2017 Poetry Prize – Shortlist

Bailieborough Poetry Prize 2017


The poetry prize was won by Grainne Tobin from Co Down with ‘Ode to the Red Squirrels of Tollymore Forest’

Ode to the Red Squirrels of Tollymore Forest
There should be more, but life gets in their way,
pine cones chewed to stalks, nut-stores forgotten,
grey pox that melts their faces and then kills them,
for all the germinating hoards they leave behind them,
their kittenish leaps, their chuckchuck tutting,
their chirrup, their buzz, their scratch-and-sniffing.
Come on you reds, you dancers! Sciurus vulgaris –
what a cheek to call them common.

And when I asked my darling what he thought
of the simile for orgasm, proposed
by a daft girl in a sitcom, he said not so much
like fairies on tiny motorcycles
whizzing round a wall-of-death,
but more like red squirrels zooming up tree trunks
into the larch canopy of Tollymore Forest –
a ratatat ginger burst that stops you right there,
knocks you backwards, looking round to catch
that dazzle where it sparks to eagle-height,
branching to cross-eyed infinity and down again,
poised in its own speed like some particle in physics
that is a wave and isn’t, and fools you every time.


The Runner up was Christopher James from France with the prose poem ‘Cranford Park’

Cranford Park
This is personal. Like sticklebacks. Racing sticks in the river, running along the bank. Grasshoppers dying in jars. I never could save anything. Even such tiny appetites. Personal, like Tony Hancock’s grave in St Dunstan’s. Only ashes. Found it like an abandoned mattress as if someone threw it off the M4. Buried with his mother, who had a different name there’s a story. Personal, like John Jane Doe people who walked there years back – with their distant exclamation mark bodies – and write platitudes on the memory wall. Before they die. Suburbs are like purgatory but you don’t really get out of them ever. Some must love the twilight, love sitting on walls. You say to people what do you mean? And they know but don’t answer back. Say it’s my life and walk away. Maybe they’re counting days like bank accounts, we can’t tell. Wittgenstein said private language does not exist. Convinced half of England. He was wrong. He gave up on language first then U-turned. But he still cut off like Hancock did. Towards the end. Cleaning out the ideas. The blowy coast of West Ireland. Getting rid of all the others. But those who drank at the refreshment hut remember the taste, and the heaped clouds calling the evening in. Opened on Sundays because weekdays were not for the jobless there weren’t any but for the walking dogs. Saw the five-a-side games on Saturdays, but no-one was covered in dog shit. Twilight world of understanding again. Had to shower at home as well. No funny business. Like a hot summer, when river pools dried up. When it rained again there were always tiny fish back in them. Like looking at a visitation. And the planes coming in on their flight path like refugees from the bush. Faraway’s shaking its fist. Telling you, you don’t know. Near the church, trees had grown over the long straight lines of walls, like an old fort. We’d jump down and climb up. Maybe that’s where the Grey Lady used to appear. Or the highwaymen disappear. Though they can’t escape now anyway it’s boxed in by motorways, main roads. Even the river Crane can’t empty the rubbish that’s thrown there. People used to swim. Used to be a manor house too. Demolished. Like finding Richard III under a car park. What would he say now if he could? There was one day. Mrs Maitland’s murder. The name already, ringing like tinnitus. Dr Jones did it my mother said and don’t go there. Why would he do that? Went on for weeks. I was five. Still unsolved: no ADN, no private language you see, but we leave our stardust everywhere. Not my fault if it’s not found. Most people don’t want anyone looking for it. The missing page. Guy who did it took it to the grave. Won’t be turning over. Where’s the full mapping out then? So, don’t pretend we’re in this together. It’s personal. Untranslatable, packed with meaning. My private world that. Like me shaking in my bed at night – there’s words for you – turning over as minds do. I put things in a box under the bed with the piled Angling Times. Hidden later in a garage or thrown out probably, that’s my mother’s doing, I’ve no recollection of that. For the rest, it was there smuggling in the park. Burying its booty. Baring its scars. Moving target that never left the eye’s rifle sight. It was there as I am here now. And you come to steal it with communication. I tell you, no-one will take that away from me and now I find it’s all over internet.


My Apple – M. McSweeney
The Neuroses of Tralee – G. Egan
Open to Interpretation – K. OConnor
Children of the Shadow Men – R. Coventry
Before the Flow – M. McFadden
Antler – G. Moore
Ode to the Red Squirrels of Tollymore Forest – G. Tobin
Cranford Park – C. James
Hold On – C. James
Monument – L. Sharpe

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