National Poetry Competition 1983


  • Vernon Scannell
  • Gillian Clarke
  • Kevin Crossley Holland

Winning Poem 

Carol Ann Duffy
Whoever She Was

They see me always as a flickering figure
on a shilling screen. Not real. My hands,
still wet, sprout wooden pegs. I smell the apples
burning as I hang the washing out.
Mummy, say the little voices of the ghosts
of children on the telephone. Mummy
A row of paper dollies, clean wounds
or boiling eggs for soldiers. The chant
of magic Words repeatedly. I do not know.
Perhaps tomorrow. If we're very good.
The film is on a  loop. Six silly ladies
torn in half by baby fists. When they
think of me, I'm bending over them at night
to kiss. Perfume. Rustle of silk. Sleep tight.
Where does it hurt? A scrap of echo clings
to the bramble bush. My maiden name
sounds wrong. This was the playroom.
There are the photographs. Making masks
from turnips in the candlelight. In case they come.
Whoever she was, forever their wide eyes watch her
as she shapes a church and steeple in the air.
She cannot be myself and yet I have a box
of dusty presents to confirm that she was here.
You remember the little things. Telling stories
or pretending to be strong. Mummy's never wrong.
You open your dead eyes to look in the mirror
which they are holding to your mouth.

Winner's Photograph

Carol Ann Duffy

Winner's Comment 

“Winning the National Poetry Competition was the loveliest, most unexpected thing at the time, and was followed by the BEST party at dear old Earls Court- (Bernard Stone, Judith Radstone, Gavin Ewart, Elizabeth Bartlett, Stephen Spender, Elizabeth Smart, Dannie Abse, and still-greatest living poet Kit Wright propping up the bar...)- where I was delighted to insult various Thatcherite MPs face to face. As I vaguely recall, I lost the cheque on the tube on the way home and had to have it re-issued. by Pamela Clunies-Ross- (or Loonies-Cross, as she was affectionately known.) In those days, one was still called a "poetess"- so it meant a lot, as a young woman poet, to begin to try to change that. And, oh girls, just look at us now...”