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Barbara Marsh wins £5,000 Troubadour poetry prize

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An American living in London, Barbara Marsh, has won this year’s £5,000 Troubadour International poetry prize. Her poem about memory, ‘The Farthest Way East’, set on the US-Canada border, with its references to the “the white backdrop eclipsing the land / five months of the year,” was said by judge Jean Sprackland to reveal a little more of its meaning “each time you read it”.   

In keeping with the Troubadour’s musical traditions, Barbara Marsh has also had a career as a singer, songwriter and musician with her band The Dear Janes, releasing three albums.

Second placed, winning £1,000, was Ruth Valentine with ‘Calico’, and third was Catherine Ormell (‘Icing the Heart’), who won £500. The two runners-up are from London as well.

Jean Sprackland and fellow judge John McAuliffe read every one of the poems that were submitted to the competition. They amounted to almost 4,000, with McAuliffe saying that they took over the house: “First the room I use for work. Then the kitchen, finally the bedroom, though not quite finally.”

Jean Sprackland said both judges were “drawn to poems that didn’t easily yield every last bit of their mystery”. McAuliffe said the best poems they had chosen, which included a shortlist of 20 winners of £25 each, all had “the stamp of style, of invention”. He added that he had come across a surprising number about hairdressers and barbers, as well as “lots and lots of hospital wards”.

The two judges read from their own collections, with both admitting that rooms, and particularly kitchens, featured a lot in their own work, as well as in the Troubadour competition entries.

John McAuliffe’s domestic concerns in his collection ‘The Way In’ include a poem about a shed, the nightmare of digital heating controls, and the silence of a house at night. Jean Sprackland introduced one of her poems by saying that she was “relentless” in “making metaphors about everything”. Her poem ‘Discovery’ ends thus: “She’s always been careless with knives. And look at her now, / trapped in the same old drama, here in the kitchen, / under the cold striplight: the wet blade, / the welling blood, the apple halved and glistening. / Autumn, the quiet house, the marriage done.”

The evening was completed with the surreal words and flights of fancy of Troubadour regular Stuart Silver, accompanying himself occasionally on the ukulele.

Barbara Marsh was presented with her prize by Richard Douglas Pennant of Cegin Productions, which sponsors the competition. Organiser Anne-Marie Fyfe said that the Troubadour competition helped keep Coffee-House Poetry running all year round, in the absence of any public funding.  

You can find out the full list of winners, read the judges’ comments in full, and read the winning poems on the Coffee-House Poetry website


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