Angela Readman - Women's Poetry Competition 2013 winner

Angela Readman, ‘The book of Tides’

‘In December I visited my mother in Staithes. The cottage had stone walls, no bathroom and only one light bulb. It was a step back in time. I was extremely aware of weather surrounding the cottage and felt strongly that I had to write something, but didn’t know what. Later, I researched fishing, but still didn’t write a word.

Then in April I wrote a poem a day. I’ve attempted this several times, but never managed the whole month. Frustration creeps in around week three: there’s no time to perfect one poem before the next; if you judge the work you can stall. But this time I ploughed on. It was raining, dark and not at all like April. I sat at my desk and wrote this poem without any notes. I didn’t look at it again until June. One line surprised me: ‘I did not know if I’d live magic too’. I spoke it aloud and knew what the poem was really about. I remembered a painting I once saw of a fisherman’s wife lighting a torch for the ships to return. I always wondered what women did when the men were at sea. The poem seemed to know. Legacy and storms were key. I gave the poem a rewrite, axing all stanza breaks that seemed to squeeze the life out of it. I would have liked stanza breaks, but the poem hated them. It wanted to breathlessly swirl around the daughter, the way weather can upturn whole lives.

For five days, I read the poem once every morning, changed any word that disappointed me, then ignored it. On the last day, I changed the title and sent it. I feel bad about this. It’s not unusual for me to give a poem 40 drafts or so over a couple of years, but this one flew out. I can’t believe it won.’

Angela Readman lives in Newcastle upon Tyne with her husband, but dreams of moving to the country and keeping ducks. She tries to work at her desk every day and finds that setting small deadlines helps with her motivation. She is addicted to working on her allotment; sometimes ideas come when she stops thinking and starts digging. Whenever she’s felt like giving up, a publication or prize shortlisting makes her change her mind. She has a rule only to have objects with positive associations in her writing space.

What did the judge say?

Angela Readman’s winning poem, ‘The Book of Tides’, stood out for me because it smells like a poem. It’s full of authentic but unusual diction, the demotic vocabulary she’s used – phrases like ‘plothery snicket’ – but also the rhythm of the lines. It’s nice and tight; it doesn’t try to explain itself. And it’s peculiar. Peculiar is good. It teases you and makes you focus. A lot of the poems I chose are peculiar in some way.

Kathleen Jamie is a poet and nonfiction author who writes in both Scots and English. Her poetry collections include The Overhaul, winner of the Costa Poetry Award 2012; , winner of the Forward Prize and Scottish Book of the Year Award; Jizzen, winner of the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Award; and, shortlisted for the Griffin Prize. Her nonfiction includes the travelogue Among Muslims and two acclaimed volumes of nature writing: Findings and Sightlines. She is Professor of Creative Writing at Stirling University. She lives with her family in Fife.

Congratulations to the other finalists

  • Mel Pryor, ‘Rattus Rattus’ (2nd prize)
  • Caroline Price, ‘The guide loses one of his group in Martinique’ (3rd prize)
  • Lesley Saunders, ‘The shy woman’
  • Tess Jolly, ‘The girl in the wood’
  • Bridget Auchmuty, ‘Whaleroads’
  • Jennifer Varney, ‘Post-natal’
  • Barbara Cumbers, ‘Through thickets of light’
  • Brigid Murray, ‘Final rites’
  • Shirley A Cook, ‘The quails egg’
  • Abegail Morley, ‘The shed = your secret life’
  • Sharon Black, ‘Moon jellyfish’
  • Jemma Borg, ‘Flint’
  • Jacqueline Mézec, ‘Moles’
  • Kerry Darbishire, ‘Wasted’
  • Elizabeth Burns, ‘Lightkeepers’
  • Yael Geva, ‘Michal doesn’t like ants’
  • Maureen Boyle, ‘Incunabula’
  • Fiona Cartwright, ‘Dr Morris’ curiosity’
  • RE Matthews, ‘The bridge’
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