Winning Poems 2016

Peter Adair from Bangor won Published Poet category and Niall McGrade from Trillick was named winner in the Unpublished Poet category.

Read the published first, second and third winning poems here.


Peter Adair

I found the letters when you died,
a bouquet of envelopes in a drawer,
a smell of rotting hyacinths. I winced
through some, penned in that florid language
of the young, then dug out your letters –
a few old seeds dropped in the shed.

You scribbled or typed in a Belfast office
or snug at home: ‘I’ve just lit the fire.’
I skimmed your scrawl in London squats,
poky rooms, tut-tutting at your grammar,
your misspelt words, though glad to pocket
those other notes: ‘ten pounds to help you out.’

Slanting lines, loops and dots and dashes.
Loving doodles, snippings, tippexed
blots. The clickclick of quick-fingered typing:
‘I’m taking down the runner beans, sweeping
up the leaves.’ How noble that I sometimes
replied, showing off my hothouse words.

No thought then of colder days, the pen
broken, typewriter silenced, or that these lines
would grow again and cling to the mind’s trellis:
‘You’ll find your way. Always in my prayers.’
Now I touch the sticky chestnut buds
or feel – like you – soil trickling through fingers,
this ritual of seeds. Or when the leaves
bleed through grass I mulch perennials,
hoping they will last. ‘How sad when the flowers die…’
Words, words: frail shoots pushing through soil,
petals that blow away. I’ll savour yours
a season, a little while, like the roses.

The Organ (in memoriam)

Andrew Eaton

To search the keyboard for some working keys.
To murmur with my hands and feet

a low and throaty noise within brown mesh.
To draw slow scales out across a wall,

echoes from that landscape wedged
behind my breastbone or my brain, to which

I cannot come. To listen while she asks
what melody it is. To say, It’s nothing. I made it

from my imagination, like a painting
but in sound. To know she shrugs

to tell me something she was told
about practice. To want to tell her

See these ones don’t work.
To want to say, Look what I can do

with a broken thing. But instead, to scoot
the bench back in and walk

to where she points her twig-like finger,
to hear her count in notes that sound like wind

from two directions
fighting it out in a broken pipe. To sit beside her

tums and te-tums as she makes her way
around her slowly departing mind. To know

that what she wants to say
has joined those absent words

filling, refilling, this house.




James Connor Patterson

That we could walk hand in hand
down a road that neither takes us home
nor finishes, nor makes us tired to continue—
that the significance of it, I mean to say,
hits me freshly each time it opens;
like breath freed from a pried sarcophagus,
or the slipped refrain of an air caught
in a bar or on a bus or in a bookshop
behind the stacks of YA & SF—
is a possibility which leaves me
both terrified and elated; replacing face
after face, until everyone’s face is yours.


Read the unpublished first, second and third winning poems here.


Telling the Bees

Niall McGrade

Having known the deceased
only in a professional sense
we didn’t think the bees would come
though they’d been invited.
When they arrived, they came in droves
with flowers to brighten a home
they claimed was too gloomy for them
and with honey for tea
they wouldn’t take. They bustled where others
hovered, ferrying sandwiches to guests.
They hummed dirges in the coffin room
where everyone else was silent.
Bees being noted pallbearers,
the duty of carrying fell to them.


Thunderstorm in a Care Home

Dawn Watson

The magpie lands on the hoary plastic light
tucked beneath crude eaves
on the other side of the quadrangle. Out of sight
the woman in thirteen cries where she sits
merged, crooked in her pummelled cave. She shouts


and her treeless baritone makes a tundra
of these carpet uplands—long root-black
with grief. She is poised like a fist
with trifle and wane eyebrow arched
as someone unseen cracks her wipe-clean curtains
and vows everything is okay, or will be
when the strafed day tempers. She shouts


as the magpie stands backlit in April rain—
crowned by the gibbous glow
of scratched yellow aluminium. Flushed
and plump care workers in blue learner tunics
stack plates of wasted lamb
and laugh at so-called Easter. She shouts


and I think of your surprise
the day I fixed the well-stuck washing machine drawer
you had fiddled with for hours. I yanked it
clear of the clog, hard—the difference being
I know in order to fix something,
you must be willing to break it. She shouts


and falls quiet while the sun fattens.
Someone in a thin voice scolds No you don’t
wish you could die—you don’t wish that.

Last Words         1916

Eamon Cunningham


Dearest James,
Every day is full of hope, your letters are like rays
of sunshine on a wet day, your words hug the ear.
Dad patrols the lane waiting for the post bike,
and when a delivery comes, your stories are read
aloud for all the family to share around the night fire.
‘The Boss’ keeps to himself, has little to say, talks
to the dog as if it were you, sadly both look lost.
I find him up in the middle of the night reading
Psalms, half embarrassed that faith is being tested.
Things are beginning to look rundown given shortages.
Thomas left at Easter, said he was off to join a rising,
there’s been no word since so we’re worried, anxious
too now you’re in Thiepval where our folks once lived
in the nearby village of Picardy, before settling here.

Write soon, and may God protect you with all our love.
Elizabeth Crommelin Lambeg 11 th July 1916

Dear Mum & Dad, 30 th June 1916
If I have time today, I’ll paint the glorious sun that rose
on the revetment this morning, it lightened the stench
that reminds me of the lilt dam in Mc Kee’s long field,
where Dad once took me to watch farmers retting flax.
I often picture those fields to be only a long walk away,
and if I stride out at dawn, I’ll surely be home by noon.
Despite the goings on, when the eyes close I’m able to see
willows along the riverbank field, bog iris and butterflies.
Thank Auntie Irene for the socks, it can get cold at night,
and let those at the Mill, especially Jane know I miss them.
Strange to think we only arrived here a month ago, it feels
like a lifetime, each day I seem to lose a new companion.
Maybe things will change with the start of a new month,
for there’s talk of a big offensive, when we go over the top.

Please keep me in your prayers. Your loving son, James