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Winning the Manchester Poetry Prize

In the days since arriving back in Australia I've only just started to comprehend how special winning the Manchester Poetry Prize has been. This blog is a little summary of the trip and all that has happened since.

A few weeks ago James Draper of the Manchester Metropolitan University contacted me to let me know I had made the shortlist for the prize. This was a great honour knowing its prestige and history as one of the UK's and the world's foremost prizes for unpublished poetry. I was delighted and a little hesitant to commit to the trip for the prize giving ceremony, considering its distance and all of life's dilemmas. But, in talking it over with friends and family, especially Ashley, I made the commitment to go, expecting not to win, but to have a wonderful adventure to read my poetry on the other side of the world.

In all, I flew out on the 24th of May and 35 hours later had checked in to a hotel beside the Uni. The following night was the presentation and amongst all of the jetlag and the nerves around the prize, we had a lovely time in the University's new Arts building. It was the first time the prize had been held in the Grosvenor East building and the first poetry ceremony I had attended in person for over a year, due to lockdowns. It was a pleasure to meet and sit down to dinner with the judges, Malika Booker, Romalyn Ante and Zaffar Kunial who were so generous with their praise and who gave nothing away until the announcement. I would like to thank them immensely for taking the time to consider my work and for judging it as the prize winner. I feel I will always be indebted to them, for what has been a very special honour.

Above are photos of Malika and I chatting after the ceremony, Leone Ross (Fiction Prize winner—you must check out her work) and I still completely stunned by what had happened, and me with a picture outside the Manchester Poetry Library moments after the award.

Much of the feeling of winning the prize has been affirmation and acceptance of my work which has been many years in the writing. I am very humbled by Malika's words in announcing the award,

We the judges were delighted with the sublime poetics, where the poet’s language cartwheels with lyrical dexterity. Each poem in this submitted portfolio pulsated and bewitched us judges into reciting lines to each other, while luxuriating in the musicality of the language, and the richness and beauty portrayed… We couldn’t figure out how he’d done, what he’d done. He has these everyday scenes in the poem, but in the backdrop there’s this pervasive sense of nature. It’s so boisterous and alive and vivid, it felt as if we could see the landscape, we could smell it. Every time we tried a line of his words, they just danced on the tongue.”

I am very grateful that the judges saw those things in my lines and that much of what I had been trying to convey found an audience, even on the other side of the world. I'm also very thankful to the Manchester Writing School and to the prize's founder Carol Ann Duffy DBE (Britain's Poet Laureate from 2009-2019) for their pioneering and persevering with the award. During the night, in conversation with Matthew Frost (one of the prize hosts) I also found out that Manchester had been acknowledged by UNESCO as a world City of Literature in 2017, which somewhat furthered my understanding of the significance of the prize.

I feel very privileged to have been shortlisted alongside so many amazing poets, Courtney Conrad, Laura Paul Watson, Alyza Taguilaso, Jane Wilkinson, and April Yee, who all deserve to win and be read widely. It was lovely to hear many of them read on the night, as poetry always is better when hearing poets read their words in their own voices. They are all phenomenal talents and I am grateful to have shared the stage with them (and the finalists in the Fiction Prize). You can hear the poets and authors reading portions of the pieces here:

I met so many wonderful people on the night, who were generous with their praise and their interest in Australian Poetry—even a red headed lad from a country town called Robertson. I was glad to be able to share my passion for the landscape of my local highlands and NSW, but also the ways in which my children make so much of it come alive in meaning for me. All of the shortlisted poems can be read on the MMU website here:

The night was made more special with all of the people I met, many of whom were on the Fiction Prize side of the evening; Danny Beusch, Leone Ross, Nicholas Ruddock (who I sat next to), and Naomi Wood (who I also sat next to) were all so friendly and welcoming. My congratulations to them all for making the shortlist and for all their successes which they so thoroughly deserve!

The three days in England finished with a trip to the Lakes District, to Windermere, Beatrix Potter's House, Kirkstone Pass, and of course Anfield!! I am thankful to my sister, Esther Ramm, who came with me on the journey when Ashley and the boys couldn't make it. We had lots of fun, in what was a very fine rush.

The trip would have been made even more memorable had Liverpool won the Champions League final, but alas! Real Madrid's goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was a goliath in the goals.

My continued and every present thanks to my wife Ashley who puts up with me, my boys Finn and Riley who keep me young and old at the same time, and to Mark Tredinnick who has mentored me from a very rough poet, quite a few years ago.

Images of the Ceremony ©Esther Ramm


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