National Poetry Competition
First Prize, Allison McVety

Allison McVety
To The Lighthouse


i The Window
It was Virginia’s charcoaled stare
that put me off: her disappointment
in me, the reader, before I even started.
So I walked into the exam without her:
without the easel, the skull or the shawl,
the well-turned stocking, Minta’s
missing brooch. In the hall I watched
the future show its pulse and all the girls,
the girls who’d read the book, set off
together, lined up at desks and rowing.
ii Time Passes
You need a daubière and too much time –
three days’ absence from the plot. Rump
bathed overnight in brandy, a stout red
brought back from France. The liquor’s
boiled once, added back to beef, calf’s foot,
lardons, les legumes. For six hours – or more –
it idles. It can’t be over-cooked. It will not
spoil. At table, a stream of consciousness
breaks out. And it rains. It rains. If not
the stew, what was the woman on about.
iii The Lighthouse
The year I gave the book another go,
[the year my mother died], I learned
everything big happens in parenthesis –
marriage, birth, The War, poetry. Is it the full
manuscript or just the bits in the middle
that count. Is it the woman at the window,
marking the hours, from cover to cover –
or these few lines: that as she eased out from
the bank and into the water the brackets
of it opened and closed about her.

On winning, Allison McVety said she found achieving first place in the competition “unfeasible and thrilling”. She said, “In the context of the poem, winning the National is like being the most unlikely candidate for head girl and suddenly, in assembly, hearing your name called out”.

Allison McVety won the Poetry Business Book and Pamphlet competition 2006 with The Night Trotsky Came to Stay (Smith/Doorstop, 2007), and her second collection, Miming Happiness, followed in 2010. For many years an engineer, technical trainer and ITIL service manager at Microsoft, Allison left to  manage a digital forensics company. She now works part-time for Smith/Doorstop and is writing her third collection.

From the judges...

Jackie Kay:  "We admired the way this poem achieves several things at once. It makes you remember that strange sensation of returning to a book to find it altered only to realise the book hasn’t changed: you have… In three stanzas, this poem captures not just the movement of time (that so obsessed Woolf) but also the passing of time in the poet’s life, the journey from the girl in her exams, to the motherless woman at the end. It is a tour de force. It takes huge leaps and yet is shimmering with small details."

Read the other poems...

Second Prize:  'Ponting' by Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch
Third Prize:  'Hill Speak' by Zaffar Kunial

Commended Poems:
'White Basin' by Lindy Barbour
'Birmingham Roller' by Liz Berry
'In Vitro' by Antony Dunn
'Photograph' by Rosalind Hudis
'How to Furnish an Amercian House' by Helen Klein Ross
'Springtime of the Nations' by S.J. Litherland
'Our Lady of the Pylons' by Ian McEwen
'Blue Poison Dart Frog' by Jon Stone