Cath Drake - Women's Poetry Pamphlet Competition 2013 winner

Cath Drake, Sleeping with Rivers

I started writing poetry seriously six years ago, but I’ve been making a living as a writer ever since I graduated – even though at one point I failed English at school. I was a very under-confident child, so it took me a long time to find my voice.

My writing is influenced by my background as an environmental writer and journalist in Australia – though I often add a generous dollop of magic realism.

I was brought up in Australia, came to London for a visit and still haven’t left… The literary environment here is so inspiring. I have many poetry friends and belong to a long-standing poetry group – it’s a privilege to see how we are all developing.

Recently, thanks to Arts Council England, I have been working with Mimi Khalvati as a mentor, which has been invaluable. Mimi has helped me to edit according to what the poem needs, and to be less attached to my original intentions. With her guidance I have also gained confidence in my judgement and fine-tuning.

My poems emerge as a result of strong emotional ‘grit’, or by observing something strange or unusual, from group exercises, or from a prompt – my poetry bookcase is bristling with yellow Post-it notes and I have boxes full of notebooks.

I have a very strong critic in my head,so I try to write my first drafts very quickly. One year I drafted a poem a day for a week every month. Another year I visited an art gallery every month with friends to find inspiration. Art, especially abstract art, helps me enter a poem by a side door.

I’ve learnt that it doesn’t really matter what mood I’m in, but that constant practice and collecting notebooks writing is important.’

Cath Drake, an Australian who has lived in the UK for 12 years, is a writer, performer and creator of ‘curious projects’. She runs writing workshops to recharge creativity, and is interested in taking poetry and creative writing into new spaces. In 2012 she was shortlisted for the Venture Poetry Award, awarded an Arts Council England grant and was writer in residence at the Albany Arts Centre café. She is also a professional copywriter and nonfiction writer, mainly for charities. Her work includes award-winning journalism, writing for radio, oral history and life stories. Visit

What did the judge say?

The standard was, if anything, even higher than last year. The manuscript that kept sifting to the top, Sleeping with Rivers by Cath Drake, is simply full of gorgeous poems. Drake has a tendency to a longer line, a discursive manner, a narrative depth. I started to love these poems from the very first line of the first poem, ‘Every morning she wakes up with rivers…’

Drake’s tone is beautifully sensitive to the rhythms of language: knows when to pull back, when to unfurl startling imagery. There are artful poems about a childhood in Australia, where an ‘eccentric year-nine social studies teacher’ dares whisper about the native peoples and their mistreatment by the ‘brave men in sailing ships’. Quite a few of the poems involve the education of the female protagonist/poet. There is also a quietly devastating wit at work. Another teacher, a ‘spineless’ Mr Jacob, suffers a fitting destiny by devolving into a jellyfish. And there is a long, strange and hilarious poem in which a duck haunts the protagonist like a persistent nightmare.

Amy Wack, Poetry Editor, Seren Books.

Congratulations to the highly commended entrants

  • Lydia Harris, That was ten minutes ago
  • NJ Hynes Conn, The department of emotional projections
  • Marlo Bester-Sproul, Shadow of a boy
'Loving the little ms. Great creative pick-me-up between issues, packed with inspiration'
Rebecca Jones