Keats-Shelley Prize 2018

2018 Keats-Shelley Prize Shortlists

Ksma 1

Poetry Shortlist

Poets were asked to write on the theme of LIBERTY, to celebrate the bi-centenary of PB Shelley's Prometheus Unbound. Essays may be on any aspect of the lives of the Romantics and their Circles.

In alphabetical order

John Salter, 7
(see Note) by Theo Akiyama

Theo Akiyama And Liz Locchead

There’s a sun moving
over my eye or
a candle. A foot away
I feel it touching
hot fingertips, like when
clouds turn into sun. It goes
and the room is quiet.

Mr. Home says stay still
now puts a sharp thing in quick
out and there is rain falling
in my eye, there
is something there.
Get your breath back lad.

I am breathing but already
there is something there.
A circle. Look again.
An edge then a point,
thrice: A triangle. My hand
says the same.

Now I have a bandage on.
We need to ascertain
what you can see,
to see if Condillac was right.

But I want to see
the pretty light. The window
by my bed, full of pebbles
at the bottom of a stream.
And below, soldiers
marching with pipes,
making a merry sound.


After An Account of two Children born with Cataracts in their Eyes, to shew that their Sight was obscured in very different degrees; with Experiments to determine the proportional Knowledge of Objects acquired by them immediately after the Cataracts were removed, by Everard Home, Esq. F. R. S., Belfast, 1807.

Theo Akiyama is a former joiner/woodworker and current PhD student at the University of Oxford.

by Sharon Black

If only good times passed more slowly.
It makes sense
, she adds,
darting to her laptop from the sink,
the fat and pearly soapsuds heaving,
popping on the white enamel.

She pulls on gloves, scrubs a sieve.
Fever Ray’s percussion slinks
across the counter, a sudden updraft
lifting a bubble from a grater, cradling it
towards the window.

Cos they’re the best ones,
we should make them last
. The bubble
plants itself on the glass,
turning pines and mountain
upside down, adding a rainbow.

Her hands glide through the water,
find a saucer, wipe it, turn it round
and stack it on the rack.
Take last weekend, she says, a spurt of sun
picking out the sud, firing it with light.

Jack was here for two days,
it only seemed like one – then back to school.

She rinses off a plate, plumps the knives and forks
like wildflowers in a vase.
You listening?

The lifespan of the bubble hangs
between her hands and the kitchen pane,
its held breath fading
as pine trees and mountain
and half a neighbor’s house are sucked

back where they came from –
she pings the gloves off, drops them,
pulls the plug to drain;
just a round stain, barely there,
between sill and lintel.

Sharon Black is from Glasgow but now lives in the Cévennes mountains of France. In 2017 she won Manchester Cathedral Poetry Competition and Poets and Players Poetry Competition. Her collections are To Know Bedrock (Pindrop, 2011) and The Art of Egg (Two Ravens, 2015).

Instamatic New England
by Jane Boxall

My neighbor tends to
fake gravestones and cobwebs:
flatpacking them into totes
and onto basement pallets.

Bald and burly, he grunts
“morning” as I pass by
with an anxious dachshund,
and a warm knotted bag
ready in my hand.

By the time we circle the block,
Halloween is scrubbed from the yard
and my neighbor is battling
to install a giant cartoon turkey
in place of the undead.

But it won’t inflate, wobbling
flaccidly at the empty street
where punctual residents have
redacted the previous night’s
ghouls and dismembered limbs,
the tubs of shining candy depleted
of everybody’s favorites.

I wonder at their timeliness,
the obedience of Americans
to a clockwork holiday rotation.
Death, gratitude, Santa, romance,
shamrocks, eggs, flags, fireworks –
the seasonally-shaded uniforms
worn by each rickety porch.

These houses hugging the railroad
were late to the frontier
but held to old schedules.
Missing the Black Forest, the Wolds,
the monsoons and the duststorms,
fat little robins or the capybara,
the settlers sectioned the year

like a sundial: black, brown, red, pink,
green, yellow, blue, and then sparks
kicking things back into gear
for another spin.

Jane Boxall is an adventurous percussionist and poet, working internationally across diverse genres. Her poetry has been published recently by Hungry Hill Writing, Poems Please Me, and Ó Bhéal, and less-recently in Just Seventeen magazine.

Apache Versace
by Mark Fiddes

These new swimming trunks
cost more than my best trousers.
It is just possible that polyester
has found its Platonic form
in red and orange explosions
that could be songbirds or fruit
hit by a 12 bore shotgun
against a background of leaves,
laced with prawn pink draw string.
When I walk to the shallow end
of the pool, people will point
and say: “Man, he’s on fire!”
as they adjust their sunglasses.
The lifeguard will shift uneasily
in his high chair and size me up
as if I was about to turn into
a prowling tiger or an eagle
because that’s just how I feel,
on the noble frontier between
raw nature and fabric design.
I am the Apache Versace,
the Mohican with a freak on.
Underpants don’t come close,
even if Cristiano Ronaldo wrote
a dedication on the waistband
and Beckham climbed in with me.
To the men in budgie-smugglers,
your caged birds are quarantined.
Step away from the diving board.
This is how you ascend.

Self Portrait with Violator
by Mark Fiddes

She returns at night in a flat-bed truck
stacked with scaffold and dangerous paints.
Even the bones in the sand know Frida.
Her song wove the sinew that bound them.
Her brush, dusted with cactus magic,
planted their dreams into museums of art
to bloom as tea towels and fridge magnets.
The Wall approaches like a line of chalk
drawn across a board by a naughty child.
She butts the tailgate up to the concrete
and starts on the first of many parrots
in spectacles, quiffed like Leon Trotsky
bursting through a can-can feather sunset.
Agave goddesses nurse earth babies.
Their breasts bleed the milk of lemon trees.
Monkeys toy with sugar skulls and crutches
around a volcano gushing Houston crude.
Razor wire grows into a searchlight necklace
where hang her hearts with festive arteries
lacing together a dozen Kahlos,
a thousand, a whole nation looking askance.
By dawn, the desert is drawn ocean blue.
A Texas Ranger Facebooks his selfie
with Karl Marx, convinced it’s Kenny Rogers.
When this goes viral, Fox News blows a fuse.
The President drains his lake of Whitewash
for one last violation… but too late.
A billion Fridas have broken through
the wall into cyberspace, saving screens,
saving souls and everything in between.

Mark’s two books of poetry The Rainbow Factory and The Chelsea Flower Show Massacre are both published by Templar. His work has appeared recently in The Irish Times, The London Magazine, Magma and Iota. Last year he won the Ruskin Poetry Prize.

Captain Barnacles
by Jack Houston

Morwenna, my wife, wishes me to dress as Captain Barnacles
for her in bed. Yes, that’s correct, Captain Barnacles,
from the animated CBeebies programme, The Octonauts.
When I say ‘in bed’ I’m using that phrase euphemistically,
as in, embarking upon an attempt at sexual congress,
not, sleeping in Captain Barnacles-themed pyjamas.

She wants me to do the voice, as well.
If you’re not sure who Captain Barnacles is
(we have two little tykes, are well acquainted),
he is a talking polar bear in a military-style uniform
complete with a little blue captain’s hat.
I’m not sure where she gets her ideas from.

She tells me it’s the least I can do.
I wait for her to go out. I want this first time
to be private. Sourcing a navy blue onesie
with a light blue collar has proved difficult,
so I have had to sew one myself; but with this blue belt
and boots (both matching the collar), I should look the part.

And what a part. My chest fills and my back straightens
at the sight of myself, uniformed and bear-like.
I begin to feel the salt water of the world’s oceans
calling me, the wind above the waves telling me
to sail out toward the far horizons of adventure,
the character of Captain Barnacles filling me

with a sense of purpose, a sense of what is right,
a new affinity for the creatures of the deep.
I’m going to have to have a serious talk with Morwenna
when she gets home; I’ve never felt so liberated.
I can’t help feel that this is whom I’m meant to be.
Never in my life have I ever felt so free.

Jack Houston lives with his young family in The London Borough of Hackney whose libraries he also works in.

2018's Winning Poem
Conscientious Objector Winning Poem
by Laurinda Lind

Laurinda Lind And Liz Lochhead

loud is how a dog doesn’t like his life
in that land of hollering, a husband

and his wife. where as a puppy,
smartest son of a smart litter, he loved

them long but by now has spent
himself, so there’s nothing to be done

except ask to go out once the woman
shoves the man so hard against the wall

at the top of the stairs that it cracks
and he barks, but no one wonders

whether he is okay. the woman has
family four streets away, safe with

no shouting and when the man slams
the door to get a drink from his stash in

the shed the dog makes sure he is on
the other side of it. later at 3 a.m. when

the woman walks barefoot a mile
through the streets in her threadbare

nightdress to stand in the moonlit
driveway of his new home and call him

to come he sees her, he hears her,
but it’s too late to want that now. he’s

already another world. though
he’ll keep the same name.

Laurinda Lind lives in New York State’s North Country, near Canada. She teaches college composition classes, and placed first and second in state poetry contests last year.

Avenida Libertador
by Laurence O’Dwyer

Laurence O'dwyer And Liz Lochhead

After fleeing the Inquisition Ambrosio O’Higgins
made his way to La Plata before setting off again
over the Andes – a journey he would never forget.
Itinerant trader, later Viceroy of Peru, he built

a series of shelters that would allow letters
to be sent, year round, from Chile to Argentina.
In Santiago I used to drink at the 777 on Alameda.
Baroque graffiti all the way up the stairs.

Officially, the street below is named after
his son, the Liberator, Bernardo O’Higgins.
It was here that I fell in love with a Criolla;
one-third shadow, the rest a guillotine of sun.

An old Chileno in a white shirt and dicky-bow
collects our empty glasses. From the open
window, a skyscraper touches a mountain
of snow. Simon Requilme was unimpressed

when his daughter gave birth to a red-haired boy.
Isabel was eighteen. I was mugged that night,
wandering the road behind the station.
The little punk wrestled me to the ground.

A drunken whim, I was trying to catch a ride
to Valparaiso. The night collapsed, the moon
rose. A difficult border this – hard to say
where one thing ends or the other begins.

Bernardo’s letters made their way around
the world, travelling the self-same route
his father pioneered. The graffiti cites
the paisano, the revolution and your mother.

Laurence O’Dwyer holds a PhD from Trinity College Dublin. He has received the Patrick Kavanagh Award for Poetry, a Hennessy Irish Writing Award, a fellowship from The MacDowell Colony (New Hampshire) and residencies from the Tyrone Guthrie Centre (Ireland), the Rensing Center (South Carolina) and the Vermont Studio Center.

On Finding My First Ocellated Lizard
by Pascale Petit

I’m sitting on the top wall
and eyes are opening all over my skin –

cornflower eyes like baby skies,
as if I too have just emerged

from a stone burrow, where I hid
until I heard the sun call,

my lizard-self astonished at the light
as I will continue to be

every time I get through the tunnel,
out into the cricket-crunching appetite

regenerated in the dark like a lost tail.
All winter I was chained to my rock.

I closed the sapphire cities on my flanks
where every shade of blue

peacefully co-existed – poor blue
next to rich blue, heliotrope-bruise

next to laser-beam, and of course
nurse-uniform, neon, and a glacier aqua

only found in the iris
of the too-lonely – these are the ocelli

of my body’s windows.
Did you know that skin, after a wound,

goes rainbow-blue? That’s when
the titan in me practises flying,

when feathers sprout
where the bonds have left weals.

It is early morning of my summer,
I am opening the wings of my eyes.

Pascale Petit was born in Paris and lives in Cornwall. Her seventh collection Mama Amazonica (Bloodaxe, 2017) was the Poetry Book Society Choice. Her sixth collection Fauverie was her fourth to be shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize and poems from it won the Manchester Poetry Prize. In 2018 she received an RSL Literature Matters award.

I Dream Sometimes of Flight
by Cheryl Pearson

I dream, sometimes, of flight – a sudden talent
for front crawl in air. Slow at first: a churn to the roof,
skinning a heel on loose slate. Then steady; regular.
A vertical swim for the stars. Sometimes,

there are herons; lanky, long-beaked. Once, a robin,
asleep in my hair. Under me, always, some kind of water –
even in sleep, a measure of safety. Rivers, thin
as fractures. The sea’s wide lens, scratched by the wakes

of luxury liners. I never make it past the weather.
Waking feels the same as falling – a startling,
and heaviness beyond imagining, every limb a wet sack
of sand. Mornings after these dreams, I remember

the bird we found in the field as children – still young,
not long past pin-feathers. Just stunned, but we thought
him injured. Cupped his warm flurrying, carried him home.
He shat all over our bedroom, greenish pats like melted

marbles; whirred like a fan on the chest of drawers,
his tiny motor turning over. We didn’t recognise his terror,
loved him cold. But now I know. The pull of the ground
on sky-licked bones. The glass between me and air.

Cheryl Pearson lives in Manchester, where she writes both poetry and short fiction. Her first poetry collection, “Oysterlight”, was published by Pindrop Press in 2017.

The Reforms of William Wilberforce
by Victor Tapner

Victor Tapner And Liz Lochhead

Often I sit in the silence of the Commons
reading over my notes before prayers

while the benches are empty,
air clear, light from the windows

washing the floor of the chamber,
the Chaplain yet to guide with his verses:

May they never lead the nation wrongly
through love of power, desire to please,
or unworthy ideals . . .

I look for words dressed in velvet and ruffs,
for sentences that swell their waistcoats,

reasons that sneer through blackened teeth.
Sometimes I can barely find a pathway

through the scratching out, the scattered blots.
When the honourable members arrive

to take their seats, fluffing their cravats,
talking behind scented handkerchiefs,

the chamber echoes with promises
piously kept until the Chaplain rises:

But laying aside all private interests
and prejudices . . . seek to improve the condition
of all mankind . . .

Each morning I wake in the darkness
before birdsong for my devotions,

to read the Bible and Doddridge.
I’ve given up my place at the faro table.

The other night I saw Mrs Siddons
at Drury Lane for the last time.

Victor Tapner’s first full collection, Flatlands (Salt), was shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Centre Poetry Prize, and his latest book, Waiting to Tango, is a Templar Poetry Straid Award collection. A chapbook, Banquet in the Hall of Happiness, won the Fool for Poetry competition in Ireland, and he has also won the Academi Cardiff International Poetry Competition and Scotland’s Wigtown prize.

Carroty Kate
by Sarah Wimbush

Sarah Wimbush And Liz Lochhead

I am dressed in last night’s campfire
and dead men’s boots. I can trounce any man,
maybe with the exception of my brother Walt,
and my Gypsy eyes are the envy
of every fop and duchess. They say
my hair is the colour of a thousand sunsets
and I own one red skirt
and a navvy’s tongue.

I get by dukkering at the next market place
with sheep’s trotters or pease pudding
or pottage swapped for the reading,
my kissi belt strapped tight
to my left thigh and I keep a girl
who does for me and a reed of a man
to draw on, and if we had sons
they would be a pack of wolves.

Now and then, I go skinning little richies
coaxed from their nannies, their posh togs
feeding us for months. Time was,
you would have pulled my nails,
dragged me through Bath
tied to a hay cart then hung me
outside the city walls on a gibbet,
just for being.

Sarah Wimbush won the Red Shed and Mslexia Poetry Competitions 2016.

Essay Shortlist

‘Percy Shelley and Habits’ by Adam Colman

Adam Colman has written for The Believer magazine and The Organist, the podcast from KCRW and McSweeney’s. His book, NEW USES FOR FAILURE, is forthcoming from Fiction Advocate. His scholarly essays have appeared or are forthcoming in European Romantic Review, Extrapolation, and Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net.

‘Bat, Bat, Come Under my Hat’ by Clare Jones

Clare Jones And Liz Lochhead

Clare Jones is a graduate of Carleton College and the recipient of fellowships from the Fulbright Program and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her poems have appeared in POETRY, Sport, Entropy, and Sweet Mammalian.

Philosophic numbers smooth’
by Tara Lee

Tara Lee And Liz Lochhead

Tara Lee is a Dphil student at the University of Oxford. She is working on mechanism and vitalism in the work of William Blake.

The Keats-Shelley Prize 2018

Poems on the theme of Liberty: a celebration of Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound

The Keats-Shelley Prize is an annual competition for poems and essays on Romantic themes. Inaugurated in 1998, the Prize encourages all adult writers (over 18) to respond creatively to the work of the Romantics.

Writers aged 16-18 are invited to enter the Young Romantics Prize.

In 1818, Percy Bysshe Shelley began work on his first and most famous hymn to Liberty – ‘Prometheus Unbound’, based on the myth of the chained Titan Prometheus, who had stolen fire from the Gods of Olympus to give to mankind.

“The nations thronged around, and cried aloud,
As with one voice, ‘Truth, Liberty, and love!’”

It was the forerunner to his ‘Ode to Liberty’ written two years later.

So what do we want from Liberty in 2018?

You are invited to write your own poem on Liberty; or an essay, which can be on any aspect of the work or lives of the Romantics and their circles.

Cash prizes of £3,000!

The Prize Chair is Liz Lochhead, the former Makar of Scotland and Winner of the Queen’s Medal for Poetry.


The Judges’ Panel for Poets will consist of Matthew Sweeney and Jo Shapcott; and for Essayists of Professor Simon Bainbridge and Professor Sharon Ruston. For more information about our Prize Chair and the Judging Panel, click here.

The deadline for entries is 15th January 2018. Winners will be announced at an Awards ceremony in London, April 2018. Shortlisted entrants will be notified in person in March and their names posted on the website, and they will be warmly invited to attend. The winning poems and essays will be published.

Inspire us with your writing!
You can find full details of how to enter below.

Conditions of Entry

You must be over 18 on 2nd January 2018

Entries may be submitted from any part of the world, but must be in English.

All entries are FREE. They must be in Microsoft Word format and accompanied by a completed and signed Entry Form.

Download the entry form here . Email it to: Entries will be acknowledged.

NB: Poems and essays are sent to the judges anonymously so please do not put your name on your actual entry.

Your Entry

Poems must be on the theme of Liberty, not a pastiche, and be of no more than 30 lines.

Essays may be on any aspect of the lives of the Romantics and their circles, should be no more than 3,000 words including quotations, and should be written in a clear and accessible style. All sources must be acknowledged.

Winning entries will be published in the April 2019 issue of the Keats-Shelley Review (for copyright conditions see Entry Form). Entries must be original works. Plagiarism will not be accepted. They must not have been published previously, either in print or online or in any other media, nor previously submitted to us.

You can enter up to 2 poems and 2 essays.

Deadline for entries: 15 January 2018