Poetry Competition 2018

For a few weeks, Carlisle had the honour of hosting, at Carlisle Castle, the Weeping Window of poppies derived from the installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red  by artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper. The poppy sculpture was displayed from the top of the keep, arching over the inner ward wall and cascading down into the outer ward of the castle complex. It was seen by 160,000 people from Carlisle, Cumbria and  much further afield.

We felt that this year, the poetry competition’s theme should be Remembrance, conscious that 2018 was the centenary anniversary of the end of the First World War. However, we also knew that that particular theme could also be interpreted in so many different ways, totally unrelated to the war.

 July 1st 2018 saw the quiet launch of the Borderlines poetry competition which was open for entries until August 31st, and we received over 70 entries, almost evenly divided between online and postal delivery! The judge was Neil Curry who has published seven collections of poetry, the most recent being On Keeping Company with Virginia Woolf.


This is what Neil has to say about the entries ...

“On the negative side, the theme of Remembrance brought out too many personal recollections of deceased family members. Such memories are clearly of great importance to the writer and to other family members, but is there enough there to interest other readers? Very rarely. It being 2018 there were several attempts to write what one might call “Cenotaph Poems”, but I think it cannot now be done. We cannot, certainly in any new way, re-create the horrors of that war. Poets found it hard enough then. So I was looking for surprises and I found them. One of the biggest surprises was someone recalling aspects of their life by remembering the décor of the bathrooms in the various houses they’d lived in. Now that’s novel.”

The Winner - Martyn Halsall
"Martyn’s Schedule of Dues told me things I did not know and which fascinated me: the cost of transporting beasts and things in times gone by to a remote Scottish island.  Here, from the very first line were totally unexpected words. Also, to my delight, such fine alliteration – once the staple of English verse.  Look at 'Nobody now fingers their sporrans for fourpence'.  Proof again that poetry is about sound."

The Runner-up - David Simmons
"Chanting in the name of Lorna Graves did just that.  It was a poem of sounds, demonstrating that poetry is not the same as prose. Lyricism has largely disappeared in recent years, but this sang.  It also celebrated the life of a truly fine Cumbrian artist.”


Neil also praised the two poems written by Christine Lowes of Corbridge ( Slowly Came the Miracle) and Nicola Reed of Carlisle (Wax Crayoned Camel), and these were highly commended. As runner-up, David was presented with a cheque for £50 and Martyn, as winner, received a cheque for £250.  The presentation took place at The Extra Chapter event in Cakes and Ale Cafe on Saturday, October 6th where Martyn and David read their poems in the company of fellow poets and poetry lovers who were there for the launch of the newly published This place I know, a beautiful anthology of Cumbrian poetry,

"This Place I Know" can be purchased from Books Cumbria


The Borderlines 2018 Poetry Competition Winner

Schedule of Dues by Martyn Halsall

None come now with sprat barrels and hampers of rabbits
to pay their dues for passage on the island ferry
in the old bills, by cartload; counting-house shillings and pence.

Nobody now fingers their sporrans for fourpence
to ship rolls of fencing wire; counts out one and sixpence
for a cow, bullock or bull (aged two years and over),

or tots up coins from threepenny bit small change
to a shining florin, silver as a frosting moon,
for bags, boxes, cartons, parcels and packages,

small barrels, drums, instruments or bags of whelks
coming ashore or wrapping up the island's imports
depending on weight (pigs sixpence, crated or loose).

Top rate was four shillings for wedders, or rams per score;
four times the fare for Passengers to Pier Direct,
and twice the price of a barrel, or two hundred bricks.

Still, a click like a latch is flicked to call the boat over,
turning the white square red on the noticeboard;
a scutter of outboard widening a wake on the inlet.

Today six pounds takes walkers, gripping their poles,
or diners beckoned towards The Boathouse seafood,
or a minister, collared and wide with a vestry of luggage.

Kelped air's stayed, and the shoal of shadow under netting;
plastic red fish box 'Stolen from Coopers, Aberdeen',
lobster pots beached among brambles, a snake charm of ropes.-

None come now with their bags of wool or drain tiles,
when graft was laying clay pipes at a penny a passage,
or ticket grudged coppers for an unaccompanied dog,

or pause for long inside the kirk that Telford
designed for Gaelic psalmody, and lament’s
still, softening air, through which the autumn enters.

A bit about Martyn

Martyn Halsall grew up in Southport, taught in Dorset, and trained to teach in Chelsea before entering journalism. He worked on local, regional and national newspapers including The Guardian before retiring. His poetry has been published in various  magazines, anthologies and  pamphlets, the most recent being Borrowed Ground, Cylch Cerrig Press and in his collection Sanctuary (Canterbury Press) reflecting his year as the first Poet in Residence at Carlisle Cathedral. His writing is rooted in the North, enhanced by his postgraduate studies at the Universities of Lancaster and Cumbria. He is married to Isobel, a retired Anglican priest in the Carlisle Diocese, and they live in rural West Cumbria.


Runner-up in the Borderlines Poetry Competition 2018

Chanting in the name of Lorna Graves by David Simmons

My name’s Lorna, earth air water,
on, above, of the ground,
mama, papa, make your sound.

Yan tan tethera, Westmorland weathered her,
spiders, worms, pebble and fern,
spread of feathers, mounds of heather.

My name’s Lorna, earthen daughter,
luring fish, out of water, beck bird moss
bone, skin my finger, pick a stone.

Lorna Lorna, Cumberland taught her,
dolly dobby cloth and crow. Yowe of fable,
heifer in stable, seeker of shelter, on the farm.

Fed, bled, fields of fallow, seeds sown,
hens strop, crop the midden,
sethera tethera, safe from harm.

My name’s Lorna, earthen daughter,
fellside fauna, thickening mist, ring of stones,
thistles and sticks, nicks and myths,

runes and crosses, whirling round,
music, music, yours to kiss,
in boat, in byre, in water I’m fire,

of field, in seed, of love, in need,
of sky, of wing, in flight, yellow and blue,
seeker of light, she’s day, she’s night.

Long Meg Lorna, Helm ire, home in mind,
stillness to find, Hunsonby caught her,
sculpt the land, form to last, clay fire,

bits and bones, twigs make tombs, simple temple,
beast and byre, cradle in hand,
wings fold, hold the future, hold our past.

My name’s Lorna, earthen daughter, spiritual being,
sacred feeling, winged rider, moontide high, angels
arch, portals fly, love and laughter, what comes after?

Through winter’s paw your snowdrops grow,
in crocus, bluebells too,
in summer’s stalks, in stooks,

there’s truth to tell, of Westmorland,
by Long Meg, in Cumberland,
sleep well Lorna, earth air water.

A bit about David

David Simmons writes “Childhood summer holidays were spent exploring fellsides of the Eden Valley, helping on a farm close to my grandmother’s where my mother had been raised on a small tenant farm in a fellside village. I love Carlisle, its surrounds, having moved here after graduating in Psychology at Newcastle Polytechnic. I was a sportsman and backpacker until my body said “Enough”. I like to write poetry of observation, movement and energy.”


Highly Commended in the Borderlines Poetry Competition 2018

Slowly Came the Miracle by Christine Lowes

She wishes on stars and new moons,
keeps horseshoes on their side,
in case it is true that witches
use them as upturned boats,
or that luck will run out
if left with their mouths tilted.

As evening light draws shadows,
she walks in thick leafless woods,
full of fallen trees which grow
fungus, fleshy as Troll’s ears.

She watches the lake,deep green
below the burnished pelt of bracken,
the mountains jagged, scarred
their peaks slicing clouds.
Great sweeping ridges, high crests,
old dragons rolling across the horizon.

Sky becomes misty, grass wet as sky,
catkins shiver in late snowfall,
seeming too frail for the weather,
buds are tiny green bundles.

As April draws to a close, colours thicken.
The pale paintbox of fields darken,
rusting hills turn a rich velvet mauve
clotted with bundles of sheep.
Suddenly there is a warmer light,
it is at last the new Spring.

Now it is as if all she needs is here,
the red earth, the young nettles
crowding the corners and the sky
with its arms around the mountains.

She has found something,
the land is speaking to her,
under the tumbling shadows of clouds.
The heartbreaking view needs her
to complete it, as if this ancient place
of toppling field and whispering copses loves her.


Wax-crayoned camel by Nicola Reed was also highly commended, but we are respecting Nicola’s request not to publish her poem just at the moment.


Thank you to all who entered the poetry competition.

One of the key aims of the Borderlines book festival is to foster a love of reading and writing. The number of entries to the poetry competition is affirmation of  the importance of that key aim. We look forward to even more entries for the 2019 competition!

Borderlines Book Festival is a not-for-profit organisation that has been developed through partnership working between public and private enterprise.
Sign up to our email newsletter for all the latest festival news

Loading Social Feed...
Loading Social Feed