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The Results

Here’s what the judge said:

When the Otley Poetry Prize opened, I made a statement asking for poems that showed signs of being carefully edited and crafted, and I certainly saw that. There were poems that were wholly original in form and content, some that took contemporary subject matter and applied it to traditional forms and others that were carefully crafted and slightly more antique in their intent. I also said there is enough room for everyone in poetry, and I still stand by that. The 400-odd submissions were mainly angry poems, or I interpreted them as being angry, about Brexit, cultural and generational shifts, death of industry, health, and many other topics. I have to mention the few poems, and I really do mean a handful, that used our much-loved medium to belittle someone else on the basis of their gender or their age. I find it hard as a judge to appreciate a poem that is not used for good (socially, artistically, fill in your own blank here).

So what prompted me to pick the winning and commended poems? It was really close. I had to inspect the finer points of my shortlist – which was really quite long! – and pick each poem apart, but a lot of it comes down to the subjectivity of the exercise, in other words, what the judge likes! The winner was the only poem to stay with me from the first reading. I think it’s such an elegant, arresting poem; drip-feeding the reader description and history, whilst maintaining a tautness, unique and surreal, almost like Lorca’s later work – obviously with a contemporary slant.

Second place is so accomplished and is, spatially, exciting to see on the page. I would recommend reading this one aloud because it is evangelical in its execution. Again, its selection was swayed by subjectivity; I liked the way areas of Leeds become myth, legendary even. How folklore is created in so few, carefully selected words.

Same could be said about ‘Golem’; a marvellously crafted sonnet, so subtle and icy and topical. I love quirkiness and wit in poems, the “what-if” if someone were to be go insane as a result of a trend and that is why ‘And there was just this monstrous sinkhole…” nearly edged it. And the musicality of the language and the intrigue of the closing line in ‘Horses always look cleverer than they are’ propelled the poem to the top of the pile. Please can I stress to the commended poets how close they came to winning this competition. I’m officially fans of all the selected poets, if I wasn’t before.

I’m not playing down the Otley-only prize, by the way. These are equally excellent. There were a lot of short poems entered, but the winner had to be the extremely economical and incisive ‘Fancy dress on the Otley run’. I’m on the bus with the boy and father in this poem, I AM the father in this poem. The final line is eerily biblical and lasting. ‘Jersey Tunnels’ is urgent and didactic without being mawkish, and a fine example of the effectiveness of repetition. ‘The next big bang’ is sentimental in the true sense, but has a universality that I love in poetry, inviting everyone into the poet’s world, not excluded them. And ‘Taxonomy of Box’ is wonderfully weird. Its as though God is discussing boxes! Beckett would’ve liked this, I think.

Many thanks,


and here are the winners!

1st prize

Dena Fakhro

Elegy for a Potosi Miner


2nd prize

Ian Harker

The Leeds Icarus



Gaia Holmes

‘And there was just this monstrous hole…


Andy Humphrey



Char March

Horses always look cleverer than they are



Local Prize

James Garza

Fancy dress on the Otley run



Louise Holmes

Jersey Tunnels


Sandra Burnett

The next big bang


Joanna Sedgwick

Taxonomy of Box




and the winning poems:

First prize
Dene Fakhro

Elegy for a Potosí miner

Not flickering by candle-light but an etching onto the darkness
in a cave mural scarring the alcove, from Goyan oil he stirs
slow birthing the sooty labyrinth. He coughs, curses, sparks
the kerosene, a circus torch about his head, drops a penny
to hear its copper chime, to pray for more verses.

The warren veins his shins with crude tools and dies
no kick of a switch, no whirring machines, no electrics though
his body is sculpture; the bones finely shaved, muscles frayed, eyes
flushed with the yellow stench of gas; he knows only the alphabet
of repetition: poison, pot-hole, cave-in, courage, acquiesce.

Form foetal, he detonates dynamite then sinks his oars, awaits
the avalanche to capsize his ship. In overalls worn into fly-nets
tracing an electric storm, he soon fills a barrow with zinc, tin,
tiny silver glimmering fish. Not this time does earth labour
nor the tunnel convulse and propel him from within.

Eight million flames extinguished beneath his industry
uffocated by noxious breath, combusted in fury, crushed by
forest beams toppling through tunnels the height and width
of mirrors made for Spanish kings, for four hundred years
rusted rivers of spilt men float ore from the quarry.

Monotony relentless, the darkness an eternal night in seams
still he rubs the bitten edge from metal moons, revives fallen
meteors from dust, tunnels against gravity which resolves to
tunnel back unseen, drilling his will, snuffing out his life with-
out obituary, for anthems praise the metals and not the man.

A vampire’s abyss, excluded from the sun yet, in this dark
star vacuum, a grotto with pumpkin lanterns and a twilit
altar where idols balance on a splint to weight the scales
with mountain symmetry and the Andean philosophy
where clammy walls, fur-coated in asbestos tinsel, glint.

But four thousand metres over sea, hope still burns away air
so the Potosí miner snorts the ash, high in the altitude
swaddles his mouth in coca leaves and suckles from moonshine.
As his gills swell, his legs web and weave upon the currents until
he strums a glittering chord where thoughts spin in delirium.

The sky balloons like a bloodied sail while rocks collide into flint
sparking a peat-lit dawn, drying lined tears of widow and child.
Cords festoon a cliff, twisted commas unravelling speech from
sub-soil womb and in this basin of roots, limbs, trunks with scabbed
amber resin studs, the wrecked hull of a ship crests its hidden shore.

 Second Prize
Ian Harker

The Leeds Icarus

Everywhere high has got its Icarus:
strap marks on his arms,
tanned twenty-something
who’s not supposed to be up here.

the Icarus of City Square
the Icarus of Beeston Hill

Give it a go: wind in your face,
keep your feet on the floor

the Icarus of the Town Hall
the Icarus of Halton Moor

Safer by night:
bird-shriek in the feathers,
moonlight in the wax.

the Icarus of Farnley Park
the Icarus of Woodhouse Moor

Everyone expects lights in the sky:
beeline of satellite,
sigh of flightpaths.

But not half bird,
half suicide flat out
against the updraughts.

Hot little heart drilling away.
Air in the bones.

And seeing the same as hearing.
Nothing but song in the throat.

You’re it: the Icarus of Clyde Court,
the Icarus of Naseby Grange.

You’ll take what you’re given: Sky Plaza,
Bridgewater Place

or there’s Westerley Rise
Riverside West

Lovell Park Towers under your hand
Philadelphia Heights just out of reach

The Local Prize
James Garza

                                    Fancy Dress on the Otley Run

                                    The girl on the bus is captivated.
                                                      “They’re having fun,” her father says.
                                                                        The gladiators sneak around a hedge.