Previous Wales Book of the Year winner wins Bridport Poetry Prize
The winning poem, which can be read at the bottom of this page, was selected from over 5,300 entries by poetry judge Daljit Nagra who said it was “ A highly accomplished and beautiful poem that’s edged between joy and perhaps something more foreboding..”
Originally from Essex, John Freeman taught for many years at Cardiff University. He grew up in London and has also lived in Yorkshire. His most recent books are What Possessed Me (Worple Press), and Strata Smith and the Anthropocene (Knives Forks and Spoons Press), both published in 2016. Earlier collections include A Suite for Summer (Worple), and White Wings: New and Selected Prose Poems (Contraband Books). What Possessed Me won the Roland Mathias Poetry Award as part of the Wales Book of the Year Awards in November 2017. His poem ‘My Grandfather’s Hat’ won third prize in the National Poetry Competition, 2012.
The Bridport Prize based in Bridport, Dorset, is one of the most prestigious open writing competitions in the English language with categories in poetry, short stories, flash fiction (stories of 250 words or fewer) and the Peggy Chapman-Andrews Award for a first novel, named in honour of the Prize’s founder.
Established in 1973 and with over £18,000 in prize money to be won annually, the competition attracts entries from across the globe. This year over 12,000 writers from 79 countries competed for one of the 34 winner and highly commended awards.
The Bridport Prize is the flagship project of Bridport Arts Centre in Dorset and the competition raises vital funds for the Arts Centre’s work each year.
The Prize is known as a tremendous literary stepping-stone – the first step in the careers of writers such as Kate Atkinson, Tobias Hill, Kit de Waal and Helen Dunmore. The competition is open to anyone as long as the submitted work is previously unpublished.
An anthology of this year’s winning entries, including John’s poem, is available from the Bridport Prize website at www.bridportprize.org.uk
The competition for 2019 will be launched on 15 November with a closing date of 31 May 2019. Entries can be made by post or online with full information on how to apply available on the website.
It’s a cool afternoon in mid-November.
Boys are messing about beside the river,
and one of them is taking off his shirt.
Perhaps it’s for a dare, or someone bet him.
I lose sight of his group among the trees
as I turn and head towards the footbridge,
but it sounds as if he must be in by now.
A dozen girls in brand-new uniforms
crowd along the path in my direction.
I notice how, whatever the colour
and the thickness of their hair, all of them
have it pulled tightly back above their foreheads.
Once you focus on it, it’s a motif,
the smooth brow and the lines of hair above it.
They must be eleven, twelve at most.
Though I’ve lost sight of the bare-chested boy,
the girls haven’t. They’re pretending not to look,
not to be impressed or interested.
One of them, with dark curls, her lowered face
suffused with a becoming rosiness,
gives an involuntary, inward smile.
Who knows what is going on inside her?
I’m remembering when I was her age,
or thereabouts, and the smooth-skinned boy’s,
seeing an older lad at a French resort
with a friend, no doubt egging him on,
facing a sand-dune, changing to swim, naked,
with narrow hips, flexing his small, hard buttocks,
smirking, glancing further up the beach
to where two girls, in their midteens as he was,
demurely dressed, holding down pleated skirts,
were sitting on a wall, giggling together,
one of them leaning back in the direction
of the sea to look past the dunes, almost
toppling, to glimpse perhaps the first male nude –
it was a different world – she’d met with, and I
didn’t know which surprised and pained me more,
his shamelessness, or the girl’s fascination.
– John Freeman