The Hamish Canham Poetry Prize 2006
Winner: Matt Barnard

Carole Satyamurti, Chair of judges, reports on this year's judging process
The poems we consider for this prize already constitute the equivalent of a shortlist in any other competition, as they have each been selected from a large post-bag of submissions to appear in Poetry News. There are no duff poems among the candidates for the prize.

We started the judging process with each of the six people on the panel nominating and ranking the three poems they considered the strongest. This could have yielded a list of eighteen poems; in fact it resulted in many fewer.

We arrived at a shortlist of six poems, each of which had strong support. We then had a really enjoyable time, reading each of the six poems aloud, and discussing them in turn.
We liked Ann Leahy's 'Pulling Power' for its gloomy humour, and for the detailing of life's catastrophes that seem to add up to Sod's Law.

'The Painter', by Caroline Gilfillan aroused enthusiasm in several of us – the complexity of what it takes on, and the large historical sweep.

There was a lot of support for Frank Dux's 'Phenomena', a tiny, accurate poem, consisting of eight short lines, beautifully rhymed and metred. It is about the way things secretly contain the forms they will take in the future.

The last three gave us most difficulty. Frances Green's 'Telegram Boy' went beyond what could have been a dutiful look backwards at the way bad news was once delivered. In her poem, the telegram boy becomes Death itself, a figure who reminds us that no one is exempt from bad news, or from the "shadows of (his) wheels".

Alison Jesson's 'Foreigner', too, lifted away from the expectable things that can be said about being alone in a foreign city. The isolation tips over into the surreal as we are invited to entertain the idea that a map of the protagonist, with its "well-kept avenues… childless parks" and unexplored back streets lies "neatly folded on the bed".

In the end, it was Matt Barnard's 'The Sore Thumb' (published in Poetry News, Spring 2006 and on www.poetrysociety.org.uk) that easily secured the majority vote, and wins this year's Hamish Canham Prize. Set on an island, in Scotland perhaps, the poem wonderfully captures the unease that arises from the contact between established members of a small community and people who come in from outside. Nothing dramatic happens, but the landscape is strongly evoked in language that is precise and graceful. The lineation, at first sight random, but actually carefully patterned, serves the poem well. We are left with a sense of desolation at the missed opportunity for contact between islanders and incomer. The islanders don't welcome it; the stranger doesn't have the words that could perhaps have made it happen. It is a poem about a particular time and place – and about language itself.

The Sore Thumb


When the water in the bay is flat, and clouds
come off the Table 
like chimney smoke, we walk along the shore
and up through fields of grasses, and find ourselves
near his place, 
so white it seems the stone is newly cut.
The breeze there drives the midges away,
and the outer isles, 
dark bergs from the shore, become the map's
archipelago. I've heard talk, at wakes and christenings,
of a nod and a wink, 
that someone knew someone on town planning
subcommittee. These days we see strangers here,
German businessmen 
who want to try the island life, who smile and wave
at us. But mostly the windows are shuttered
and the washing line 
is free to glint and clink against its posts.
Last week, though, we caught a rare glimpse
on the path down 
to the beach. We spotted him in the distance,
his cagoule whipping in the wind, his bald head
flashing like a gull's, 
and as we passed he paused, and turned
his hopeful face towards us before someone said
something appropriate, 
that we might slide by as by doe-eyed cattle
at the water's edge, that raise their heads, 
but never seem to low.

Matt Barnard writes: I was delighted to learn I'd won the Hamish Canham Prize and it felt particularly poignant as I'd just found out that my school English teacher, Greg Brown, had recently died. He inspired my love of literature and I have been trying to write poetry and fiction ever since. I have had poems published in a number of magazines, including Acumen, London Magazine, Magma, Other Poetry and Outposts. I have regularly attended Poetry School courses over the last seven years and was one of the poets featured in their 2004 anthology Entering the Tapestry. As for the day job, I work for the National Centre for Social Research, specialising in qualitative research.