National Poetry Competition 1979


  • Brian Patten
  • Anne Stevenson
  • Craig Raine

Winning Poem 

Medbh McGuckian
The Flitting

You wouldn't believe all this house has cost me-
In body language  terms, it has turned me upside down.
I've been carried from one structure to the other
On a chair of human arms, and liked the feel
Of being weightless, that fraternity of clothes
Now my own life hits me in the throat, the bumps
And cuts of the walls as telling
As the poreholes in strawberries, tomato seeds:
I cover them for safety with these Dutch girls
Making lace, or leaning their almond faces
On their fingers with a mandolin,  a dreamy
Chapelled ease abreast this other turquoise-turbanned,
Glancing over her shoulder with parted mouth.
She seems a garden escape in her unconscious
Solidarity with darkness, clove-scented
As an orchid taking fifteen years to bloom,
And turning clockwise as the honeysuckle-
Who knows what importance
She attaches to the hours?
Her narrative secretes its own values, as mine might
If I painted the half of me that welcomes death
In a faggotted dress, in a peacock chair,
No falser biography than our casual talk
Of losing a virginity, or taking a life, and
No less poignant if dying
Should consist in more than waiting.
I postpone my immortality for my children,
Little rock-roses, cushioned
In long-flowering sea-thrift and metrics,
Lacking elemental memories:
I am well-earthed here as the digital clock,
Its numbers flicking into place like overgrown farthings
On a bank where once a train
Ploughed like an emperor living out a myth
Through the cambered flesh of clover and wild carrot.

Winner's Photograph

Mebdh McGuckian

Winner's Comment 

"My life was completely changed by the award…I became a professional writer at that point and have been able to earn living from poetry and teaching poetry ever since…. It was the most wonderful thing to happen in my life apart from my children and meeting Gregory Peck.”