Sarah Wimbush - Women's Poetry Competition 2016 winner

Sarah Wimbush ‘Trip to the National Portrait Gallery, with the wife’

‘Like most aspiring poets, I don’t win major poetry prizes every day, so when I got the call I was flabbergasted. If I was an editor I would definitely pull rank and insist that I phone the recipient of the good news, it must be wonderful to hear the joy of someone finding out that their poem was ‘the one’. How did it feel to win? Well, a bit like you’re five years old again and it’s Christmas. I defy the most established poet not to start speaking gibberish.

Without a doubt, the biggest thing that winning the Mslexia competition has given me is confidence; confidence in my own ability and more importantly confidence in my own voice. Voice is key in poetry and it can be a difficult thing to feel certain of. Today though, probably for the first time ever, I feel like my voice sounds just fine.’

SARAH WIMBUSH is 51 and lives with her husband and two older children in Leeds. She has been writing poetry – aiming for eight hours a week, fitting it in around work and family – for ten years, and submitting for the last three of those. Her work has been published in the North and Rialto and she won the Red Shed Poetry Competition this year. 

What the judge said:

‘‘Trip to the National Portrait Gallery, with the wife’, by Sarah Wimbush, just kept rising to the top of my list. I’ve loved the poem-as-dramatic-monologue ever since we did Robert Browning’s ‘My last duchess’ at school. It’s good to remind ourselves that it’s not always ‘the poet’ speaking! The convincing blokey male voice, the tension, his surprising response to the incident, all delighted me. I enjoyed the pictures it put in my head: the literal ones on the gallery walls and those mental ones as the triangular psychodrama unfolded. I found the precision of the image of the Brontës’ portrait ‘scored with a cross, / as if it had once been folded like an England Flag / or a tablecloth’ a very satisfying detail. This poem was very funny, had the ring of truth. And I liked the open-ended conclusion: ‘now, what happens next?’’

Congratulations to the other finalists!

  • 2nd prize: Marie Naughton, ‘Children at your feet’
  • 3rd prize: Gaynor Clements, ‘My grandmother and mother in 1949’
  • Alex Toms, ‘The poachers’s daughter’
  • Karen Wheatcroft, ‘Ann’s shed’
  • Emma Danes, ‘Interior with spider’
  • Geraldine Clarkson, ‘High are my eyes’
  • Denise Bennett, ‘The Master Carpenter’
  • Judith Taylor, ‘Big day’
  • Nicola Warwick, ‘Suburban’
  • Elisabeth Sennitt Clough, ‘Boy’
  • Claire Dyer, ‘Some guidance on leaving’
  • Nicola Daly, ‘Things I tell my unborn daughters’
  • Pnina Shinebourne, ‘Names’
  • Catherine Phil Maccarthy, ‘The vessel’
  • Gwyneth Box, ‘El inquilino’
  • Amanda Rackstraw, ‘Palm’
  • Christine Michael, ‘Keepsake’
  • Jemma Borg, ‘Simmer dim’
  • Sue Belfrage, ‘Night blanket’


'Just read Ann Abineri's January Flash Card in #LittleMs @Mslexia. #BOOM #Fabulouswriting. Deserves more than £20! #genius'