The London Magazine Poetry Prize Winners 2018


    Read our December/January 2019 issue in full here.

    The London Magazine Poetry 2018 was judged by Sophie Collins, Les Robinson, and Mark Ford. The winning entries are transcribed in full below, with Sharon Black winning 1st prize, Matthew Smith in 2nd place, and Alycia Pirmohamed in 3rd place.


    Sharon Black

    The Lean Years

    I was a burnt stick, and a handful of paraffin: 
    an empty house, the yard at the back;
    a winnowing shed.

    I remember the deliciousness of No,
    my whittled body, flesh an outsider,
    the cult of bird-bones.

    I gathered shells and stones.
    The aching in my belly became a song
    I’d known forever and I sang it loudly to myself.

    It was the world seen through church glass.
    I was bloodless and smooth,
    an alabaster, useless clock.

    I gulped air as if it were a reservoir.
    My pockets were full of fish and they sparkled:
    you could see them through my clothes.

    I remember blank days, blackouts.
    Days I forgot names, forgot what names were for.
    The revelation of a sweet clean drop.

    Then a small bright pill –
    Gone, the chest of snakes.
    Gone, the restless doors, the plastic anchor.

    A friend speaks of her violent ex,
    the relief of her new man, gentle as a dog
    but sometimes she misses that electrifying yoyo.

    I left my shadow in Sicily, draped across a chair.
    I was eating swordfish and the last words
    of an argument with my daughter.

    My shadow didn’t flinch as I stood and turned
    and left it there. Sometimes I night-walk under streetlamps
    to remember its feet hobnailed to mine

    and I wonder if someone else is wearing it
    or if it’s folded in a cupboard, or gathering dust,
    beyond the orange orchards, the high Sicilian sun.      


    Matthew Smith 

    Black Fire

    You gave me black fire
    one day like a fistful
    of ice and I watched it burn
    like a storm cloud’s face
    and I heard it eat
    the air like a small forest
    blaze. Carried it about
    in front of me, banal
    one moment, all milk
    and kohl, now dancing
    henna and shimmer.

    It turned into a bird
    one night when I tried
    to write, left through
    the window open to
    the stars and dissolved.

    You wandered in to find
    the gift ungiven, the sky electric,
    strange effects in the torrent
    of rain across the elms
    outside the window.

    I tried to remember
    when it had been
    a mere speck flickering on my skin.

    Where had you found it?

    Bottled on some shelf and stamped
    with moebius script or moving
    between the gaps in
    rotting waste, radio-loud, a
    siren outside flashing in. Or had you –
    to tell me something
    when you were struck dumb once
    at something I’d said
    and puzzled at your inability
    to make words of use to you
    or us – invented it? And had I
    failed you once again by
    losing it?

    You listened
    and I was quiet too,
    then I found the sound
    of rainfall softening, heard
    the hurricane sigh and subside.
    We stared at a crystalline sky,
    the houses and the lights
    of the world all in
    their proper place, water
    precipitating gently from
    the trees.

    Where is it now?
    I asked, but you
    had noticed something
    new, the way the moon’s
    calm light fell
    sidelong, making the world
    a magic lantern,
    your genius
    moved on.


    Alycia Pirmohamed


    Into the tall dark,
    into the tamarack wood,
    into a city, which at this hour,
    could be the shape
    of any migrating bird.

    This is me, driving straight
    into my own life,
    past the river frozen over
    slick, the chokecherry’s saw
     toothed edges—

    into the roughage
    of memories that surface slow
     and tired, memories so alike
     the stars enacting
    what is already gone.

    I am grasping at
    the things easiest to love:
    Anas acuta, Pinus resinosa,
    Anthaxia inornata, the language
    of the prairies,

    syntax that I have held
    like a dog with birch in her
    mouth, a landscape that runs
     through a body,
    is a body—

    into the boiling ginger,
    into the neck of a loved one
     folded like a leveret,
    folded like a letter closing with
    I wish you were here,

                  I wish you were here


    Sharon Black is from Scotland but now lives in the Cévennes mountains of France. Her two collections are To Know Bedrock (Pindrop, 2011) and The Art Of Egg (Two Ravens, 2015).

    Matthew Smith’s poetry has been published in Acumen, Envoi and will be published in the autumn in Poetry Salzburg Review. His first novel is The Waking. He lives in London.

    Alycia Pirmohamed is a Canadian-born poet living in Scotland. She is a Ph.D. student at the University of Edinburgh, where she is studying poetry written by second-generation immigrant writers. Her own writing is an exploration of what it means to be the daughter of immigrants; it grapples with language loss, cultural identity, and displacement.

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