portsmouth poetry 

From A Borrowed Biro

CoronaVerses – Poems from the Pandemic

2020 Portsmouth Poetry Competition

The Covid-19 Pandemic is the biggest challenge since WW2. It has been witness to enormous tragedy and to incredible bravery. It has brought out some of the worst or most pathetic of our human attributes and some of the most moving and noble. It has forced us to consider and question things we have taken for granted.  

This competition invited poets of all ages, published and unpublished to share their experiences, thoughts and hopes for the future arising out of the crisis.

We were looking for unpublished poems about, arising from or inspired by the Covid-19 pandemic . The competition was open internationally for poems in English or with a translation.

The competition was in two categories-

                                                                   Children (age range 5 – 16 years)

                                                                   Adult (16 and older)

The Results

The competition was really international. In addition to local and UK entrants, we recieved poems from Nigeria, Assam in India and the USA. Nearly half the entries came from published and established poets. The standard was incredibly high making judging a long and difficult process. Many poets not shortlisted might have been had the benchmark not been outstanding and many of the shortlisted poems would easily have won the competition in other circumstances.

How we judged the poems

All poems were judged ‘blind’ with no reference to their authors. The judges read the poems several times at intervals independently of each other to agree a shortlist. These poems were re-read over several days before the judges met to discuss them. The three exceptional poems were agreed and discussed to decide the over-all winner.

What we look for in a poem

We look for poems that are unique and expressive with some measure of the following –


Subject – The poem should have something to say which is unique or important. Poems should avoid stating the obvious or repeating what has already been said before, definitely avoid cliché or polemics unless they have a new way of expressing old ideas or diatribes.


Narrative – The poem should ideally find new and creative ways of presenting their message or plotline especially if the ideas, opinions, images etc., of their message are not new. Poems that stand out have usually found a new or creative way of presenting their subject.


Brevity - is the soul of communication so poems should avoid being unnecessarily long or over-stating their point.


Imagery & Expression – Poems should avoid cliched or long established images, metaphors, similes and allegories. Poets are advised to screen their work for tired or hackneyed descriptions and symbols or concepts established by the great poets. (A mentor may help here.)


Multiple Meaning – Poetry and advertising ‘copy’ frequently use carefully constructed lines or even employment of a single word or phrase that in the course of the poem has more than one meaning. This is often the source of a poems power and impact or can develop the message or imagery by moving from one meaning to another. This also negates the need to labour a message allowing a poem to be profound while being brief.


    Complementary – Impact also derives from finding two or more words or images which impact on each other through dissonance / conflict or through assonance. This can enforce message, empower imagery and facilitate brevity.


    Structure – The way a poem is structured can influence it profoundly including line length, whether the poem employs rhyme, stanza size, content and function and the visual appearance of the poem.


    Poetics – Most of all we look for the 'colour of saying' as Dylan Thomas called it when a poet creates a lovely, powerful or descriptive phrase or combination of words especially when they have thought of combinations that are new and inventive (Who’d have thought a skyline could look like a patient on a hospital table until T S Eliot!?)


    Of course, we do not expect to see all of these in a single new piece of work. We dream of that because it means that we have found the next great poet. Poets can re-investigate old themes, for example. But we shortlisted those poems that presented some of these expectations.

    The Shortlisted Poems

    Cameron Morse  (USA)
    David Green
    Guna Moran  (Assam, India)
    Denise Bennett
    Mark Cassidy 
    Fiona Ritchie Walker
    Jeanne Macdonald
    Ojo Taiye (Nigeria)   
    'Messenger' and 'The Benefits of Anger'
    'Old Age Home'
    'Lungwort',  'Forget-me-nots' and 'Walking'
    'Outside Within' and 'Keeping the R Down'
    'I shun the virtual pub quiz, try writing'
    'Belated Family Visit'

    'Runner Up' 

    Denise Bennett      'Forget-me-nots'

    After the rain 

    we walked the main Road

    to Langstone,


    saw two black ribbons

    of mourners lining

    the verges, waiting


    for the cortege;

    watched as they waved

    to the widow


    when the hearse passed;

    heard the whispers –

    it was the virus,


    a man and a woman,

    he died, she survived.

    We carried on down


    the Billy line, saw

    a brilliant crop of powder blue



    This was one of five poems submitted and one of three shortlisted. Any of these three could have been a winner. Denise writes economically but with tremondous humanity and impact. No over-worked imagery or messages, like some of the other poems she submitted, the message is implied not thrust upon us. The writing is terse and simple, a recollection of a human event and its tragedy leaving us to see the significance - that life goes on and that death is there in the midst of everything, even an afternoon stroll. The magnitude and impact of the topics is emphasised by the simplicity of the structure and language of the poem reminding us of the poetry of Edward Thomas. Structurally simple as all the best modern poetry is, the impact and moral of the poem comes from the understated fact that the couple in the narrative witness that pandemic has shattered the lives of another, that death is aribtrary and occurs in the midst of life and beauty. Stuningly well written (note the "two black ribbons of mourners". Edward Thomas would have approved.

    Jeanne Macdonald       'Belated Family Visit'

    Now lockdown is over.

    Now I’m on my way.

    Now I hear a voice confirm

    Kings Cross, London,

    I sit back, relax,

    try to look like everyone else

    who travels, often.


    My eyes follow the flashing views.

    I see the Angel of the North.

    Lowry men playing golf.

    Newcastle United black and white

    cows in a corner of a field.

    They are right – rain

    drops chase each other

    and I find myself

    guessing which one will reach

    the bottom of the window first.


    The train slows

    before reaching the next station

    and I feast on the joy of nature;

    that fine line between seeing

    and being beauty blind.


    One hour in and time slips by

    quickly, before I know it

    my headrest wants to fast track dreams

    But my first coffee denies sleep, placed

    between me and a fellow traveler.


    I try to avoid eye contact but find

    myself smiling at the title of the book

    he is reading. ‘The Art of Isolation’’

    and I resist the temptation to tell him;

    the Art is in the heart of endurance.


    This too evidences how the best poems express profound truths without

    being over-stretched or too intellectualised. The author takes us on a journey they are making, a journey we can all identify with because we

     all longed to make it. But she does not fill this with attempts to make important statements, instead we are given the ordinary things that fill a journey, precisely those ordinary things we all longed for in lockdown. But it’s the last five lines of the poem that hit home so cleverly and what a punch they have and what a statement of the ‘journey’ we have all endured. Some lovely lines of poetry too such as the description "Lowry men playing golf" and the amusing but powerful "Newcastle United back and white cows" and what about "beauty blind"?! Magnificent.

    Winning Entry

    'Outside Within'  Mark Cassidy

    In sanctuary of an unlatched porch

    I’ve laid my cycle down.

    The door is thick-strong oak:

    Long hinges brace nail-studded beams,

    an iron ring for handle.

    I test the turn of it.

    But, bolted against contagion

    there’s no communion to be had;

    the dancing pools of stained glass light

    unreachable within.


    Back home yet looking out,

    we step around ourselves, measure

    the degrees of separation–

    two-metre arms outstretched.

    Blessed are those with wings:

    a far-wandering Brimstone settles,

    briefly matches the budding leaves.

    First of the year, it knows

    the secret of distance:

    that it’s how we become grown-up.


    Like the other two, this poem immediately stood out as a contender and as one of the best poems submitted. Like the others, it is written with a simple brevity that marks real craft. It’s not over-stated or heavy handed. There are nice fluid lines of poetry and wonderful use of individual words which have more than one meaning or implication. The word ‘communion’ is of course a part of Christian practice referencing that the first verse is about a church but also means getting together which lockdown made impossible.  The use of hyphenated terms "thick-strong" and "nail-studded"  is lovely as is the repeated 't's' in "test the turn of it" reminiscent of Welsh Cynghanedd. The clever use of the term "degrees of separation", is full of meaning and the "dancing pools of stained glass light" is lovely. Structurally, it is perefect as well. Two stanzas of an equal number of lines examine opposite contradictory aspects of the pandemic experience. In the first the poet is shut out of a locked church and in the second he is inside his home but looking out to a world he is also shut away from emphasising the emptiness and isolation of both situations. A local vicar has commented to us that he hated having to lock up his church which is supposed to be a place of welcome and sanctuary, it felt for him a betrayal of his faith and community and that reality is present in this stunning poem. The conclusion of the poem  is powerful and full of implication. "the secret of distance" Wow!

    Children Category Winners



    I dedicate this piece

    In memory of the days,

    When with a king hit

    The world was suppressed

    By an inconspicuous virus

    And though the virus was termed “covid 19”,

    It did more than a nineteen year old

    Could do in a matter of month!

    For the world stood in obeisance

    And danced to the drumbeats of this “foe”!




    In the shadow of this virus,

    Man`s vulnerability was exposed

    In a twinkle of an eye,

    Education, money and fame

    Entertainment and power

    Ceased to matter

    Every man sought after ways to protect his own life,

    The dead of being the next victim

    Kept us mutely indoors

    And with sad faces

    We watered from our windows

    And the worst we expected!




    Many lost their lives

    Their families were left heartbroken

    Out of hunger the poor didn`t mind,

    Shaking hands with this tyrant

    In a bid to get grubs and chops`

    Our only hope became the medical personnel’s

    Who left their families

    And their lives they risked

    In a bid to `heal` the world!




    Although like a bandit,

    Covid-19 stole a lot

    Yet some good it did!

    For the first time in history

    Human lives mattered

    Measures to protect lives were taken

    Man saw the relevance of `hygiene`

    And a little distancing from one another

    And so, sanitizers and face masks

    Became our best pals!



    Even the most ungrateful fellow

    Did not fail to appreciate our scientists

    We saw the value of medical practitioners

    In a new way

    And the bravery the exhibited

    They were `the heroes of our wars`

    And for the first time

    We made prayers for these `unsung heroes`

    That they might find strength to continue

    To wage war against this `evil

    While the storm ravaged

    Patience began to creep into our lives

    Man`s constant hurry to nowhere declined

    We assimilated the Queue-culture

    And we maintained social distancing

    Each person took turns to get what he wanted

    Technology played it part well

    And a better way to get things done, it was!




    Every nation began to see its own beauty

    Their own scenes of creation became admirable

    And migrated to other nations gave joy no more!

    Families got together

    National and families with love and unity

    Strengthened their members

    And hopes they gave to its members

    While the battle lasted!


    And as the world gradually

    Return back to normally

    Though we know not when

    But never is it too late to save our race!

    I hope that human lives continue to matter

    That the `heroes of our war` will continually be praised,

    That reverence for them will never be lost!

    And that with both `cash and kind`

    They will forever be appreciated!



    I hope that our hygiene and Queue-culture

    Will never again be relegated

    To the back of our minds

    While we earn, we will also save


    For we don`t know when

    The rainy days will come again

    I pray that families and nations

    Will always bond together

    And with love and unity

    Inspire one another

    We will hold on to our visions of light

    And fight side by side

    We will keep on going

    Till it all stops flowing

    And till every foe of the human race is vanquished!

    And the future unto us will be a pleasure!



    AGE: 16



    One of two poems submitted. A brilliant poem for someone so young. Well written and making some intelligent adult observations. Has some nice and clever lines of wordplay such as “While we earn, we also save”!

    Clear winner for this category


    A poem about the BLM movement


    We stood together,

    For the camera.


    We spread love,

    For the camera.



    Every new leaf turned,

    Has a darker side.

    We stood divided,

    But not a word was uttered.


    We spread hate,

    But not a word was uttered.



    Will we only show our true colours,

    When we need to stand together?


    Instead of standing divided?



    AGE: 11


    Although not exactly in the parameters of the competition this is an excellent poem from someone so young on a serious issue. It is well structured and makes its point in a few lines without being too polemic. It contains some nice concise lines of poetry such as "Every new leaf turned / Has a darker side"  Well done Daniel

    Portsmouth Poetry wishes to thank all the poets for sending us their poems
    We hope to run another international poetry competition in 2021 and would welcome donations or sponsors to enable us to offer bigger prizes to talented writers