Aileen Ballantyne - Women's Poetry Competition 2015 winner

Aileen Ballantyne ‘Lockerbie, Pan Am flight 103’

This award from Mslexia means a very great deal to me. Lockerbie remains the worst terrorist attack in Britain – it was something that resonated, and still resonates, with people in Scotland. I’m hugely grateful to Mslexia for publishing my attempt to say ‘what it was like’. 

My husband’s family comes from the Borders so I know the area a little. This poem sequence came from the words of people who lived in the town the night it happened, or from the words of the many bereaved relatives who travelled there. Listening to and reading those accounts I realised that the reaction of people in Lockerbie to global terrorism arriving on their doorstep was remarkably straightforward: when a stranger from 3,000 miles away knocks on your door asking you where her dead son landed you invite her in for a cup of tea, then you take her there. The response was entirely practical. But it was also extraordinary.

Aileen Ballantyne lives in Edinburgh, where she teaches Contemporary Poetry and English and Scottish Literature at the University. In a past life she worked as reporter, feature writer and medical correspondent for the Guardian and Sunday Times and was twice commended in the British Press Awards. Her poems have been published in Mslexia, and in Emma Press and Hippocrates Prize anthologies, and have won or been placed in many competitions. Her ambition is to write poetry that goes beyond what Seamus Heaney refers to as ‘documentary adequacy’.

What did the judge say?

Looking at my final selection I can see that I have chosen a number of poems that engage with history and politics, but which do so in a very intimate way. The poems also explore other voices, and take their time to work through their ideas.

The winning poem, ‘Lockerbie’ by Aileen Ballantyne, is a perfect example of this. It is very simply written, yet it is doing something quietly and resolutely. The pace is very accomplished and the three vignettes – each focusing on small details – have a cumulative impact. I admire the poet’s cool poised voice, her complete lack of surrender to sentimentality or melodrama – and I don’t underestimate how hard that is to achieve.

Congratulations to the other finalists!

  • Alice Miller, ‘Saving’
  • Liz Bahs, ‘Stay bones’
  • Julie Ann Rowell, ‘”Disappeared” Northern Ireland, 1972’
  • Alex Toms, ‘Contacting Harry (after Bess Houdini)’
  • Ruth Carr, ‘Pattern’
  • Pam Thompson, ‘An umbrella for Georgia O’Keefe’
  • Sarah Doyle, ‘The Scots girls of Great Yarmouth’
  • Dana Smith, ‘Bishop Winchester’s geese’
  • Claire Dyer, ‘Night walk’
  • Miranda Yates, ‘J’accuse’
  • Jane McKie, ‘A white city underground’
  • Kirsten Reid, ‘Ariel, Pripyat’
  • Victoria Gatehouse, ‘Burning mouth syndrome’
  • Catherine Ayres, ‘Walking with Bridget’
  • Eleanor Margolies, ‘The new science of the nerves: afferent and efferent’
  • Jennie Osborne, ‘The habits of free electrons’
  • Cheryl Moskowitz, ‘Jasmine street’
  • Ellena Deeley, ‘After the attack’
  • Julie Mellor, ‘Divining’
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