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Poetry Competition

CISC Poetry Competition 2020: Gifts

This year saw an incredible 177 entries across Junior and Senior categories, including our first entries from a CISC special school which was just wonderful. Huge thanks to colleagues and pupils for their hard work and effort – I enjoyed reading every submission and even learned a new word, ‘dokidoki’, which is the sound of a healthy heart and is used to describe physical and emotional excitement and a racing of the heart.

Particularly interesting was the number of poems that reflected upon the experience of living through the pandemic and the challenges and opportunities it presents in the context of our theme of ‘Gifts’.

The competition this year was judged by Tom Collingridge a professional copywriter living in the Netherlands. He has written poetry since he was at school himself (a long time ago), regularly winning prizes and commendations for his poems, for example in The Bridport Prize and (in Dutch) The Dutch National Poetry Competition. In his early years, he attended no less than three of today’s CISC schools. I am enormously grateful to Tom for his time, wisdom and insight in selecting our winners.

Certificates and book tokens will be winging their way to the winners.

Judge’s report

No one who writes poetry themselves wants to be harsh when criticising poems. You know how it feels to be on the receiving end and how daunting it can be to embark on writing a poem. Especially for young people, still learning the craft of writing and who often haven’t yet read too much poetry themselves — which, as anyone sensible will tell you, is the best way to get better at writing it.

We should also treasure and celebrate the fact that young people still want to express themselves through poetry (and close relations like rap or song lyrics), and encourage them to continue doing so and to discover the strange but wonderful sense of fulfilment and well-being the creative process can give you. That really is a gift for life, whether you write professionally or as a hobby. Even if it’s ‘just’ keeping a diary, do yourself a favour and don’t stop writing.

Winner – Senior Category

1st prize: Excess Ink
Freya Beart (14), St Mary’s School Cambridge

Unlike many others, this short poem jumped right in, with a slightly sinister voice and quirky imagery. There was no superfluous explaining; it dared to throw in one much longer line (which worked because it reflected the length of the process it was describing); and the close, as with many good poems, left the reader with more questions than answers.

Excess Ink

Excess ink
is my gift
I twist tar black wastes
into fine spun sugar
and weave them into candyfloss thoughts that solidify to liquorice
falling into letters
and dropping on my page
sickly with intent

By Freya Beart


Winner – Junior Category

1st prize: The Ice Goblin gifts us winter
Josh Allmond (12), Ratcliffe College

In a few lines, the poet creates a frosty little world. We can picture the ice goblin, see him creating fog with his breath, snow when he sneezes. And like a lot of good children’s literature, around an innocent activity like playing in the snow, the writer creates a sinister aura. The final line is elegant, too, the poet ending with the words “treacherous paths’’, knowing the reader will imagine the rest

The Ice Goblin gifts us winter

He sleeps in summer,
and groans as he wakes up.
He sits on his icy throne and exhales cold misty fog.
He shoots ice from his fingers.
He gives me a chill up my spine
And steals my smoky breath.
When he sneezes, a layer of ice appears, and icy white
crystals fall from the sky.
The children all jump for joy as his white blanket
envelopes them.
He sits on his icy throne and makes crazy white
patterns on treacherous paths.

By Josh Allmond


Runner-up – Senior Category

1st prize: The Gift
Rafferty Hall (14), Our Lady’s Abingdon School

This poem is a bit old-fashioned, in a good way. For a start, it rhymes and has a definite rhythm. At first glance, it looks like a random shopping list, but looking closer you see how it follows life’s rhythm. Opening with birth and motherhood, then friends and family, winter following summer, to close with memory and life’s end. Twice it steps away from opening a line with ‘the gift’, showing the writer is using the structure, not slave to it. The poet has also clearly worked hard on crafting their poem.

The Gift

The gift of a child, the gift of a mother,
the gift of a father, a sister, a brother.

The gift of family, the gift of friends,
the gift of love that never ends.
The gift of the birds, wildlife and bees,
the gift of flowers, grass and trees.

The gift of our senses, the gift of our health,
the gifts that mean more than wealth.
The gift of spring, the gift of rain,
the gift that makes things grow again.

The gift of summer and long sunny days,
a day at the beach to catch some rays.
The gift of autumn when leaves turn brown,
the gift of the breeze that makes them fall down.

The gift of winter, the chilly fresh air,
and time to walk and to stop and to stare.
The gift of laughter, the gift of song,
the gift of a smile to help you stay strong.

The gift of a memory and tales to tell,
the gift of knowledge of a life lived well.

By Rafferty Hall


Runner-up – Junior Category

1st prize: The Gift
Charlotte Brotherton (9), Saint Christina’s School

One clear idea, very well executed. It opens with three short lines that raise the reader’s curiosity, with the subject of the poem only becoming clear in lines 6-8: a precocious structure for someone of nine. The whole poem leads up to what is only named in the last two words: “my gift”.

The Gift

Black sticks,
Meaningless to many.
And yet to me,
It is like words on a page.
I see and hear a story unfolding.
It makes the music I love.
The bow’s graceful movement,
My fingers gliding over the strings,
The smooth polished wood in my arms,
It is my cello, my friend.
Music can change your mood,
Slow and sad, or quick and joyful,
Sound flowing through the cello,
Bringing music to life is my gift.

By Charlotte Brotherton


Highly Commended

Presents/As I Grow Older — Charlotte Rose (16), Alton School

I liked this poem (or perhaps I should say poet) because it was adventurous and imaginative. It showed a poet’s sensibility.

Ebony and Ivory — Awen Moseley (10) British Junior Academy of Brussels

This poem was adventurous for anyone, yet alone someone of ten. Perhaps trying to maintain one image over thirteen lines was a bit ambitious, but the poem was full of original ideas. A talent.


Winner – Special School Category

1st prize: The Gift

Pippin Class:
Freddy, Ryan, Harley, Henry, St Elizabeth’s School

This collaborative poem perfectly marries the joy of gift-giving and the anticipation of its opening with the reality of our current situation. It’s a gentle and poignant poem.

The Gift

In these very strange school days
Where faces of friends and teachers have changed,
I wish I could give a gift to you,
And this is what the label would say.

There are times I feel anxious,
And times I feel glad,
Days where the sun is shining,
But cloudier days when I feel sad.

I can only imagine opening the gift,
under layers if paper as blue as the sea.
And wonder what it will be like when I really get to see you,
What a wonderful gift that would be.

By Freddy, Ryan, Harley and Henry


Runner-up – Special School Category

1st prize: The Gift
Chinar, St Elizabeth’s School

By Chinar