The stack of poems I read for this year’s competition had range, ambition, passion and compassion. There were many persuasive contenders in each category – Open, Channel Islands and Young Poets – and the cumulative effect of reading them felt at times like an extended meditation on a year of anxiety, constraint, fear and loss. In keeping with Emily Dickinson’s injunction for poets to ‘tell all the truth but tell it slant’, I didn’t see many poems dealing head on with pandemic fear or lockdown isolation, though there were some. But those losses and privations were palpable in poems about grief, the isolations of old age, location and dislocation, the nature of home and place. This was a clear thread in the competition entries, but it was far from the only note struck. There were poems of wit and playfulness, satire, poems celebrating the fact that – as Emily Dickinson again put it – ‘the mere sense of living is joy enough.’ In the end, the poems that quietly insisted on re-reading, the ones that shone in new ways each time I went back to them, those were the poems that made the final list. There was much to admire in each group, but I was particularly struck by the quality and range of work in the Young People’s Category, and I’m sure we will be reading and hearing much more from these new voices in the years to come.
Michael Symmons Roberts