The winners of this year's National Poetry Competition

The UK's biggest poetry competition, founded in 1978, attracts thousands of entries – here are this year's winners


First Prize: Sinéad Morrissey

Through The Square Window

In my dream the dead have arrived

to wash the windows of my house.

There are no blinds to shut them out with.

The clouds above the Lough are stacked

like the clouds are stacked above Delft.

They have the glutted look of clouds over water.

The heads of the dead are huge. I wonder

if it's my son they're after, his

effortless breath, his ribbon of years –

but he sleeps on unregarded in his cot,

inured, it would seem, quite naturally

to the sluicing and battering and paring back of glass

that delivers this shining exterior...

One blue boy holds a rag in his teeth

between panes like a conjuror.

And then, as suddenly as they came, they go.

And there is a horizon

from which only the clouds stare in,

the massed canopies of Hazelbank,

the severed tip of the Strangford Peninsula,

and a density in the room I find it difficult to breathe in

until I wake, flat on my back with a cork

in my mouth, stopper-bottled, in fact,

like a herbalist's cure for dropsy.

Sinéad Morrissey was born in Portadown, Co Armagh, in 1972, but moved to Belfast when she was six. In 1990, she went to Dublin to study German and English. She lived for two years in Japan teaching English in a secondary school, then moved to New Zealand. In 1999 she returned to Northern Ireland. She now teaches creative writing at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry and lives in Whiteabbey, just outside Belfast, with her husband and young son.

Second Prize: Rosemary Norman

The Hairdresser From Beirut

He's been here two years.

I wonder if the others ask

as I do not, why he left, or

of all places, why he chose

our well-meaning suburb.

We sit before his mirrors,

him behind, or to one side.

He's still young, and slim

with a little belly. His hair

curls where it will. I ask

stupidly if he did this job

before he left, then answer

for him, of course, he's not

had time to learn it here.

And that's enough, surely.

If they were willing in Beirut

to leave their hair untended

they would have done so

more than once in his life,

career. But they are not.

A friend or enemy will see

to how you look, dead.

Merely endangered

as you are, it's up to you.

So Anne Frank writes –

should she bleach the hair

on her upper lip? Once

a woman, and I knew her,

killed herself, her eyebrows

still sore from plucking.

Rosemary Norman was born in London in 1946, and began to write in childhood. She is a long-term member of a writing group and and for two years helped to edit 'Iron' magazine. She works part-time as a librarian.

Third Prize: David Kennedy

Encore, Mr Fox!

monsoon oolong spoon...

Reynard lies along the garden wall smoking.

'I thought you were a cat,' I say.

Reynard takes off his i-Pod,

sits up, arranges his brush:

'Sorry, would you like one?'

And he takes out an egg-shaped case and opens it.

It's full of feathers and chicken skin

twisted into the shape of cheroots.

He reads my mind: 'Not as gross as they look.

Once you get the taste, no going back.'

And he flicks away the butt and fits a fresh one

into a chicken's beak holder.

And he parts his fur and shows me his tattoos.

Each one's an episode of cunning starring him.

He says, 'I really must get round to writing my life story.'

He says, 'I've had the title for years:

With One Bound Our Hero Broke Free.'

And he takes down his red guitar,

wattle axe, rufous banjo, and he starts to sing:

'Do You Remember Love?' and 'Even this City

Reminds Me of Another City

Under The Moon.' He has me singing along.

Then he gets up and turns up the night

like an astrakhan collar and there's just me;

backs of houses, some lit, others not,

fragments of code; and, on the garden wall,

a jar of white jam full of luminous fruits,

luminous wishbone fruits.

... sound of smoke rings in the night

David Kennedy is a poet, editor and critic. He was born in Leicester in 1959 and educated at the universities of Warwick and Sheffield. His three volumes of poetry have been published by Salt. He lives in Sheffield with his wife, the writer and artist Christine Kennedy, and is currently Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Hull.

The Judges for the National Poetry Competition 2007 were: E A Markham, Michael Schmidt and Penelope Shuttle.

E A Markham has published a novel, a memoir, five collections of short stories and nine volumes of poetry, including 'A Rough Climate', shortlisted for the 2002 T S Eliot prize. His New & Selected Poems will be published by Anvil in the Spring of 2008. He has taught at various universities in the UK and Ireland, and for 14 years he was Professor of Creative Writing at Sheffield Hallam.

Michael Schmidt is currently Professor of Poetry at Glasgow University. He is a founder (1969) and editorial and managing Director of Carcanet Press Limited and a founder (1972) and general editor of 'PN Review'. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, he received and OBE in 2006 for services to poetry. His New and Selected Poems and his collection, 'The Resurrection of the Body', are available from Smith.Doorstop.

Penelope Shuttle was born near London but has lived in Cornwall since 1970. She is the widow of the poet Peter Redgrove (1932-2003). Since her first collection from Oxford University Press, she has published eight collections, including a Selected Poems (1998). Her most recent collection, 'Redgrove's Wife', was shortlisted for the Forward and the T S Eliot Prizes 2006. She is currently working on a memoir of her life with Peter Redgrove.

The National Poetry Competition 2008 opens on 14 April. The judges are Frieda Hughes, Jack Mapanje and Brian Patten. The first prize is £5,000 and the opportunity to read with the judges at the 2009Ledbury Poetry Festival. You can enter online or download an entry form at www.poetrysociety.org.uk from April 14 2008, or send an SAE to: Competition Organiser (IOS), 22 Betterton Street, London WC2H 9BX. The closing date for entries is 31 October 2008.

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