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2020 Poetry Contest Winner


The Donn Goodwin Prize of $100

Awarded to Lee Nash

Birth River
(a golden shovel on lines from “Anna Liffey” by Eavan Boland)


I have never been to Ireland. And

have not seen the River Liffey, in

Irish Life, that strong runner – my

river is the Adur, that hailed my late

arrival in the Sussex rapes. My forties

saw the swollen Derwent gurgle past

my front door, found me still believing

in that course I had poured into – love

had instigated it. Those years, my will

pushed me forward, convinced I’d heal

through nurturing others’ lives – what

folly. Then, I found an ally in language

and through early attempts and fails

learned to navigate the old river, to

feel its curve and flow. I didn’t know

where it would lead (don’t now) and

gradually other obsessions and needs

became pitiable, wasteful even, and to

fathom instead what I desired to say –

far dearer. I had two children. What

I could write; have written. About the

severed womb, the recovery of the body

and the grind to survive by all means –

every day was a personal holocaust. I

moved: I cursed the time it would take

to pack. The Cam. The Avon. Ever this

movement. The Sherbourne. Each sign

different yet somehow the same; and

in every house, a doorway. Patient, I

contented to hide behind them, to make

home. And now, beside la Gironde; this

time foreign water will leave its mark:

la Charente; la Dordogne; la Loire. A

whole character formed in rain; woman

made element. Alone, still writing in

the briefest gaps, at least no longer the

somnambulist I used to be, my doorway

leads straight onto the narrow street of

a provincial market town. It could be her

country, her street, her town – her house.

But, of course, it is not. I wish it were. A

prayer rises up: for land carved by a river

like the place where I was born. Soon, in

part anguish part relief, I must wrap the

remainder, sell the rest, look for a city

that will call me out of respect, out of


joy – this only. I’m not interested in her

pity coffees. I’m looking for my birth.

Perhaps a castle. A church. Grass. The

possibility of a future. The grasp of truth

on the metro or the footpath. Scent of

lilac. A place for the shocked, grieved, a

woman like me, someone who’s suffered

and is weary of setbacks. A washed life.

I’ve lived near bells and speakers. The

lack of flow is killing me. A silent mouth

is all I ask – a wide destiny, to make of

that what I can. I promise to cherish it.

2019 Poetry Contest Winners

The Donn Goodwin Prize of $100

Awarded to Brigid F.

Returning to Over-the-Water, Cahersiveen, Co. Kerry

"What is that?" I ask
What are these?
I want to know their name
Make them familiar to me

The birds dip and flutter
Their colours and songs new
A few seem to ring a bell
Almost Midwestern yet askew

The yellow flowers sway
The fields dotted with plants
Spiders crawl and flies zip
The winds make the rushes dance

Bluebell, cowslip, furze, snowdrop
Blackbird, swallow, wren, magpie
They cover the ditches, lanes and fields
They populate the trees and sky

I want to knowk their names
To learn something more
Make them my own in my new home
List them off when I look out the door

Sanderling, goldcrest, corncrake, thrush
Foxglove, bog cotton, dock leaf, nettle
Their names as sweet as their song
Their names as sweet as their smell

I want to know the bird
Whose song wakes me at half four
I want to know the insect
That scurries across the cottage floor

Alone in the cemetery the songs are quiet
No sound of bird song, buzzing wings, or wave
I want to know which blossoms I picked
And laid on my great-grandparents' grave


The Joseph Gahagan Prize of $100

Awarded to Sylvia C.

Erin Go Bragh Whispered the Four-Leaf Clover

Our street was an undersized litter box
with no modesty cover.
Danny swung hand-over-hand
across the electric wires
connecting our house to the Slade's.
Walter Slade's teenage scream cracked
open the summer haze
when I pushed my fingers into his whirring
push mower, which bit sharp
and splattered red jewels
against the green smell of cut grass.
I ran hard down the back alley
until I could taste all the rusty blades
of Lancaster's east end.
But I was the least impulsive kid around.
My mother flipped her wig
at the doctor who blamed her for Danny's
hot-dogging kicks all-day long.
It was his high IQ that made him so dumb.
Like when he got the five-finger discount
on the bent slinky from the Slade's
backyard and Mrs. Slade raged
all afternoon until my mother lost it
and accused her of being German.
My mom, the self-procalimed
"Irish Slob of Integrity," by which she
meant her derangements were always
on-point. Like when she marched up
and down Clark Street beating a big bass
drum after Mass that time when you stood
up and said you didn't see any point to men
and why should you have to marry one?
Mom will one day imagine herself
a reincarnated Emily Dickinson -- the part
about keeping to her bedroom and speaking
rarely, but with unexpected punctuation.
She'll say reincarnated too loudly into
the screen of the confessional, causing
the priest to give up darning his socks.
So, Erin go Bragh, whispered the four-leaf
clover, plucked from the small square
of yard just ahead of Walter Slade's mower.

2021 Festival Sponsors

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Ireland Bluffs

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