Poetry Competition: October 2020 Winners

We’re delighted to announce the winners of the 2020 Autumn Voices Poetry Competition.

Here’s what judge Finola Scott had to say about judging this competition:

“What fun it was reading these poems. People reacted with enthusiasm, engaging with the theme of ‘Vice’ with poems on subjects from gin to Jekyll! Some work was grounded in reality, others took us in to fairy tales. The best entertained and often provoked. So many clearly honed their craft – working on sharp titles, subtle language and vivid imagery. It was difficult to select the final four from a short-list of a dozen. However, those selected all stayed with me as I read them over the weeks. Such a privilege and pleasure.”

Here are our winners and their winning poems in reverse order:

Highly Commended

Apple Rustlers by Mary Jackson (76)

“Apple Rustlers is a vivid lively poem. I smiled as the author took me on this midnight raid. The language and imagery were rich and surprising. Lightfooted, surefooted, guilty. The question at the end has only one answer!”

The moon was as big as a tunnel end
As the innocent thieves set off,
Squeezing through slack barbed wire,
Meandering delicately over stubble,
Dark as shadows, in Indian file,
Lightfooted, surefooted, guiltily,
Full of suppressed joy, for over the field
Is an orchard, and on the grass
Glowing in metamorphic moonlight,
Apples like another Eden. Then in the gentle gloom
Brown backs showed silver as soft-muzzled teeth
Fell to crunching and munching sour juicy apples
In my neighbour’s orchard.
If I were a horse would I not steal out nightly
To munch delicious apples under a harvest moon
In my neighbour’s orchard?

About Mary

Mary Jackson was born Mary Bevan in Sheffield, October 1944, one of the generations known ever since as the Baby Boomers. She was the third and last child of Charles and Edith, a railway clerk and housewife respectively. Educated at Lincoln High School and Girton College, Cambridge, she gained a 2:1 Honours degree in English Literature in 1967, followed by a Postgraduate Certificate in Education from King’s College, London.

She married David and had three daughters, juggling – more or less successfully – the requirements of home, family and part-time teaching, in the quiet surroundings of Epping. Teaching in a variety of schools she noted that for children and young people who ‘fell behind’ there was no satisfactory means of helping them to catch up. Becoming interested in dyslexia, she took a qualification with the Dyslexia Institute and continued to teach individuals and small groups until retirement.

Meanwhile, as time allowed, she built up a collection of poems, stories and longer works. She was instrumental in setting up a poetry appreciation group and book group in her local area. She used to keep Shetland ponies, but now her pastime is drawing and sketching. She is the sole carer for her husband, who has Alzheimer’s.

Highly Commended

Vices by Robert Duncan (73)

“I was delighted to read this provocative poem which raises questions about the place of Scots in modern writing. The subject is confidently tackled with craft, knowledge and humour: ‘Vices’ gangs back as far as Barbour. So I am glad the writer took the plunge – sae I thocht I micht as weel.”

It’s a Scottish site, sae I thocht,
‘Autumn Vices? Dae they mean
vices as in Scots
(tho ah wid spell it vyces),
or dae they mean
vices as in English
(whilk could be Scots forbye –
that ‘vices’ gangs back
at least as faur as Barbour)?’

Sae I read the rules an it said,
‘Poems must be submitted in English’.
‘Aweel’, I thocht, ‘that’s that.
Ah’ve had tae submit in English
aa my life – I submit, I submit!’

Syne I thocht, ‘Hing on a meenit,
by ‘English’, dae they include Scots,
the same wey
when fowk say ‘England’
they oaften mean
‘includin Scotland’?’

And, still and on,
‘autumn’ is guid Scots leid
(tho ye micht liefer say
‘back-end’ or ‘hairst’ –
‘Back-end Vices’
or ‘Hairst Vices’,
ye ken?)

But onywey, gin it’s autumn,
back-end, hairst, or ony ither time,
ma saicret vice
is Scots,
scrievin in Scots,
sae I thocht I micht as weel
submit my ‘Vices’.

About Robert

After publishing some poetry and some horrible horror stories, and a spell writing for Theatre About Glasgow with the Citizens’ Theatre, Robert Duncan spent over thirty years as a TV producer. In 2018 he won the Wigtown Scots Poetry Competition and was Highly Commended in the main (English) Competition. In 2019 he was runner-up in the Wigtown Scots Poetry Competition and he won it again in 2020.

In 2020 he was Jynt Rinner-up in the Poesie Section o Sangschaw 2020 and had several ither poems highly commendit. Three o thir poems hae been publisht in Lallans 96 & 97. He is workin tae reclaim his Scots language ruits.

He’s had ither poems publisht in Poetry Wales, Magma and Searchlight. In 2020 he was yin o six winners o the Federation of Writers (Scotland) 20 Words for 2020 competition, suin tae be seen on the FWS wabsite.

Mary and Robert each win a copy of the Autumn Voices book for their Highly Commended poems


Witches Goodbye by Ann Craig (69)

“What an unsettling surprise this poem is. From the title I was engaged. Using a neat structure, the poet led me step by step into action: I shook the quilt, it sighed. I was intrigued to find what the real story was and how it ends. The reader is teased with hints – old burned out ashes ditched, remembered intimacies. The final words certainly don’t disappoint – instead they set the mind reeling. Delightfully disturbing!”

It took seven days to say goodbye

First I pulled all your hair from the hairbrush,
let it fly away on the wind

I shook the quilt, it sighed,
one solitary feather floated out, was lost

I retuned the radio, enjoyed the static,
new voices telling me new things

I raked out the fire, reset it,
old burned out ashes ditched.

I scrubbed the laundry bag, thick
with remembered intimacies

I drank that bottle of bubbly,
let the fizz dance in my veins.

I lit a bonfire with no guy,
whirled like a dervish round the flames

On the eighth day I boiled bones for soup.

About Ann

I think poetry is a great way to explore life in short intense bursts and I like to do that with a bit of humour thrown in!

I have lived in a very small fishing village on the north east coast of Scotland for forty-five years but I’m Glasgow-born and I think that’s a place that spawns a kind of black-humour approach to life’s ups and downs.

I have been writing for a long time, but just now it’s helping me keep a positive perspective in this strangest of times.

Ann is the winner of the Runner-up prize of £50


Digitalis purpurea by Ingrid Murray (61)

“A marvellous multi-layered poem which is lightly crammed with expert knowledge of the health-giving properties of herbs: Remembering to retain the menstruum and the marc. That alone would be powerful, but the author digs deeper, subtly hinting at darker themes. This made this poem a winner. Lines such as failure of the heart, clouds gather moved my mind to our current crisis. The focus is always tight, no words wasted. The last lines sealed the concepts in a beautiful memorable image.”

Four hours misspent again this morning naming
wild flowers and their parts – angelica (root)
for digestion, sweet flag for fever and D. purpurea
for failure of the heart. I’ll grind them, mash them
heat them, strain them till the tincture’s good and dark

As the clouds gather in the afternoon I’ll go out again
foraging for mushrooms ‒ hedgehog, beefsteak
the dryad’s saddle. Then I’ll steep them for six weeks
remembering to retain the menstruum and the marc
remembering the women burned once for this art

Elsewhere in the city they’re building a boardwalk
for the Christmas market. Next door, a commemorative
cemetery’s risen overnight (P. somniferum for pain).
On the steps of a haunted house pumpkins grimace
cored and scored, devoid of the light of a flickering flame

About Ingrid

Ingrid’s writing recently has been sporadic. She can write nothing for two years and then write two dozen poems in two months. She has no idea what turns the tap on and off.

Ingrid began writing fiction in her early fifties while working as a midwife in Edinburgh. She signed up for an Open University creative writing module which included poetry writing. Not having written poetry since school, she took some one-on-one classes with the poet and teacher, Donny O’Rourke, in Glasgow, later joining his writing class. With the encouragement she received there, she applied to the University of Edinburgh for a place on their Masters creative writing course and surprisingly found herself, in the autumn of 2012, a full-time student whilst continuing to work the occasional night shift on the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh labour ward. She received her MSc with distinction in 2013.

Her poetry has been published online by Ink Sweat and Tears and Open Mouse, in print in New Writing Scotland and been shortlisted for the Jane Martin Prize (pre age-restriction). In 2015 she collaborated with the then Edinburgh Makar, Christine de Luca, on the poem ‘A Month on the Mile’.

Ingrid is the overall winner of the £100 prize

Congratulations to all our winners and thank you to everyone who submitted poem entries and made this so enjoyable!

Stay tuned for our next competition…