Marvin Thompson has been chosen as the winner of the prestigious National Poetry Competition, for his poem ‘The Fruit of the Spirit is Love (Galatians 5:22)’.
Judges Neil Astley, Jonathan Edwards and Karen McCarthy Woolf selected the winning poem from 18,113 poems entered into the competition from 7,472 poets in 95 countries. All of the poems were read anonymously by the judges.
A poem that alludes to much outside itself, including Dante, the Bible, music, film and TV, ‘The Fruit of the Spirit is Love (Galatians 5:22)’ is a work spanning decades featuring multiple lives and histories, some literary and historical, some personal, some painful, some shameful, packed into its nineteen lines (the poem appears at the end of this release).
Karen McCarthy Woolf, said:
“What distinguishes ‘The Fruit of the Spirit is Love’ is how it operates on multiple, complex levels yet speaks in a voice that is fresh, honest and brave.
“Specific in its geography, natural in diction, this is a poem that asks many distinctly contemporary questions that make you feel as if it could only have been written here and now, in 21st century post Brexit Britain. What is it to raise dual-heritage children in the UK, and specifically in Wales? How does black identity shape itself in a white environment, where allegiance to a predominantly hostile flag is the paradox of belonging? Will these children be loyal to Wu-Tang or sing hymns in the Welsh choir? Or, as the poem demonstrates, will they do all of these things at once, in a manner that is seemingly effortless?
“These are big questions, which, one might argue, only the best poetry is fit to answer. That Thompson does so with such concision and formal dexterity is a delight – the variation on the villanelle being the perfect choice for such existential enquiry. In addition, the poem’s Biblical intertextuality provides a historical and spiritual context that situates it as a work in conversation with the Caribbean and diaspora. That it includes the word cwtch can only be a bonus.”
Marvin Thompson’s win follows on from his applauded debut poetry collection, Road Trip, which was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and selected as one of its five Black Lives Matter Inspiration books. It was also one of 40 collections the Forward Arts Foundation recommended for National Poetry Day. Road Trip was chosen by the Daily Telegraph as one of the Poetry Books of the Year for 2020, and described by The Guardian as an “invigorating journey through complexities of black British family life.”
Marvin Thompson said of the win:
“When I received the phone call confirming that I was the winner of the National Poetry Competition, I screamed. My Dual Heritage children stared at me, wondering what was going on.”
About the poem, Marvin said:
“As with all my poems, ‘The Fruit of the Spirit is Love’ was written for my children. Like all my poems, it is a gift to their future selves. A poem to be read on nights when the weight of being a Dual Heritage person in Britain feels too heavy to bear.
“My poem is for my parents. When they were born in Jamaica, they were British by way of Empire. When they made their home in London, they encountered racism. And friendship. And love.
“My poem is for anyone who has felt discrimination pressing on their ribs, air being squeezed out of their lungs.
“My poem is for everyone, everywhere who lives their life seeking and believing in love.
“My home and my children’s home is Wales. As such, it feels vital that I add my voice to Wales’s rich literary culture. This is a culture in which, increasingly, diversity and difference are celebrated.
“In these challenging times, it is my hope that my poem inspires others to make poetry part of their everyday lives.”
Since it began in 1978 the National Poetry Competition has been an important milestone in the careers of many leading poets, with previous winners including Sinéad Morrissey, Ruth Padel, James Berry, Carol Ann Duffy, Jo Shapcott and Tony Harrison.
Internationally praised and recognised the National Poetry Competition continues to see an increase in entries year-onyear (2020 saw a 9% increase in poems and a 7% increase in entrants compared with 2019). As well as the 2020 competition receiving entries from every UK postcode area, there is an increasing proportion of entrants in the latest competition (24%) from overseas (21% in 2019 and 19% in 2018).
Marvin Thompson wins £5,000 for his First Prize poem. Nine other winners were also named in the National Poetry
Competition, including Iain Twiddy for his poem ‘Fence’ (Second Prize, £2,000), Jack Nicholls for ‘Mum with Sword’
(Third Prize, £1,000) and seven commended poets (£200 each): Marie Baléo for ‘Peregrines’; Vanessa Lampert for ‘Sand’;
Mark Pajak for ‘Trick’; Luke Allan for ‘Something to Show For It’; Daniel Bennett for ‘Clickbait’; Jennifer Hyde for ‘Lifesaving’; and Susannah Hart for ‘Song of my auntie’. Susannah Hart (last year’s first prize winner) and Mark Pajak succeed in reaching the prizes for the second consecutive year.
All the winning poems will be published on The Poetry Society’s website at http://www.poetrysociety.org.uk/npc. The top three poems will be published in the Spring 2021 issue of The Poetry Society’s poetry journal, The Poetry Review.
The next National Poetry Competition will be open in May with full details on how to enter at http://www.poetrysociety.org.uk/npc. The closing date is 31st October 2021.
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