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Poet Isabel Galleymore wins 2020 John Pollard Foundation International Poetry Prize

Isabel Galleymore

Isabel Galleymore has today been announced as the winner of the 2020 John Pollard International Poetry Prize for her debut book Significant Other, in which she takes a sustained look at the ‘eight million differently constructed hearts’ of species currently said to inhabit Earth.

Awarded annually to the author of an outstanding first poetry book collection in the English language and valued at €10,000, the prize is sponsored by the John Pollard Foundation and administered by the Trinity Oscar Wilde Centre in the School of English, Trinity College Dublin.

The patron of the John Pollard Foundation is Stephen Vernon, who named the Foundation in memory of his grandfather, John Pollard.

Award-winner Isabel Galleymore said:

“I am honoured and delighted to receive the John Pollard Foundation International Prize. As a debut poet, I was unsure what to expect from the publication of Significant Other. Although a year has now passed, the news of this prize reminds me that this feeling has not changed – to have won is completely unexpected and highly exciting. I am very grateful to Stephen Vernon, the patron of the John Pollard Foundation International Poetry Prize, to Trinity College Dublin for hosting it, and to my publisher Carcanet, for believing in the book and submitting it for the prize in the first place.”

“I believe a prize dedicated to debut collections is a wonderful thing and it is important to me that this prize has been founded in Ireland with its rich literary landscape. It may come as no surprise that the way I look at the natural world, and write about it, is greatly influenced by Seamus Heaney. His eye for detail and ear for sound in Death of a Naturalist, and many of his other collections, continues to instruct me on the abundant microcosms of life that we may otherwise overlook.” 

Isabel Galleymore added:

“Significant Other grew from a number of divergent experiences: my PhD that partly focused on metaphor and ecopoetry; as well as writing residencies that I was pleased to accept across Cornwall and, later, the National Reserve of Tambopata in the Peruvian Amazon rainforest. The latter allowed me a deeper understanding of biodiversity and ecological crisis, as well as the privilege of first-hand observation of certain species. When I finished the collection, I had some doubts as to whether the number of poems about limpets, mussels and goose barnacles would render the collection too obscure. I am pleased to have been proved wrong.”

Members of the prize jury were: Professor Eve Patten, School of English, Trinity; Harry Clifton, former Ireland Professor of Poetry and Adjunct Professor of Literary Practice, Trinity; Tim Dooley, Poetry School and the University of Westminster; Dr Nerys Willams, Associate Professor in Poetry, University College Dublin.

Professor Eve Patten said:

“This year’s submissions represented an extraordinarily rich and vivid response to the landscapes of our time – political, economic, natural and emotional. While the range of subjects covered was diverse, the judges noted that a sense of poetic responsibility to the present moment was common to almost all the poets considered. There was a tremendous intellectual force in evidence too, alongside an ambitious play with form and style. Nothing else ‘leaps at the heart’ like a poem can, Virginia Woolf said, and many poems also touched our hearts during the reading journey from submissions to shortlist and on to choosing our winner.”

Poetry scholar Dr Nerys Williams from University College Dublin was a member of the selection committee. Celebrating Significant Other, she added:

“The volume’s spare, if not condensed lyrics, represent minute acts of perception. Isabel Galleymore’s tightly wrought poems document our world during a time of ecological crisis; these poems represent the anthropocene. Using the lyric form as a recording of precise detail and as an anatomy of emotion, Isabel creates a compendium of our creature world while narrating stories of human love lost.”

“Of late it can often seem that contemporary poetry is dominated by a prosaic discursiveness, or a confessional narrative which over defines itself as definitive political action. Significant Other strives to find a balance between political rhetoric and self-reflection. This innovative volume offers a moving portrait of a world in crisis. Quietly assured, Isabel’s poems ask us to slow down, pause, observe anew and above all, take responsibility.

The benefactor of the prize, Stephen Vernon, congratulated the winner on her achievement:

“I am delighted to see the 2020 John Pollard Foundation International Poetry Prize go to a poet who draws on our connection to nature and how these connections can give us a deeper insight into ourselves.”

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