Those were the words of poet Peter McDonald, one of the judges of the 2015 Christopher Tower Poetry Prize, an annual award to encourage aspiring poets aged 16 to 18.
The theme for this year’s competition was “cells”, a subject that inspired the entrants to write about everything from biological cells to prison cells.
Isla Anderson, a 16-year-old pupil at Woldingham School in Surrey, won the £3,000 first prize for a poem called The Forensics of Salt-Licking.
Isla already has a string of poetry awards to her name. She won first prize in the young people’s category of the 2015 Basil Bunting Poetry Award and was one of the top 15 winners in last year’s Foyle Young Poets competition.
Second prize in the 2015 Christopher Tower competition went to Max Thomas, from Hampton School in Middlesex, who won £1,000 for a poem called Fusion.
Lewis Harrington, from Wilson’s School in Wallington, Surrey, was awarded the £500 third prize for a work entitled Firewood.
Jeremiah Ovenden from Torquay Academy, Matt Ward from The Gryphon School in Sherborne, Dorset, and Andrew Wells from Howard of Effingham School in Leatherhead, Surrey, were all shortlisted for the prize, winning £250 each.
The six poets received their awards at a special ceremony held at Christ Church in Oxford earlier this month.
Along with Peter McDonald, this year’s judges were poets Helen Mort (a Christopher Tower Poetry winner herself in 2004) and Ian McMillan.
Speaking at the prize-giving, Ms Mort said: “The winning poems demonstrate the diversity of the entries, in both form and content. For these poets, ‘cells’ didn’t mean confinement, but linguistic possibility.”
The competition, now in its 15th year, has earned a reputation for discovering fresh and exciting poetry talent.
It is funded by part of the £5 million bequest left to Christ Church in Oxford by the late Christopher Tower, who studied at the university. The fund is to be used to, among other things, support the teaching and study of poetry.
Around 10,000 young poets have entered the competition since it was launched in 2001 and previous winners, who include Caroline Bird, Richard O’Brien, Anna Lewis and Annie Katchinska, have all gone on to develop successful writing careers.
This year’s prize attracted 727 entries, from a total of 425 schools. To read the winning poems go to www.towerpoetry.org.uk CAPTION: Celebrating: The six finalists for the 2015 Christopher Tower Poetry Prize including winner Isla Anderson (far left in main photo and also pictured alone)