Bloodlines by Sarah Wimbush
What the judge said
‘These poems are full of lively slang, near riotous episodes of family drama and a keen sense of the precarious nature of travellers’ lives. I fell in love with the gusto, the sheer gritty texture of these poems’ Amy Wack, Poetry Editor, Seren Books
Poem from the winning manuscript
Sometimes he dug the ditches out on Serlby Hall Estate.
And thrashed his sister’s man after he’d slapped her ‘cross the face.
And often carried water for his mother from the Ouse.
And thieved ten shilling Great War pension off his brother Hugh.
And sang like an angel and played grass like a tin whistle.
And rarely missed a fisticuffing down the Old Blue Bell.
And that time calmed the lady’s filly bolting up the road.
And couldn’t write his name but nose-to-tailed a bookies board.
And got away with it that night those skewbalds went amiss.
And took a fair old beating ‘cause he loved the married lass.
And didn’t give a monkey’s or ailed one day in his life.
And always wanted chavvies but never fancied a wife.
First to rise for threshing, last in a cock-fighting wager,
the man named after kings and coins and a dragon slayer.
How I did it
‘Most of the information in the collection comes from my own Gypsy/Traveller heritage: snippets of anecdotes, stories, bits of memory – sometimes half a tale, other times simply a place name. But research can help to create a poem out of the smallest details. For example, my ances-tors used to visit a stopping place called Black Patch on the edge of Birmingham’s industrial area, and there was this particular phrase ‘the washing got mucky soon as you hung it out’. After a short search online I found photographs of the encampment. I then combined those pictures with the memories, and used metaphors and imagery to bring the poems to life.
‘One of the problems with writing about another culture is ‘cultural appropriation’. It can feel like you’re balancing on a knife-edge sometimes, especially when writing in the first person, but I’m always mindful not to assume that ethnicity as my own.
‘I began writing when my youngest daughter started school, and I’ve never stopped. Winning the Mslexia Poetry Competition 2016 had a huge impact on my writing; from that moment on I felt like a poet. I used my winnings to pay for an Arvon course at Lumb Bank with the poet David Morley, who also has Traveller heritage, and his feedback gave me even more confidence.
‘The title of my pamphlet submission had to be Bloodlines after Daljit Nagra awarded my individual “Bloodlines” poem second place in the Ledbury Poetry Competition 2019, where he described the language as reminding us of “the excitement of being plural”.’
Sarah Wimbush is 54 and was recently awarded a Northern Writers’ Award. She is a previous winner of the Mslexia Poetry Competition and won second prize in the last Ledbury Poetry Competition.
The other 2020 finalists
- Rachel Bower, Mothers of Gods
- Rosamund Taylor, We Lose Our Edges
- Sarah Mnatzaganian, Bogle
- Heidi Beck, The Listening Project
- Nicola Bray, Boi