Wigtown Prize Celebrates Vibrancy of Poetry In Scotland’s Three Languages

credit Ruari Barber-Fleming

The awards ceremony for the annual Wigtown Poetry Prize has celebrated the strength and vibrancy of poetry in all three of Scotland’s indigenous languages.

Gaelic poetry was described as enjoying a renaissance and there was praise for the variety and quality of entries in Scots and English.

This year, the £1,500 Wigtown Prize was open to entries in all three languages for the first time, marking the 2019 United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages.

Entries for the international competition came from as far afield as the USA, Canada and Ecuador.

The winner was a Scots poem entitled Shiftin by Mhairi Owens from Anstruther who said: “I am absolutely delighted to have been awarded this prize, thank you to everyone.”

As in previous years there were also separate dedicated awards, with top prizes of £500, for the best Scots and Scottish Gaelic poems. There was also the Dumfries and Galloway Fresh Voice Award and the first ever Alastair Reid Pamphlet Prize.

John Burnside, acclaimed poet and author of the newly released The Music of Time: Poetry in the Twentieth Century, judged both the Alastair Reid Pamphlet Prize and the Wigtown Prize.

He praised the excellence of the entries for both and added that the judging of a pamphlet is very different that of an individual poem. It requires not only good poetry but also a connection between the poems, making a coherent body of work.

The winner of the Gaelic award, Daibhidh Eyre, flew in from China where he has a teaching post, to be present at the ceremony.

Gaelic award judge Kevin MacNeil said: “It was an honour and a happy pleasure to judge the award because the entries were incredibly diverse and the quality was impressive. It was genuinely difficult to choose winning submissions – talk of a Gaelic poetry renaissance is not at all exaggerated.”

The Scots prize was judged by writer, actor, director, singer and songwriter Gerda Stevenson who described the entries as being hugely varied in form and subject. She congratulated the winning poem, The Lowes, for “minimally spare language” and “poised eloquence” in its exploration of the relationship between a human being and the landscape.

Alison Lang, The Gaelic Books Council, said: “We are very proud to be able to support this prize, and one of the things that is evident at the moment is that poetry in Gaelic is alive and well – with five Gaelic poets being shortlisted overall.”

The full list of winners is:

  • Wigtown Prize: Mhairi Owens (winner), Claudia Daventry (runner up)
  • Wigtown Scottish Gaelic Prize: Daibhidh Eyre (winner), Marcas Mac an Tuairneir (runner up).
  • Wigtown Scots Prize: Dorothy Lawrenson (winner), Robert Duncan (runner up).
  • Dumfries & Galloway Fresh Voice Award: Clare Phillips (winner)
  • Alastair Reid Pamphlet Prize: Beverley Bie Brahic (winner)

The prize giving took place on Saturday evening at the Bladnoch Distillery as part of the Wigtown Book Festival.

Marjorie Lotfi Gill, who chairs the Wigtown Book Festival Board of Trustees, said:This year we aimed to renew the competition by opening up the Wigtown Prize to entries in all three of Scotland’s indigenous languages, by introducing the new Alistair Reid Pamphlet Prize and by working with partners in new ways.
“I am delighted to say that the number, quality and variety of entries suggests that these changes have been welcomed.
“I would like to thank all the people, from every part of the world, who submitted entries and also the judges and partners who have such a deep commitment to providing ways to nurture contemporary poets and help their work reach the widest possible audience.”
The Dumfries and Galloway Fresh Voice Award was given by Beth Cochrane, of the Scottish Poetry Library, who said: “There were so many submissions of such an astonishing quality.
“In Fresh Voice you are looking for that raw spark you get when you read a poet who has not been writing for too long and you get that original, un-nurtured talent that just leaps from the page, and that’s absolutely what we have in Clare’s work.”

Other supporters of this year’s awards included the Saltire Society, StAnza (Scotland’s International Poetry Festival) and the Moniack Mhor Creative Writing Centre.

Susan Garnsworthy, Saltire Society Trustee, said: “We are really delighted that the Saltire Society is sponsoring the Scottish language prize. It’s a terrific competition and one that I hope will continue to grow and develop in the years ahead.”
Eleanor Livingstone, StAnza’s Festival Director, added: “How wonderful it is to see the diversity of Scotland’s languages and poets reflected so well in the line-up of winners in this year’s Wigtown Poetry Prize.”

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