heywood:

Clare Ysabella Heywood is a queer, New England based poet and recent graduate from Mount Holyoke College. The recipient of Mount Holyoke College’s Ada L. F. Snell Poetry prize, Clare has been an avid lover of reading and writing poetry since her early childhood and hopes to continue to pave her way in the world of poets.

Third Place:
The Crucible
            After Despy Boutris and Kayleb Rae Candrilli
by Kathryn Bratt-Ffotenhauer

“I know his regrets. / I could list them.”
– Gabrielle Bates

In this dream, you have your legs again. Your legs debloat.
Your legs debloat; no stroke. No left side gone dead.

Your dead side doesn’t knock the door. The door, like the body, has an exit.
Your exiting body I have watched for years. You turned on your spine

like a lamb on a spit. And like a lamb, you bleated mournfully.
You mourned yourself. You cut out other people’s obituaries.

Your obituary I have written since I turned 14. Every day, and again.
Again, your grave dirt heavy in my mouth. I hum a blue dirge,

your dirge: baby, you’ll miss me when I’m gone. When I’m gone,
I hope I stay gone. Dead and dusted, no flowers crowding the plot

with their long, crowding petals. I guess you pray, and hope someone listens.
And someone is always listening. Their ears press to the wall,

the wallowing sound; the sound as red as the hand that I have held so often.
So often, the room was the fluorescent glare of a hospital. An IV poked a hole in your arm,

a hole the size of God to squeeze through. There was no God in the hospital.
In the hospital, the catheter was God. I watched you almost die, your lungs clotting

in clusters, a traffic jam with no way out. I wrote you a poem
but poems were not what you wanted. I don’t know what you wanted

except that you wanted to die. In the quiet, you wheezed Kill me
and something in me was killed. I was so like you.

Like you, I waited for my blood to betray me. I dressed myself for the funeral.
At the funeral, everyone was laughing, dressed in white. There wasn’t any room for singing.

No one sings in the dream. Their mouths fill with smoke,
smoke wafting up the corridor of sky. In the night, I hear your feet

falling on the landing, your shuffle and bump. I creep to the door,
the door through which I sense you falter, and listen; your legs unstable, the dream over.

More about Kathryn Bratt-Ffotenhauer:

Kathryn Bratt-Pfotenhauer’s work has previously been published or is forthcoming in Cherry Tree, Palette Poetry, Beloit Poetry Journal, Meridian, Grist, and others. They were a poetry semifinalist for the 2017 St. Lawrence Book Award and the 2019 and 2020 recipient of the Bryn Mawr Bain-Swiggett Poetry Prize. They are a first year in Syracuse University’s MFA program, where they are at work on their first collection, which interrogates the father figure and the concept of fatherland.

Highly Commended: ‘A Ghazal for my Grandmother’ by Karan Kapoor

Young People Winning Poems

First Prize:
A Cat Confronts Her Past Lives
by Yvanna Vien Tica

The dawn, furious / I learned to avoid sunlight like a wound / late spring snow / still desperate / under the gaze of sudden heat / for once I felt sorry / for all the lives I forfeited / when my sister was still / an ornament in the living room / she used to say I was cat-like / how I landed on my feet after every goodbye / which is a lie / but a loving one / they say icebergs spend / their lives mostly submerged / as if realizing no one / would be brave enough to pass / if they lifted themselves to the expanse / of sunlight / we passed by / the hospital enough times / to know what was hidden / inside the building / but she still smiled / as if the sun flooded her / delusioned her into thinking / light made it easier to breathe / I used to call her / Sun-child / the way she called me Cat / even when it didn’t sound / like my name / neither of us let on how superficial / we were about the longevity / of the day / when my parents burst / into my bedroom that night / weeping / I couldn’t face the sun / I wore shades to the funeral / told everyone it was because / of the snow, how blinding / it was under the sun even though / it was only slush / that softened the grass / I guess they just thought it was my way / of grieving / but one day I promise I will be brave enough to  fall again  / with my feet ready / my face confronting the dawn / I avoided / make amends with the sunlight / I’ll say / Sun-child / it’s Cat

More about Yvanna Vien Tica:

Yvanna Vien Tica is a Filipina writer with a hearing impairment who grew up in Manila and a suburb near Chicago. A high school senior, she is the 2021 Hippocrates Young Poet, the Winner of the 2021 1455 Teen Poetry Contest, and has been invited to read a poem virtually in a 2021 UN Climate Change Conference event. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Verse Daily, Poet LoreShenandoah, and Hobart, among others. She edits Polyphony Lit, reads for Muzzle Magazine, and tweets @yvannavien. In her spare time, she can be found enjoying nature and thanking God for another day.

Second Prize:
Sour Candy
by Ashley Fasario Tan

Yesterday the dentist asked if I was trying to
kill myself  inside out      That the rot and yellow
of my teeth has unearthed the stench of
irresolution                      Currently   I stand

in Helios House    Oh what a name   Nothing like
the shabby flat sullied by daddy’s    lashing out
bunny’s been gaslighted so hard       he’s screwed
for life

all I know is artificial sweet     Bloodshot eyes
father son coming in past ten          pat on the
back for                    lessons learned

Growing up resembles getting kicked in the
privates         suck on this vino baby bottle
kisses no longer feel as well-intentioned      Can

you believe we stood in the same petrol station
same fault laced aggression        how many
other broken relationships do the cashiers
witness daily as they wordlessly bag
consolation candy               fed up of I’m sorry
for hitting you   but      you did misbehave

you didn’t do better          I didn’t know different

[1] Helios House – a gas station located on Olympic Boulevard, Los Angeles at the intersection of two major North/South and East/West corridors.

More about Ashley Fasario Tan:

Ashley Fasario Tan is a Singaporean writer and student who is currently in her final year of junior college. She is a poetry mentorship alumna of the Yale-NUS Creative Arts Programme, where she was mentored by local poet, Eric Valles. Her poems have been featured in the Eye on the World anthology. Outside of poetry, her hobbies include judo, taekwondo, songwriting and cooking. On winning 2nd prize: I’m forever grateful to be chosen as one of the winners in this year’s young people category. Sour Candy represents a turning point in my writing, and I’m excited to continue experimenting with form and language. I really enjoyed the process of distilling a traumatic experience into a stubborn and introspective piece, using the spacings as a symbol of the emotional proximity between a parent and child. Thank you again for this incredible honour!

Third Prize
mango hearts
by Ahana Banerji

my mother and i eat mango heart
over the sink, careful to avoid
the aorta, which makes the mouth itch like a vice

dimpling mesocarp with fingertips,
tugging swollen mango flesh into palms
fast enough to feel it beat

in feasting we feel the heat
of a country we revere like a deity
doubled in phantasm and guts

mango sweet as prayer! seller swears.
elbowed pelicans, we gorge and gullet
the pulsing badami badami badami

mango blood dribble-drops
sticking to thick hair and bruising white linen.
if we scrub ourselves silly with
english fairysop, perhaps then we’ll know

if stench of mango gore
can be scratched from under jaundiced nail.
Between our veins, pulp pounds, awaiting
slewed fruition.

More about Ahana Banerji:

Ahana Banerji is from London and discovered poetry when she was young because of her mother’s interest in works of Toru Dutt and Rabindranath Tagore. Often influenced by her Indian heritage, Ahana likes to write about race, religion and identity. She placed third in the Christopher Tower Poetry Competition 2020 was commended in the Foyle Young Poets Award in 2019 and 2020 and was a winner in 2021. Currently, her inspirations are Sappho, Emily Dickinson, Mary Jean Chan, and Tracy Chapman.

Highly Commended: ‘Ornithology’ by Alisha Wong

Children’s Winning Poems

First Prize
by Georgiabelle Benson

When you feel sad and lonely, worried and scared
You don’t know where you are.

In a forest damp and wet there is more around you
than fear.

It may look scary,
but just take a better look.

The trees may be tall but in a pretty way,
swaying in the fresh breeze.

There may be some weird noises,
but take a better listen,
it will sound like a beautiful melody.

The animals are crowded around you –
a fox, a squirrel, a rabbit and a robin.

You may feel scared,
but be nice to them and they will be nice to you.

Now you know a dark and gloomy forest
can be full of wonders.

More about Georgiabelle Benson:

Georgiabelle Benson is 8 years old and lives in London. She has always enjoyed writing poetry, stories and songs – she can often be found scribbling away at the kitchen table with one of her new ideas.  She loves being in nature (usually up a tree!), painting, sketching and playing imaginary games with her friends. She also enjoys playing the cello, hockey and participating in Stagecoach classes.

Second Prize
by Filijay Touray

I run
From everything
Every bend I take is sad
My life
It pains me
Everyday I walk to school
There is a hole in me
Doesn’t matter how I hold it in
It leaks through me

Third Prize
by Jet Pariera-Jenks

In the morning I brush my hair
to collect all the dreams that I dreamt in the night.
I shake them into order; smooth their rumpled, ribbon-like fantasies,
pack them away in the draw in my head
until the time to go to bed.

In the morning I brush my hair
to find all the worries that plague my mind.
Separate the realistic fears;
ponder over them, reading the small print,
before dismissing the impractical thoughts
and trapping them in the bin.

In the morning I brush my hair
to unknot the accumulated tangles,
to make myself presentable.
That’s what my mum says.
But I still like to think,
that I am smoothing worries of the night,
and shaking out my dreams.

Highly Commended: ‘It Can’t’ by Georgiabelle Benson

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