Tuesday, 27 October 2020 08:54

Bread and Roses Poetry Award Anthology 2020

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Bread and Roses Poetry Award Anthology 2020

Handbook for 2021 is the judges' selection of 40 entries to the Bread and Roses Poetry Award 2020, including the seven winners. Image above: Martin Rowson.

The coronavirus pandemic this year has had a devastating human cost, with over 60,000 lives lost to date. The health crisis has also exposed the scourges of vast and growing poverty, inequality and low pay that continue to blight class-divided British society, after a decade of Tory cuts to
our public services. The achievements of the National Health Service, that beacon of socialised medicine for the common good, have been amazing,
fighting valiantly with inadequate resources to damage-limit the impact of the pandemic throughout 2020.

The poems in this year's Bread and Roses Poetry Award anthology bear the poetic scars of the searing, psychical conflicts resulting from the pandemic. They
also carry an expressive power and linguistic energy which brings a much-needed boost to the hearts and minds of whoever reads them, whether bereaved,
recovering, or still self-isolating. But other topical themes are tackled aside from the pandemic, such as the environment, poverty, homelessness, and
the Black Lives Matter movement and its associated uprooting of controversial statues in our cities.

As in previous years, what these poems demonstrate above all is an imaginative transcendence of circumstance and suffering. They show a vital and effervescent verse in adversity, rich in variety of tones and styles, from the viscerally expressive to the archly satirical. Every contribution to this anthology of selected entrants to the 2020 Bread and Roses Poetry Award is worthy of special mention. Normally prizes are given for five poems, but this year the judges - Andy Croft from Smokestack Books, and Mary Sayer from Unite - recommended seven poems for prizes, and Unite kindly agreed to fund the additional prizes.

Unite, the biggest trade union in Britain, has supported and sponsored the Bread and Roses Poetry Award for four years now. Alongside the economic struggles over terms and conditions of employment, and the political struggles to advance justice and fairness for all working people, Unite recognises the importance of the cultural struggle to enable working-class voices to be published and listened to, across all cultural activities including poetry. Culture Matters is very grateful to Unite and in particular its Director of Education, Jim Mowatt, for their continuing support.

So congratulations to the the seven joint winners: Jane Burn, Annie McRae, Raymond Miller, Jenny Mitchell, Antony Owen, Laura Taylor and Sylvia Telfer. Congratulations also to the Glasgow-based poet Trisha Heaney, who will be mentored and helped to produce her first poetry collection, which will be published by Culture Matters in 2021. And thanks also to the other entrants who are in this anthology, for sharing with us their creative and resilient responses to the world around us in these hard but not hopeless times, and giving us an inspiring handbook for 2021.

Here is one of the winning poems:

Salvation

by Laura Taylor

We fucked in the morning
before dawn's light
choked desire with uncertainty.
And the bees didn't know
and the birds didn't care
that economy's collapse
was hanging in the air,
but we were frozen.
Libidos crashed as society
smashed against the ground,
and just as the Spring woke
land and lamb,
and bright sun rose
on magnolia's bloom,
butterfly's dusty rouse,
boom went bust,
jobs got lost, futures broke,
and national legs and lungs closed down.

We extracted empty promises
of ongoing hours
from bosses facing losses
on their capital gains.
Observed that poverty, profit and policy
never made love
though slept in the same wet bed.
But tenderness wrought
some comfort when
we fucked in the morning
before dawn's light
choked desire with uncertainty.
With arms and legs wrapped tight
round love, we kissed the lips
of fear and fate,
made a nest
for us to hide
and hunker down
to safety.

 

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