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It gives us great pleasure to present the shortlist for The Moth Poetry Prize 2020, judged by Nick Laird. Read all about it in the Irish Times


A Week in March by Rowland Bagnall

Rowland Bagnall is a poet and writer based in Oxford. His poems, essays, and reviews have appeared in a number of publications, including Poetry London, PROTOTYPE, PAIN, The Moth and The Manchester Review. His debut collection of poems, A Few Interiors, was published by Carcanet Press in 2019. He is currently enrolled as a PhD candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Birmingham, where he specializes in North American poetry and poetics. A selection of his work can be found here

Judge’s comment:
‘An oblique piece, and confident in its obliquity, the poem is in six parts (on the seventh day the poet rests!), and it earns its revelations (“Sometimes it feels as though the great effort of my life / has been to get myself to here”) through its observances (“The buds seem acupunctural”), and its sheer verve. There is an emptiness at the heart of the poem and it reads almost like “the inner lining of consciousness”, as Heaney said of McGuckian’s poems. At its base, it’s a poem of spring, of the return of spring, and to that end its lieder cycle enacts and makes new one of the oldest tropes of literature, the troubadour image of the rebirth of the earth: “Everything’s returning, Champ, but / where’s it all returning from?”’

For the Poet Who Writes to Me While Standing in Line at CVS, Waiting for his Mother’s Prescription
by Suzanne Cleary
Suzanne Cleary’s Crude Angel was published in 2018 by BkMk Press (University of Missouri). Her third book, Beauty Mark, won the John Ciardi Prize for Poetry (BkMk Press 2013). Her other awards include a Pushcart Prize, the Cecil Hemley Memorial Award of the Poetry Society of America and the 2017 Troubadour International Poetry Prize (2nd Place). Her poems appear in anthologies including Best American Poetry and Being Alive, and in journals including Poetry, New Ohio Review, Agenda, and Poetry London. She is currently working on her fifth book, a new-and-selected volume. 

Judge’s comment:
‘I liked the up-to-date-ness of this poem, how it struggles “to carry one thought to the next” at this moment, “six months in to pandemic”, and how its associative nature mimics a restless modern sensibility, being chockfull with the detritus of the internet, (“25 Cutest Photos / of four-year-old Princess Charlotte”) and real things in the real world, “toothpastes, decongestants … orange Velcro knee braces.” Even under this bombardment though, the poem attempts to enjoin the addressee, Russell, to “be like CVS” the pharmacy, that is, stay open all the time, and try both to take in the world and to bear up to it: “be like the aisle of bare shelves where the cleaning products stood.” The poem acclaims that most old-fashioned virtue, duty, as the addressee waits to collect his mother’s medicine for her.’

Chaos Soliloquy
by Michael Lavers
Michael Lavers is the author of After Earth, published by the University of Tampa Press. His poems have appeared in Ploughshares, AGNI, The Hudson Review, Best New Poets 2015, TriQuarterly, The Georgia Review, and elsewhere. He has been awarded the Chad Walsh Poetry Prize, the University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor's International Poetry Prize and the Bridport Poetry Prize. Together with his wife, the writer and artist Claire Åkebrand, and their two children, he lives in Provo, Utah, and teaches at Brigham Young University.

Judge’s comment:
‘Here, the speaker is a voice from the dark side, praising disorder and disharmony and “hullaboloo”, if only to act as a foil against the sunlight and “the mighty fortress” of a hymn. The poem combines an idiomatic, compelling tone (“You’re welcome!”) with wit and allusion (“I wander lonely as a universe”) and the impingements of the world (Jamba juices, Moby Dick, Vermeer). Loose in its unfurling but held together by a clipped lineation and swirling syntax, the poem is both a rant and a paean, and the poet has a fine sense of sonic play and structure. In the end the poem becomes a testimonial to the art of reading as a way of representing and processing the vast strangeness of life, a tribute to the books that act as “fuses”.’

In the dream of the cold restaurant
by Abigail Parry
Abigail Parry’s first collection, Jinx, is published by Bloodaxe; it was selected as a book of the year in the New Statesman, the Telegraph and the Morning Star, and shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney and Forward Prizes for best first collection. Abigail lives and works in Cardiff, and is currently working on a book about intimacy, provisionally titled I Think We’re Alone Now. She won The Moth Poetry Prize in 2016 (judged by Billy Collins). 

Judge’s comment:
‘A slightly hushed, melancholy piece that remains with the reader, and which captures both the “gaunt extravagance” and “glib economy” of dreams, in which, according to Yeats, our responsibilities begin. It masquerades as fairly sensible, the poem, with an ironic tone (“Well quite”) but beneath the surface is a harder knowledge about aging and wisdom and the necessity of finding “a way to bear it”. I liked its chancy rhymes and stable stanzas, its confident way with a line, and finally its own “folding and refolding”, as the poet offers us his or her latest creation, this poem, as a response to the “idiot riddle” of time.’

All four shortlisted poems appear in the spring issue of The Moth, available to purchase 
here for just €7 (including postage anywhere in the world).


The Swerve
by Arno Daniel
Arno Daniel grew up in France and Ireland, where he lives now. He works in software and content creation and sometimes tries his hand at poetry.

Fishing at Caera’Muirehen
by Shastra Deo
Shastra Deo was born in Fiji, raised in Melbourne and lives in Brisbane, Australia. She is currently undertaking her PhD in Creative Writing at The University of Queensland. Her first book, The Agonist (UQP 2017), won the 2016 Arts Queensland Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize and the 2018 Australian Literature Society Gold Medal.

The Anteater
by Alexander Fayne
Alexander Fayne was born in London in 1990, and attended various schools in London and Hertfordshire. Since 2017, he has been living in Cagliari, Sardinia, where he teaches English as a foreign language. He writes poems, plays and essays, and has recently started trying to persuade people to read them.

A Minor Scribe Defends his Diction
by Michael Lavers
Michael Lavers was also shortlisted for the prize this year (see above).

Mapping the Past
by Anthony Lawrence
Anthony Lawrence’s most recent book of poems, Headwaters, won the 2017 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Poetry. He has published sixteen books of poems and a novel. He teaches Creative Writing at Griffith University and lives on Moreton Bay, Queensland.

I invite you, Abu Sayeed, McDonald’s worker in [expletive] Denmark, into my American dream
by Matt Mauch
Matt Mauch is the author of four books of poetry, including the just-released We’re the Flownover. We Come From Flyoverland., as well as Bird~Brain and If You’re Lucky Is a Theory of Mine. His poems have appeared in numerous journals, with his work being recognized by the Minnesota State Arts Board and the National Poetry Series. Mauch teaches writing and lives in Minneapolis. For more info go to www.mauchmauch.com.

We write what we know when we run out of things that we don’t
by Elizabeth Morton
Elizabeth Morton is a New Zealand writer of poems and tall tales. She has two collections of poems –Wolf (Mākaro Press, 2017) and This is your real name (Otago University Press, 2020). She has an MLitt in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow, and is completing an MSc in Applied Neuroscience through Kings College London.  

Bird on Ground
by Genevieve Stevens
Genevieve Stevens’ poetry, reviews and essays have appeared in various journals and websites including PN Review, The Moth, Poetry School, New Statesman and Poetry London (forthcoming)In 2020, Genevieve was awarded the Royal Holloway University studentship and is now in the first year of her practice-based poetry PhD, under the supervision of Lavinia Greenlaw and Eley Williams. She lives in London with her husband and two young children. 


The prize was judged blind by Nick Laird. The overall winner receives €6,000, while the three remaining shortlisted poets each receive €1,000. A further €250 is given to each of the commended poets. The prize will open again in June 2021.  

As we announce the overall winner of the €6,000 prize at a special award ceremony at Poetry Ireland online on Ireland Poetry Day, 29 April – a chance to listen to the poets read their shortlisted works. Tickets are free and all are welcome.