Poet Susannah Hart Selected UK’s Prestigious National Poetry Competition Winner

1935. Children playing cards in front yard in slum area near Union Station. Photographer: Carl Mydans / courtesy of the NY Public Library

“‘Reading the Safeguarding and Child Protection Policy was a poem that slowly got under our skin and into the bloodstream. It takes on big subjects, cunningly manipulating the impersonal and toneless phrasing of bureaucracy as the poem’s speaker tries to come to terms with evil. This daring poem, literally breath-taking in its execution, is in the form of a single sentence – so perfectly engineered the reader barely notices it. But nonetheless we feel the powerful effect, as it keeps our attention pinned to the poem’s terrible reality without release.” Maurice Riordan



Susannah Hart has been chosen as the winner of the prestigious National Poetry Competition, with her poem Reading the Safeguarding and Child Protection Policy.

Judges Mona Arshi, Helen Mort and Maurice Riordan selected the winning poem from 16,659 poems entered into the competition from 6,979 poets in 87 countries, including entries from every EU member state. All of the poems were read anonymously by the judges.

Told in a single long sentence that intensifies the momentum and the sense of building desperation, Reading the Safeguarding and Child Protection Policy uses the dispassionate language of bureaucracy and policy to counterbalance the cruelty and descriptions of acts of violence in the poem.

Judge Maurice Riordan said of the poem: “Reading the Safeguarding and Child Protection Policy was a poem that slowly got under our skin and into the bloodstream. It takes on big subjects, cunningly manipulating the impersonal and toneless phrasing of bureaucracy as the poem’s speaker tries to come to terms with evil. This daring poem, literally breath-taking in its execution, is in the form of a single sentence – so perfectly engineered the reader barely notices it. But nonetheless we feel the powerful effect, as it keeps our attention pinned to the poem’s terrible reality without release.”

Susannah Hart’s win follows on from her acclaimed debut collection, Out of True, which won the Live Canon First Collection Prize in 2018. Susannah’s poems have been widely published in magazines and online, including Smiths Knoll, Magma, The North, The Rialto and Poetry London.

Susannah said of the win: “It’s a mixture of disbelief and delight. I’m genuinely astonished that I’ve won. I enter the competition almost every year and have been longlisted a couple of times, but you never enter expecting to actually win. I feel very honoured to join the list of winners. For personal reasons, it’s also great to have this particular poem recognised. I’ve been a primary school governor for many years and I think this is the only poem that has arisen directly from that experience, so it feels very special to have that part of my life acknowledged. I remember telling my governor colleagues that I had written a poem about the Safeguarding policy and I think they thought I was joking.”

About the poem, Susannah said: “The poem’s original draft came quite quickly. I did in fact go for a walk after reading the policy, feeling very upset by what it contained – what it needed to contain – and I found myself thinking about ‘all the horrible things that someone somewhere is always doing to someone else’. And then when I looked at the draft of the poem I realised I could make more of the bureaucratic language that was already in there, so I looked again at the wording of the policy and lifted some more phrases from it.”

Since it began in 1978 the National Poetry Competition has been an important milestone in the careers of many of today’s leading poets, with previous winners including Helen Dunmore, Ruth Padel, Philip Gross, Carol Ann Duffy, Jo Shapcott and Tony Harrison.

Internationally praised and recognised, the National Poetry Competition continues to see an increase in entries year-on- year (2019 saw an 18 per cent increase in poems and a 17 per cent increase in entrants compared with 2018). Awarding a total of £9,400 prize money annually, the competition recognises individual poems previously unpublished, in an anonymised judging process. The judges only discover the identity of the winner after making their final decision.

Nine other winners were also named in the National Poetry Competition, including Ann Pelletier-Topping for her poem Granddaughter Moves In (Second Prize, £2,000), Natalie Linh Bolderston for Middle Name with Diacritics (Third Prize, £1,000) and seven commended poets (£200 each): Joe Dunthorne for Due to a series of ill judgements on my part; Charlotte Knight for MOONDADDY; Mark Pajak for Reset; Rosie Shepperd for Letter from Kermanshah; Louisa Adjoa Parker for Kindness; Cheryl Moskowitz for Hotel Grief; and Gerald Smith for Where Dedushka Comes From. All the winning poems will be published on The Poetry Society’s website. The top three poems are also published in the Spring 2020 issue of the leading poetry magazine, The Poetry Review.


First Prize for Reading the Safeguarding and Child Protection Policy

SUSANNA HART‘s poems have been widely published in magazines and online, including Smiths Knoll, Magma, The North, The Rialto and Poetry London. She has won several prizes for her work and her debut collection Out of True won the Live Canon First Collection Prize in 2018. Susannah is on the board of Magma. She works as a freelance copywriter and is a long-serving governor at her local primary school. She lives in London with her husband and two sons.

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Poetry by Susannah Hart:


OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS FOR YOU:

The next National Poetry Competition opens in May. Entry forms will be available online HERE. The closing date is 31st October 2020.


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