Helen Mort - Women's Poetry Competition 2017 winner

Helen Mort, ‘Vanishing point’

‘I hardly ever enter single poem competitions, because I’m never convinced my work will ‘stand out’ enough. The poem I entered was one I wrote when I was going through a bad patch earlier this year and it was one of those pieces that seemed to write itself, strange images insisting, and I sent it off out of a kind of instinct.

To win is a huge affirmation: I received the news when I was in the middle of grappling with edits to my first novel and on the verge of giving up on that project. Winning the competition made me feel like a writer again and assuaged some of those feelings of doubt. We spend a lot of time in the poetry world talking about getting published initially, I think, but we talk less about “keeping going” once you’ve published books. This award has helped me to believe in my work again.’

HELEN MORT lives in Chesterfield and is a lecturer in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. Her multiple publications include, most recently, No Map Could Show Them (Chatto & Windus, 2016). She used to be phobic of dogs, but cured that by adopting one. Now she lists dogs as one of the thing that prevents her from writing, along with climbing, running (she once ran a sub-three hour marathon!), and saying ‘yes’ to too many things. She is addicted to Derbyshire and obsessed with whippets. 


What did the judge say?

“Helen Mort’s ‘Vanishing Point’ was an immediate definite for me. As soon as I read it, I knew I’d found a winning poem; subsequent re-readings confirmed it quite quickly as the best in the competition. Something truly magical happens in this poem: there’s a vortex in the middle of it that works like a spell. Through the obsessive use of repetition and striking imagery, it takes off, starts generating an energy beyond the sum of its parts, and you’re not quite sure exactly how or when this happens. This poem does more than succeed completely on its own terms (which many poems on the shortlist do); it surpasses them altogether.

There’s no discernible end rhyme, but a series of internal rhymes – ‘glove’, ‘blood’; ‘air’, ‘hair’, ‘venir’ – keep clicking into place unexpectedly. The result is beautifully sonorous. And her choice of similes is confident and strong: ‘rain / like a transparent glove’, ‘oiled in shadow’. Fantastic.”

SINÉAD MORRISSEY was born in Northern Ireland and was appointed Belfast’s inaugural poet laureate in 2014. She has published five poetry collections: There Was Fire in Vancouver (1996), Between Here and There (2001), The State of the Prisons (2005), Through the Square Window (2009), and Parallax and Selected Poems (Carcanet 2013, UK; FSG 2015, US). Parallax won the T S Eliot prize. She has also received the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award and the Irish Times Poetry Now Award. She is Director of the Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts. 


Congratulations to the other winners and finalists!

  • SECOND PRIZE: Carole Coates, ‘Hostilities on a train travelling through Yugoslavia, August 1973’
  • THIRD PRIZE: Elsa Fischer, ‘don’t forget’
  • PRIZE FOR PREVIOUSLY UNPUBLISHED POET: Annelies Beyboer, ‘Red-veined darters mating’
  • Lindsey Holland, ‘Temporomandibular joint dysfunction’
  • Mara Bergman, ‘Inventory at the Apprentice House’
  • Roisin Kelly, ‘Baltimore Beacon’
  • Diane Granger, ‘Myopia’
  • Elaine Baker, ‘Chip shop’
  • Cato Pedder, ‘Durban Poison: Invicta Avenue, 1996’
  • Sarah Stewart, ‘The Arctic Arms, Dundee’
  • Nell Farrell, ‘Scrap yard fairy tale’
  • Fiona Ritchie Walker, ‘The art of folding’
  • Pippa Little, ‘The Light and Shade Sisters’
  • Kirsten Irving, ‘Murder at Rydell High’
  • Fiona Moore, ‘The cows of North Korea and satellite Shining Star-1’
  • Jean Stevens, ‘Jackdaws’
  • Karen Jane Cannon, ‘Suicide hill’
  • Judy Brown, ‘The islander’
  • Sharon Black, ‘Eriskay wives’




Excited to have my flash selected for this month's Little Ms Flashcard. Thanks Mslexia.
Kerrin Leeb