Poetry competition


Prole Laureate competition

The Prole Laureate Poetry Competition, 2016

The competition is now closed to entries. Many thanks for all your submissions.



Winner: £200, Publication in Prole 22 in April 2017.

Publication on the Prole website

2 x runner up prizes of £50, publication in Prole 22.

Publication on the Prole website



Macdara Woods – please see below.


Time scale

We will receive entries from October 1st 2016 to January 31st 2017.

Winners will be announced in issue 22 of Prole in April 2017 and on our website by April 20th 2017.



We are, as ever, open regarding style, content and length. What we are after is poetry that epitomises the editorial values of Prole: to make writing engaging, accessible, entertaining and challenging. Quality is all.


All work must be the original work of the writer and be unpublished.



£3.00 for first entry, £2.00 for any subsequent entries.


How to enter

Via our website and email – preferred.

Make the correct payment using the PayPal button, below.


Email your entry, including the text and PayPal transaction number within the body of the email, to: poetrycompetition@prolebooks.co.uk


By post

Make a cheque (GBP only, please) payable to

P Robertson for the correct amount and mail along with entry to:

Brett Evans

15 Maes - y - Dre






Any profits made from our competition help to support the work we do at Prole. We are independent; we receive nor seek funding.


Entries are anonymised before sending to our judge.

Macdara Woods was born Dublin 1942. He has been publishing since the early sixties, and has lived and worked in many countries. He has read his poems widely, from Maxim Gorki Institut in Moscow to Berkeley in California, and from Toronto to Buenos Aires.

His work has been translated into some 15 languages.

He has published twenty books, 14 of them poetry, has issued a number of CDs and has worked with musicians and composers in Ireland, Italy and the U.S.

He is a founder editor (1975) of the literary magazine, Cyphers, which he still co-edits 40 years later.

His Collected Poems appeared from Dedalus Press, Dublin, in 2012, a chap book, From Sandymount To The Hill Of Howth, was published in 2014, and his latest book, Music From The Big Tent, was launched by Dedalus on May Day 2016.

You can buy Macdara's poetry here:


You can read Macdara's fine Strozza Capponi at Seventry-Three here:


The Prole Laureate Poetry Competition, 2016

Many thanks to all those who entered - and special thanks to our judge, Kate O'Shea. The quality and range of entries was excellent. We're very lucky editors! Winning poems are below with the judges comments.


First Prize - £200 and publication - Sharon Black, Fishing.

Runner up - £50 and publication - Mary Gilonne, Knot Collector

Runner up - £50 and publication - Rachael Smart, Butchery


1st Prize

Sharon Black


Two small boys point, open-mouthed, as minnows throng,

flipping out the water in their struggle

and now bigger fish are muscling in, their pale undersides

catching the light, three large ones, rotating

round their meal like wheel spokes until

the bread slips from its hook

and drifts, jumping and plunging in turns,

taking with it

two small boys, in red striped shirts and matching shorts,

out past the stone jetty, the orange floats,

the empty moorings,

far from the harbor wall, from the eye

of their grandfather, stooped over his bucket,

fixing up another bait.



Runner up:

Mary Gilonne

Knot Collector


He handles rope with a lover's care.

Hours coil out with oiled manila,

sisal twist, twines of hay-sniff hemp,

flaxed, frayed in chandler drawers

waiting to be hitched and spliced,

fingers neat as needles, purled.


He's mastered all the ins and outs,

sheet-bend, sheep-clove, double-loop.

Berthed and cleated imaginary yachts

moored in every coir or juted port,

belayed his nights with alpine-butterflies,

abseiled nirvanas through sleep blind snow.


He diaries life in Inca cords, bedroom quipu

code quiet walls with strings of secrecy,

girls are lonely abacus in passing nodes

of red or blue, a tallying of fingered threads.

One day soon he'll noose a gallows-knot,

there's enough sweet slack to hang himself.



Runner up:

Rachael Smart



In the window a watermarked hog hangs

from a hook and a man with forget

in his midnight eyes wears a bullock's head,

slaughter on his boning knife

and I travel eight point six miles to drive by – no stopping,

one glimpse enough

to know that I’m famished,

the special cuts lean.


My father kept us in a bully tin

under his block, let the key warp,

the sort of man that never came

looking during hide and seek.

If I’m lucky, I see him skinning kids

as I pass, his new owner really cracks him up.

I wonder if he remembers the one about the girl

with her face pushed up against the glass.



Judge’s comments:

Firstly I would like to thank each and every one of the proles and prowlers for their poems, time, cash and support. It is good to remind folk that Prole is the genuine article and does not get any Arts Council funding. It is truly independent.

The winning poem, Fishing, hooked my imagination straight away. It is not a perfect poem, good poems rarely are, and perfect poems rely on dry craft and never flutter in heart pleats. The poem has echoes of The Ball Poem by Berryman and that is why I like it. I am not going to bang on about the nuts and bolts of poetry here as I find that as barbarous as drowning kittens in a sack. Thank you and congrats to the writer for dropping me in a moment - 'wheel spokes', 'empty moorings' and 'the eye of their grandfather'.

Knot Collector had a personal resonance for me and I appreciated its directness. It is a very muscular poem. I can smell the sisal and hemp. My hands hurt. 'Strings of secrecy' is particularly loaded - it is also a rebuke, we are not puppets. Thank you to the writer for knot balking at tough subject matter and writing about daffodils or vegetables.

Butchery blew my mind mainly for the sound element and its grotesque-query in a Simic sort of way. There is no smulsh or nostalgia in the telling. It pounds like a sledgehammer determined to be heard. Well done and keep up the good work.

I would also like to express my gratitude to the lads, Phil and Brett for this marvellous opportunity and their unwavering faith in me.

Mise le meas

Kate O'Shea


Judge, 2016

We’re thrilled to have Kate O’Shea as our judge this year. One time tabloid hack, Kate is probably the best-known unknown poet in Dublin and is widely published in international journals, anthologies and online. Her latest publications were in The Saranac Review, Orbis, Cyphers, Outburst, and Prole. Her chapbook, Crackpoet, is available on Amazon. She was short listed for the Cork Literary Review Poetry Manuscript Competition and the Patrick Kavanagh Award twice. Most recently she has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize in America. Kate’s work has featured on radio and has been translated into several languages.

Eight new poems will be published later this year in three anthologies.

To read some of Kate's recent work, click here and here.




Prole Laureate 2015


Many thanks to all who entered this year's Prole Laureate Poetry Competition - Prole is independent, does not rely on or seek Arts Council funding, so any profits from our competitions go into ensuring the continuation of the magazine and of Prolebooks. Thank you also to this year's judge, Helen Ivory, who we think did us proud with her winning selections. You can read all three winning poems below and see who was highly commended. Thank you again to all who entered and all who helped spread the word. Congratulations to our very worthy winners: Wendy Pratt, £200; Victoria Gatehouse, £50; Jean Atkin, £50.

2015 Prole Laureate Poetry Competition winners



Wendy Pratt

Red headed Children

If she had made it, if just one day

had been different, she would be

this little red headed girl, who passes

us in the beer garden. Here she is

as a toddler; wet cheeked, a little

thing of flailing legs in a buggy.

And again, she passes me as I walk

the dog. She is on the swings, she is

throwing a ball, she is staring out

of a bus window through a halo

of condensation. These ghosts

of four year old children come thick

and fast, they are crowding me out,

in the street in the shops, smiling

across the aisles. They corner me

amongst the school dresses

and corduroy coats. This beer garden

woman is wearing my striped dress,

she is carrying my bag over her arm.

My daughter dozes beside her, my life

draped over her like a sun shade.



Runner up


Victoria Gatehouse

Little Red


So much has been said of me,

the girl in the red velvet cap

with her basket of cake and wine -

so sweet, so kind.

You think I wanted

that do-gooder woodcutter

to snip open the wolf?

It was dark in there,

so magnificently dark,

all the better to hear

the surge of his heart

through artery and valve

and I would have stayed,

would have raged through his blood

like a blizzard, clawed my fingers

into the pads of his paws,

his pelt, a hand-me-down coat,

his mouth, my mouth, dripping

from the last kill,

not knowing when or how

to stop, only knowing

to stay on this path, collecting stones,

would be the worst kind of death.



Runner up


Jean Atkin

The Tattoo’d Man

has had a skinful, to go only by what shows.

His bull neck’s chained, a padlock swings

above its own hatched shadow.

In scrolling calligraphic script, his knife-arm

pledges faith in love, and brags

his unsurrendered soul.

His other arm is tidal. On the back-swell

of a bicep lolls a mermaid, tits

like limpets, eyes like stones.

An anchor’s lodged in flesh above

his wrist: its taut rope twists

across his sturdy, sandy bones.

But much of him’s of land, for as

he turns his face to yours,

an oak leaf grows towards

his mouth on sappy, pliant shoots.

Deep in the humus of his cheek

a splitting acorn roots.

With men, it’s never easy to be sure, but here’s

a one who’s tried to take the outside in.

He’s shifty as gulls and bitter as bark.

Every night he reads that skin:

his library of pain

and virtue, bright and thin.




Coracles, by Gareth Writer-Davies, and Finishing Touches, by Hannah Linden.


Judge’s comments:


When judging a poetry competition, it becomes ever more apparent that a good poem is a well-made, stand-alone object. It needs not only to possess a heartbeat and the impulse that excited the writer to find words for the shapes in their head, it needs also, through the crafting process, to explore something the writer didn’t realise was in their head. This is the art and this is why poetry is difficult. And part of the art is making it look effortless.


My three winning poems do this in different ways. Third placed is The Tattoo’d Man, which sounds wonderful read out loud, resonant with half-rhymes and musical chimes as it is. The words could only have been packed in this order! I enjoyed the carnivalesque imagery of this poem and the final metaphor of the Tattoo’d Man, nightly reading his skin: his library of pain.


Second placed is Little Red – a ‘what if’ take on Little Red Riding Hood. What if the wolf was not sliced open by the woodman to rescue the girl? Girl would inhabit Wolf, grow visceral and animal; inhabit his skin. The alternative being the worst deathly fate – to stay on the path, collecting stones. This story has been taken on so many times; it was a thrill to find a new angle.


In first place, I have Red headed Children. The subject of this poem – the loss of a child - is of course a heart-breaking fact, but stating a heart-breaking fact does not alone make a powerful poem. The power of this poem lies in its understatement as it takes us through sightings of redheaded children in everyday places, who just for a second could be the narrator’s daughter. And then claustrophobia: ‘These ghosts/of four year old children come thick/ and fast, they are crowding me out . . .’ and then threateningly: ‘They corner me amongst the school dresses and corduroy coats.’ In the final image, a dozing child has explicitly become My daughter and the child’s mother is wearing the narrator’s dress and carrying her bag. The narrator’s life is given over to the child’s protection; is ‘draped over her like a sun shade. The woman’s whole life now, has become shade.’ For me, the implications of the sacrifice held in the simple words of this last image, resonate long after the poem has ended.


It is always difficult to pick winning poems from a shortlist of strong poems and I suppose this is where a certain amount of subjectivity comes in to the judging process. You are left with the poems that speak to your heart and take up residence in your head, as these have with me.


Helen Ivory



Previous winners:



Prole Laureate, 2014, first prize (£140 and publication in Prole 13)

Michael Crowley


It’s the first thing he tells you

the first thing he asks.

Did you see me on Jeremy Kyle?

He’s been repeated more than once.


A face pale as stone. Trod upon.

A field under rain, Lancashire voice

gently rising in slow strides,

o’s arching like arrows, or

over a door into a church,

words gone giddy with the height

or the load.


I ask him what he’s in here for?

For cars and other daft things,

things you wouldn’t like me for.

This kid has had his doors pushed open,

his mum a junkie, a gargoyle

growing table tomb grey

while he was bobbing in and out of care

like a queue for confession

waiting in the mercy seats,

all masonry stripped of colour,

all blue and gold broken and sold.


Liam, friends with everyone in prison,

sweatshirt too long in the arm

mouth too wide, face too wary

Him off the telly, Jezza, calling his ma

Liam next to her, knees to his chest,

ankles off the floor

That’s when I found out she was a prostitute

And the audience were shouting her down down

which only made me love her even more.

A cloud comes to the window in the spire above.

Liam runs back to his cell

before feeding time,

The Jeremy Kyle Show,

the bank holiday sleep,

the celebrity touched Easter weekend.

“Give him a round of applause”.

Judge’s comments:

Liam, by Michael Crowley, immediately sets up a question in my head. There are so many Liams, famous or otherwise, which one will this be? It turns out to be a prisoner whose claim to fame is having been on reality TV, the child of great dysfunction, his fate is perhaps no surprise, but he's a chipper inmate and I was drawn to him. I especially liked the layering in the poem; there is active reporting going on, yet he comes through clearly. The description of his accent is inventive. I also enjoyed the use of different voices: the poet, Liam and the TV show host. The pathos of the final line is well judged. It is a worthy winner for tackling a difficult subject matter with grace and variation.



On An Afternoon Like This She Takes Another Lover

Prole Laureate, 2014, runner up (£30 and publication in Prole 13)

Martin Malone


This afternoon you meet your new lover.

I’m in the outfield waiting on catches

while you smile that smile and give back his gaze.

I bend to dry my palms in the June dust

as you raise your glass beside a canal.

I cross to the other side of the square.

You note that he is left-handed, like me.

As you sidestep the man-trap of memory,

I revive an old Scott Walker song.


A wagtail threads its flight-path left to right

in the seconds his hand lingers on your leg.

And as you watch him walk inside the pub

you make your decision, while measuring

his length for the cabin bed. In my head

you are nowhere as the ball arcs skyward

and swirls my way. Steadying ourselves,

we prepare for the afternoon’s moment.

This says I will drop it. This says he will fit.


Judge’s comments:

On An Afternoon Like This She Takes A New Lover, by Martin Malone, is well balanced; a poem in two parts about a relationship. I found the description of the cricket field and the meeting particularly effective. The last line is good in thought and lineation: a large cesura where things come to an end and restart for one and the other. Bravo.




Not all bees make honey

Prole Laureate, 2014, runner up (£30 and publication in Prole 13)

Sarah Grace Logan


Your skin spread with honey

spooned up while I lounge in

bed and wait to drink your

bitter morning kiss, claim

your cold, sugar-stirred mouth.

You lift my heavy limbs again.


My limbs flail and spin as

we claim the late summer

grass. The air smells of green

ponds, and holds the exhale

of dusk-chattering bats.

You lift my heavy limbs again.


We exhale, skin growing

sunshine hot like the sting

of wretched bees; drowsy

late crawlers, swarm-bereft,

drafting circles in grass.

You lift my heavy limbs again.


We've been warned not to hold

so tight, but I fold my

fist around you, even

though you have a sting; your

body hums and quivers.

You lift my heavy limbs again.


Judge’s comments:

Not all bees make honey, by Sarah Logan, in the current fashion for bee poems, is a tender exploration of a relationship. I thought the repetition of the last line of each stanza was effective and I did not care that the precise meaning was not entirely clear. Not all lyric moments need to explain themselves.

Prole Laureate Competition, 2013

The entries to this year's Prole Laureate Poetry Competition were of a surprisingly high standard and we did not envy the task of DA Prince to pick three worthy winners. However, three winners there must be - and they are Emma Simon with her tritina Plait, Roy Mashall with Student and Andrew Wheler with Sunflowers. Emma Simon wins £130, and Roy Marshall and Andrew Wheler £30 each.

All three poems can be read in issue 10 of Prole, available from the home page.

Many thanks to all who entered and especially to our judge, DA Prince.


Prole Laureate, 2013, winning entries



Prole Laureate winner, 2013

Emma Simon

The trick is to hold three braids in two hands

and ignore the logistics of mornings.

Wind the first over the second, then cross

the third over the first, and so on. Don't get cross

with wriggly fidgeting or arguments, slipping like hoarded minutes, out of hand.

Keep a zen-like calm in your fingers. Remember, even school mornings

don't last forever. Focus on this unremarkable Tuesday morning,

the soft nape and collar crease beneath the wonky plait. Let the yin yang of its criss cross

weave a tender magic, like a proverb handed

across the generations, mourning there is never enough time, nor enough hands.


Our judge’s comments:

This poem stood out immediately: an apparently simple first stanza, then an increasingly complex layering of language and ideas, and all concentrated within the action of plaiting a child’s hair before school. The poem brings in time, generations, mourning, but lightly, and it was only on the third reading that I noticed the form (a tritina). Subject and form support each other so effectively that they become inseparable: a memorable and impressive poem.



Prole Laureate runner up, 2013

Roy Marshall

The first of my many dead;

she washes, I dry,

dab his cheeks and lids,

change the water, roll him,

rub a sheet crease

from his back,

pat soft white buttocks,

take out catheter and cannula,

tape and press where blood

pools, thick as blackberry jam.

Julie’s brisk, careful as a cook,

talks to him as if he could hear

and there’s something in me

of the little boy, aproned,

allowed to help; his doughy-

ness perhaps, or the talc

like flour, as if this privilege

were a treat, the finished

parcel of taped sheets

something to be proud of.


Our judge’s comments:

This quiet poem grew stronger with each reading: it has stamina. The simplicity of the first line, the gentleness and dignity accorded to the unnamed dead, the shaping of the poem (just two sentences), and the modest pride shown at the end (yes, you can end a poem with a preposition) all came together to give a sense of completeness, both in the subject and the poem.



Prole Laureate runner up, 2013

Andrew Wheler

When we stop by his house and it’s quiet and still,

we decide it’s too late to ring the bell.

We’ve been to the grave where your grandmother is,

his name already there next to hers. He lives

a short walk through sunflower fields

where each burning iris has consumed itself

in worship of the light that gave it life.

A thousand crestfallen heads, studded drunk with seed,

look down towards the ground to piece together

where they came from, and with blinded eyes

to make sense of their sudden weight

as one, like a Communist state funeral, or a mass,

or the crowds that pageants leave behind.

I don’t ask what makes you cry, my love,

when you lift a flower that grows by the wall.

I just wonder if he is asleep in there, and we say

we’ll come back tomorrow.


Our judge’s comments:

It was the tactful handling of grief and consolation in this poem that made it so effective, showing how we often avoid confronting painful emotion - particularly in someone we love - and find it easier to focus on something else. In this case it’s a huge field of seeding sunflowers, working both as metaphor and vivid landscape, held within the framework of the personal. A well-shaped poem.





Prole Laureate, 2012, winning entries



Marilyn Francis

Winner, Prole Laureate competition, 2012


I spent all afternoon watching (and not watching)

from the shade of a Chinese parasol. My view of the spaced

out, white-on-green obscured by Riders of the Purple Sage.


Lost in the Wild West, I missed the tip-toe run,

the fingertip fling, the smack of the ball into the blue,

the backward leap, and the stinging catch.


If the drinkers outside the Barley Mow set up a hullabaloo,

I didn’t hear it. There might have been some polite applause

from the crowd – I didn’t hear it.


Your High Noon moment, the walk from the pavilion

to the crease, the crack of the wicket, the lonesome walk back

to the pavilion. I watched that.



Comments of our judge, Andrew McMillan: The temptation with “competition poems” is to make them as loud as possible, to make them about a specific issue or to simply have a rant and get something off your chest; competition poems are the kids in the class who always have their hand up trying to get attention. This poem is my winner because it does the opposite, it’s a mature, considered and very quiet poem - it makes its point subtly and rewards re-reading. It answers its own questions and still leaves some open at the end; the mastery over the caesura and the clever use of punctuation elevates the poem to another level. It is unfussy, unpretentious and beautiful.




Cathy Bryant

Runner up, Prole Laureate, 2012


Stumbling, pissed on days off and knackered on days on,

and nights on and days on in an endless exhausting round;

skidding in the mashed-up snow, icicles like scalpels,

cold like water splashes to keep me awake on the wards;

white as the coat I wear so I'm not mistaken for a normal person.

Keep the eye on the prize. Spring. Summer. Social status.

A high salary. A solid, warm life. Snow just for skiing.

There was some other point to it but I can't remember now,

as I lurch from fractured hip to seasonal suicide to beaten wife;

just getting through it all, going through the motions,

slipping and sliding along and the shopping still to do,

and a party somewhere.



Comments of our judge, Andrew McMillan:This poem has the breathless cadence of Ginsberg, the direct honesty of Geoff Hattersley and a Poetry which, like all great poems, feels unique to the setting of the poem (“icicles like scalpels”, “mashed-up snow”). It’s a poem with a point, a social point, an emotional point, maybe even a political point - it’s a poem with a point but it’s putting it across subtly, it’s just telling us a story; there isn’t any shouting. There is a great attention here of how to weight a poem, the beautiful ending stranding the reader in the half-lived, half-empty life and asking them to find their own way out. The poem felt like a return to a British Beat sensibility - its relentless language, its rhythm, pull you through right to the end.



The Truth

Michael Farry

Runner up, Prole Laureate, 2012


I told my children lies

every morning, every nightfall -

He exists,

all will be well,

she will recover,

he’s gone to a better place.


Later lies

soothed their disappointments -

she didn’t mean it,

it was an accident,

he’ll recover,

you’ll forget her,

I’m sorry.



she told me how good

a father I had been

and that I was as sharp

as ever,

years ahead of me.


I raised her well.



Comments of our judge, Andrew McMillan: A lesser poet would have taken pages, or maybe even a full collection, to say what Farry distils here into a beautifully simple poem. Ideas of genealogy, ageing and truth are handled with great care and given the space they need to breathe in the short, sparse lines. The ending is heartbreaking and well earned through a poem which builds itself on allusion, on half-told stories, on broken trusts; what sort of style could better imitate the life so many of us have known?




Prole Laureate 2011-2012,winning poem by Helen Ramoutsaki.


The up side


Inside your small world

you carve your daily bread sideways

with only one side up

to butter it on.


Year after year,

showing stern fingers shaking,

thou shalt nibble at the crumbs

and never be greedy.


Inside your hatch

hides a tin of caring, cariad,

all mouth-melting, griddle-cooked

for children to gobble at.


Grasping your basket,

sensible shopping, pension-eking,

penny by penny in a co-op book

stuck with stamps in line for a bingo.


Over a sloe gin,

sipped sour and surprising,

I hear you careering, black-out illicit,

down contrabanded country lanes.


Out in the avenue,

the children play tin-tan-topper

past the pigeons homing home

all in a line, counting polished doorsteps.


Choking on a woodbine

in adult-bar city-life amazement,

I’m offered lovers, fags and sports cars

and a single, faded photo.


I’ve been told now,

take your cake, eat it up,

relish it, each buttery currant,

before you’re left with only bread.


Pigeons know

where to come home to roost,

trained to their place, compelled by duty

and a battered tray of grain.


Now I see the side you hide

and why you carefully cut,

buttering first so you’re not tempted

to choose which one it’s on.

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