We’re delighted to announce the winners of the 2022 Autumn Voices Poetry Competition. We’d like to thank our judge, Des Dillon, for his tireless work in sorting through the over 150 entries we received.
The theme this year was ‘The Environment’, in keeping with that for this year’s UK National Poetry Day.
This year there were two strands to the competition: the General Strand and the Dumfries and Galloway Strand. For the General Strand the majority of entries were from the British Isles, but we were also pleased to hear from poets living in the USA and Canada, Australia and European countries including Finland, Spain and Cyprus.
Based on the age of our entrants, many people are indeed ‘growing old creatively’, as our strap-line puts it, with our oldest entrant being 89 years young!
Dumfries and Galloway Strand Runner up
‘Chinsegut’ by John Atkinson (72)
Judge’s comment: “The writer takes their fascination with one Inuit word, ‘Chinsegut’, meaning the spirit of lost things, and extrapolates an idea by reference to the actual physical loss of lands mass, ice mass and ways of life. In this undertaking the poet creates for us a brief connection and insight into what Inuit spirituality may have been like. And so, through this pervading sense of environmental grief, we are connected to the Earth as we must presume those Inuits must have been. We become them.”
Several years ago I happened upon
this intriguing word from the Inuit language –
chinsegut – the spirit of lost things.
The idea of a lost thing having a spirit
or maybe the quality of lostness
being in possession of a spirit
rolled around my head
for some time
before slipping away one summer’s day
when the sun was beating down
or maybe it was snowing. Either way
it became a memory mislaid. Until recently
on reading of how much harder it is
for Inuit hunters to hunt
as every year more sea ice melts
and at the thought of the spirit of ice
fading as it dissolves in warming water
and at the thought of the spirits
of polar bears
hungry for the spirits of seals
in provincial towns in northern Canada
and being shot at – corporeally.
I wanted to know how chinsegut
was understood in the Inuit belief system
how significant to their culture
even how they pronounced it.
But was unable find anything more
about this intriguing word
and wished I knew some Inuit people
to ask but I don’t.
Another thought-provoking concept
pursued yet unfulfilled as life
passes me by in an endless procession
of weather systems.
John Atkinson writes: I was born on a farm in North Yorkshire in 1950 and grew up with a close affinity to the land and to nature. In my late teens I discovered the poems of Dylan Thomas and was moved by the elegiac lyricism of his poetry as a youth, spent on his uncle’s farm in South Wales. Later I was equally moved by Ted Hughes, and also by Seamus Heaney. They were an inspiration for me when I began to write poetry myself, fairly late in life, at about the age of sixty. I have been living in Dumfries and Galloway for the last six years. My house is next to the sea, by the edge of Luce Bay at Port William. I am now retired so have more time to devote to trying to capture some of the poetry of nature.
Dumfries and Galloway Strand Winner
‘Lùnastal’ by Clare Phillips (70)
Judge’s comment: “A brilliant comparison of ancient ways and ritualistic attitudes towards the environment and forces of nature, written with the lightness of touch and control of a consummate poet. But what does it for me is the original idea that what we discard into the land beneath us is what might be dug up thousands of years from now by archaeologists, betraying who we really were. And in that one idea this poet shows us just where we went wrong. And as if great writing and execution of the idea isn’t enough, Angus McPhee is referenced (an artist I greatly admire), whose art knits humanity inextricably to the land.”
It was soul over substance.
Dewed and bejewelled,
the rich-berried, fungus-capped
moss, as August dawned,
would have shone
before them, a glowing cloth
and though starving, their faith, deep
as the peat, would have had them hold
off, give the first fruits to god
believing, like all native people, we
sacrifice to survive, each singular life
rising from a prayer mat of sinew
the bog bodies’ preserved
smiles suggest it, sphagnum’s
emerald hair floating
on a drowned forest
of all that went before.
Now we add plastic
to bone, language, family, what’s
buried upholds us, our harvest table
an ice-berg, nine-tenths
submerged, spread with Angus
McPhee’s ephemeral weaving, baked
into bread. Only after all this, the feast.
Clare Phillips was first published by Markings as part of the Galloway Poets series in 1998. Since retiring from social work education in 2013, she has had individual poems published in Southlight, Glasgow Review of Books (online), Reach (Indigo Dreams), Poet’s Republic, Luminant and won the Fresh Voice Award at the Wigtown Poetry Competition in 2019. Mentoring from Chrys Salt and Hugh Macmillan, alongside membership of local writers’ collectives Crichton Writers and Beltie Bards, has given her later career more structure and focus. Always deeply connected with landscape and the natural world, Clare’s recent writing has been impacted by threats to the environment and reflects her growing interest in Scotland’s island cultures after visits to the Outer Hebrides in 2021 and 2022.
Dumfries and Galloway Strand
Oil Painting by Carolyn Yates (67)
Hunters by Carolyn Yates (67)
The Clootie Tree by Alexandra Monlaur-Little (66)
General Strand Highly Commended
‘Encounter With a Bullfrog’
by David Blumenfeld (85) from Georgia, USA
Judge’s comment: “A plea with a bullfrog for an ethical contract between humans and the environment. A poem you can sink into and spend time alongside the poet around the pond. Brilliantly written and another I’ll not forget.”
Encounter With a Bullfrog
He stared at me defiantly from the edge of the pond
Where he sat looking into my eyes, as if to say: This is my pond,
No human intruders are allowed, just turtles and tadpoles, small fish and bugs,
Mosquitoes, dragonflies, and hundreds of others whose names only a few entomologists know,
Herons, egrets, osprey, and endless bird species, snakes, snails, slugs, skinks, spinning spiders of every sort,
Eager-eyed alligators who slither silently, slippery as dead logs moving in the sluggish current through the duckweed
And green slime that adorn my watery kingdom where at dusk I lead a booming baritone chorus of my brethren in unfettered
Song, joined by cicadas, crickets and night birds, but you, evolved creature, have no place here in a world you would destroy, no place
Among us who do not conceive of death, who live and feed on one another, sustaining life, dying without reflection, leaving the abundance of being
Only moments earlier I had seen him leap from his oozy home to
The edge of my yard in a single swift bound, rustling the pink, purple and
White fringes of the Mexican petunias planted months earlier at the pond’s rim
Where he now squatted, a huge example of his species, sticky-tongued giant of his kind,
Easily eight inches long and over a pound and a half, robed in swamp green with black bars on
His powerful legs, his back a field of barnacle-like protrusions, signs of immense old age. Wise wetland warrior,
Patient protector of the pond, bog baron, wily watchman of a host of living things, trust me: I can see my image in your
Why challenge me, great green and black creature? We are only two
Old men trying to get by a few more days in a hostile world. Me eighty-five and you,
What? Perhaps twenty? ancient for your kind, a hundred in human years. I bear you no ill-
Will, wish you only well, promise not to violate your pond, do what I can to help it thrive, even
If I cannot vouch for my fellow folk. Let us make peace, you and I, we can enjoy this luxuriant pond
Together, you living in it and I watching it swarm with life, surveying it from the high ground of my porch.
This is a fair offer, I pleaded, as I looked imploringly into the eyes of the frog, who could see his image in my
Eyes too. He hesitated as if pondering, then sadly rasped a solitary, dispirited croak before slipping back into the pond Unpersuaded.
David Blumenfeld (aka Dean Flowerfield) is a former philosophy professor and associate dean who in retirement returned to writing stories, poetry, and children’s literature, which he abandoned in his thirties to devote himself full-time to philosophy. His work appears in a wide variety of journals and anthologies.
General Strand Runner up
by Dean Gessie (62) from Ontario, Canada
Judge’s comment: “A highly original approach to the theme. Comparing, with some skill and brio, certain animals’ behaviour or events in the environment with often painful personal concerns: family members, depression, puberty. The sheer honesty of this poem, coupled with its creative brilliance, is what makes it for me. In turns funny, sad, shocking or despairing but always engaging, this is a poem that will stick with me for a long time.”
unfurled tail and furry mouthed, a peacock spider hops leg to leg,
imitates hot disco funk and hunk hustle to win a mate;
courtship king, broggadacchio, one eighth-inch long, I, too, dance
pale, green-rumped, pocket parrots twittering shrill cartoonish tweets
reproduce imitation of cell alarms and app beepers;
our toddlers, capable mimics, chirp adult angst, what the hell?
red brown ant and fuzz bellied, hairy crazies by the millions
speak chemical idiom, jaw reflex and leg scraping;
teenagers, portmanteau for horny, leave pheromone in chat groups
wobbling, dazed and confused, falling over, victim of nectar
fermentation, the drunk bee disorients brain and hive entry;
and grandpa, under the sober key of Herr Alzheimer, nazi guard
large ear flaps, long proboscis, sensitive skin and columnar legs,
the elephant carries great weight, joy and loss, human consorts;
equally, our lovely son’s passing, the elephant in the room
fanned-out ribs, a dorsal shield, bodies like spikey satellite dishes,
the horned lizard defends itself, squirts eyefuls of blood platelets;
my daughter, sexting miscue victim, on her boyfriend rains venom
grey mottling, black baleen plates, the blue whale swims the Seychelles,
navigates a global slump in shipping and punctuates freedom with aria;
locked within coronavirus, kareoki plumbs deep rifts
stout bodies, winter shut-ins, zero light cues in wood and mud,
beavers, monogonous engineers, build eco-systems; my dying parents,
keystone species in the biosphere, leave light and air in winter’s wake
meerkat pups, parent tutored, eat scorpions, dead or dying,
the lesson, experiential, to avoid bestial venom;
our daughter, rape fantasy prey, unfriends networks or goes ghost
consuming mouthsfull of rock, weighting themselves for submersion,
sheltering from storm and enemy, crocodiles spend hours under water;
I, myself, clinically depressed, dark stones for ballast, risk drowning
sun-silver, side facing eyes, blowhole breather, muscular tail,
the dolphin elevates injured kin to surface air; likewise, my wife,
grief guru, echolocator, two fields of view, breathes for two
thick billed, robust and slender, holding grudges for transgessors,
the black crow pebbles traffic with nuts and gathers broken pieces;
my own case, grievance collector, I struggle to harvest mercy
my family, zodiac creatures, glow in the dark ceiling stickers,
less than the measure of gods, more than the sum of our parts,
caretakers of light and absence, loss of our son, the one black hole
You can watch Dean reading his poem on clipchamp
Dean Gessie is an author and poet who has won dozens of international awards and prizes. Among other honours, Dean won the Aesthetica Creative Writing Award in England, the Allingham Arts Festival Poetry Competition in Ireland, the Samuel Washington Allen Prize in Massachusetts, the COP26 Poetry Competition in Scotland, the UN-aligned Poetry Contest in Finland, the Creators of Justice Literary Award from the International Human Rights Art Festival in New York and the Poetry Archive NOW! World View 2022 Competition in Exeter, England. Elsewhere, Dean’s short story collection – called Anthropocene – won an Eyelands Book Award in Greece and the Uncollected Press Prize in Maryland.
General Strand Winner
‘World Made Magic’
by Ann Craig (71) from Angus, Scotland
Judge’s comment: “This poem just bounces into life. What an absolutely original and beautiful thing the writer has made here. They have taken the theme and reflected it back to us in a profoundly imaginative way. And it contains such timeless wisdom. If there were more women like the Grandmother (or Mother) in this poem, there would be no need for us to protect the environment. The characters spring to life, making this feel like a poem and a play rolled together. And the wee extra space/pause before ‘and her’ speaks of someone who is a master of their craft. This poem should be taught in every school – and could be made into a powerful short film to do so.”
World Made Magic
She’d walk you to the nearest green space,
Busses are fur folk who canny use their legs hen.
After miles, she’d cover your eyes,
Noo pet, when ye open yer wee een,
soak up aw the magic o this fairy den.
They’re only lettin us in cos it’s the first day o spring.
A banquet of snowdrops, early crocuses, bluebells,
dandelion clocks drifting in the slanting light,
new yellow gorse, pigeon’s secret cooing.
In heaven, you ate jam pieces, and chocolate buttons.
She crowned you with daisy chains,
Ma ain wee fairy queen.
Look at that sky wee wummin,
it’s like sumbody’s lit a thoosand candles
it’s enough tae gie ye religion.
Jist when ye think the wurld’s
too dark tae fathom, the light cums back.
We’ve goat tae look efter it aw though,
we’ve only goat wan wurld, it’s up tae us.
Like conspirators, she’d tell you
of mountains with secrets caves,
great rivers with magical beasts,
enchanted forests full of elves.
It was all wonderment.
Smells of warming earth, cool winds,
coorieing down beside the big tree,
This is my wean mister tree, she’s jist
cum tae say hello, the branches rustled,
oh ah ken she’s bonnie, takes efter her mammy,
dinnae worry ah`ve telt her aw aboot the growin things.
The road back seemed longer, but peppered with
treats, ice cream, two ounce of jelly babies.
The last part always hazy, being carried close
in that golden sunset, down grey streets.
Clothes coming off, a damp sponge
wiping sticky hands and wind slapped face.
Gentle kisses on your nose, eyes closing.
The allowed bunch of grip held flowers
in a jam jar beside the bed.
That lingering smell of honey gorse, and her.
Ann Craig writes: “I think poetry is a great way to explore life in short intense bursts, I like to do that with a bit of humour thrown in, if possible. I have lived in a very small fishing village on the north east coast of Scotland for the past 46 years but I’m Glasgow-born. I looked at the theme of this poetry competition and found it an overwhelming task to try and capture such a complex, and for me, emotive subject in forty lines. I pulled back into how I was introduced to the natural world when young and living in a tenement in Glasgow, this poem is the result. I am trained in drama, ran a large youth theatre, the Peek A Boo puppet theatre and then retrained in community education and philosophical inquiry. I am still very involved in my community and tackling this ageing lark as positively as possible – most of the time. I am very thrilled to be a winner in this competition.”
General Strand Commended
Lilacs Behind the Wall of our Garden by Danuta Dagair (75) from London
Sula Sgeir by Ian Ledward (75) from Fife
I Propose We Worship Lady Slippers by Nancy Huxtable Mohr (77) from California, USA
Resurrection by Sandra McGruther (72) from Renfrewshire
The City Peregrine by Sara Davis (66) from Kent
Mycelia by Cynthia Bernard (68) from California, USA
The Hawthorn Hedge by David Smith (81) from Yorkshire
Urban by Marie-Therese Taylor (70) from Glasgow
Binfolk by Donald Adamson (79) from Finland
Reverse Mutation by Lila Zokni (60) from London
Ritual by Mandy MacDonald (78) from Aberdeen
Gaia In Church by Emmeline O’Dowd (71) from Derbyshire
The Truth About Cows by Annie Cowell (60) from Cyprus
One Heart by Genevieve Chornenki (67) from Ontario, Canada
Solace by Dorothy Baird (62) from Edinburgh
The Scent of Change by Tom Langlands (68) from Perth & Kinross
The Butterfly Effect by Clare Morris (65) from Devon
Coyotes in the Vineyard by Stephen T. Barile (72) from California, USA
Ode To A Rose On A City Roundabout by Suzannah Goss (60) from Edinburgh
Waste by Mary Mulholland (71) from London
Two Nights in Yosemite by Anita John (62) from Scottish Borders
This year’s judge
Our judge for this year’s competition is the brilliant Des Dillon. Des is an award-winning poet, writer, dramatist and scriptwriter whose work has been published and performed across Europe and America.
He was born in Coatbridge and studied English Literature and Popular Culture at Strathclyde University before becoming a teacher of English. He was the Writer-in-Residence at Castlemilk from 1998 to 2000 and his 1995 Novel, Me and Ma Gal, was included in the list of The 100 Greatest Ever Scottish Books.
His writing is critically acclaimed, popular and sometimes controversial, often addressing the elitism that creates underclasses. He wrote Singing I’m No a Billy he’s a Tim, which is considered Scottish theatre’s most successful contemporary play. He has been anthologised internationally and won The Lion and Unicorn Prize for the best of Irish and British Literature in the Russian Language.
His most recent poetry collection, Muscle Work, Alcohol and Blame, was published by Second Sands Publications in 2021. He has been described as ‘one of Scotland’s most remarkable writers’ by Joyce McMillan in The Scotsman
A product of the Coatbridge Irish, Des is a natural storyteller, as evidenced by his work. He is now a resident of Dumfries and Galloway and lives on the Galloway coast.
This year’s prizes
Both strands of the 2022 competition have a winner and a runner-up.
The runners-up each receive a prize of £50 and a selection of books. The winners each receive a selection of books and a mentoring session worth £175 with experienced poet and publisher, Elizabeth Rimmer.
Elizabeth is a poet, editor and occasional translator who is widely published in magazines and online. She is influenced by her experience of growing and using herbs and produced a modern translation of the Old English Charm of Nine Herbs in 2017. She is also influenced by her study of geopoetics, permaculture (especially concerning the growing and use of herbs), the mythological traditions and folklore of northern and western Europe, and by the mystical and philosophical traditions of Christian Monasticism.
She has published four collections of poetry with Red Squirrel Press: Wherever We Live Now (2011), The Territory of Rain (2015), Haggards, (2018) and The Well of the Moon (2021). She has edited fifteen full poetry collections and six pamphlets for Red Squirrel Press, and anthologies for the Federation of Writers (Scotland) and the Scottish Writers Centre. She is a member of Scottish PEN and the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics.
Autumn Voices wishes to thank the publishers who donated book as competition prizes: Carcanet, Bloodaxe, Polygon, Picador, Macmillan, Red Squirrel Press and Second Sands Publishing, which is an imprint of Foggie Toddle Books.