Results of the 2013 Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize

I am delighted to be able to announce the results of the inaugural Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize. Thank you to all those who entered and supported our very first competition – I’ve appreciated every single entry and am pretty impressed by the amount of fantastic writers there are out there. And I already can’t wait for the 2014 prize to begin!

Please note: first publication of the winning poem and an extract of the winning prose piece will be in the summer issue of the fantastic magazine Juno (out June 2014). We also aim to publish an anthology of the winning and commended poems and prose pieces this autumn. Please look out for it!

Poetry Category (adult)

The judge’s report is at the end of the results.


Left to right like the A-train – Helen Goldsmith


Accident – Jan Dean

Blue Bonsai – Sarah James

Caleb Hollow’s Room – Cathy Bryant

Road Trip: Kennack Sands, 1950s – Abigail Wyatt

Troubled Mother – Kimberly Jamison

Babushkas – Julia Prescott

Intergalactic Love – Alison Parkes

The Ballet Lesson – Alison Parkes

Cutting Strings – Sharon Larkin

Lucky Lucy, Lucky Last – Rachel McGladdery

Making Tea for One – Susan Cooper

Dyad (We slowly learn the dance) – Alison Bond McNally

This Work – Stephanie Arsoska

Poetry Category (Children)


My family – Jordan Clarke (aged 13)


Breastfeeding – Lanora Clarke (aged 3)

Prose Category

The judge’s report is at the end of the results.


Going Back or Dusky Bluebells – Barbara Higham


And She Sucks – Lindsey Watkins

The Mothering Ocean – Anna Burbidge

Mother Tells Me a Meaningful Story – Cathy Bryant

When you are tired, I carry you – Helen Goldsmith

Intimacy – Helen Lloyd

Milestones – Clare Cooper

Night Flower – Alison Jones

Mother of five – Dawn Clarke

Angela Topping poetry report

This competition was a real pleasure to judge: so many good poems were submitted. I spent a few afternoons by the fire reading the entries, and sorting them into piles, attaching sticky notes and re-reading. It took me a while to reach my verdict but in the end after much reading aloud and leaving things for a few days to see what stayed with me, I went for one which had jumped out at me in the first instance. ‘Left to right like the A-train’ has excellent imagery, wonderful rocking rhythm and a beautiful structure. Its warm tone and universal appeal really struck me. It is a very worthy winner.

I was thankful that Teika had asked me to select the best runners up for a pamphlet, because there were so many other striking pieces covering different aspects of parenthood. ‘Cutting Strings’ is an original take on the sorrow felt when a child leaves home, using the symbolism of destroying an old sofa. ‘Accident’ is a tight thin poem which expresses the shock of a dreadful accident happening to one’s grown up child. The lexical choices are startling and the mother’s ache of the memory of him as a baby, ‘sleeping like a Y’. ‘Caleb Hollow’s Room’ is a spare poem written in the uncaring tone of officials stating that the dead child’s room should be dismantled. It’s a heartbreaking and understated take on the cruelty of The Bedroom Tax.

‘Intergalactic Love’ I liked for its unusual approach to the theme, reaching across the stars for any other mothers who might be doing the same peaceful moonlit breastfeeding as the speaker. The tender tone is achieved by soft words and open vowel sounds. ‘The Ballet Lesson’, too, catches a moment between mother and child and the desire to remember it. The description of the child is touching without being sentimental: ‘the wavy parting of her hair/ the wispy plaits’. ‘Blue Bonsai’ is mysterious and a rich approach to expressing a child’s wonder. Again, the language is spare and restrained, leaving space for the reader to pick up on the visual clues.

‘Road Trip: Kennack Sands, Late 1950s’ is a breathless and wonderful rush of memory with great sense of detail and fun, a feast for the senses and gorgeous language. I thought the imagery of ‘Babushkas’ very apt for the subject of passing parenthood down the generations. ‘Dyad (We slowly learn the dance that soothes all woes)’ is a strong, compact poem, a beautifully turned formal sonnet which celebrates the beauty of breastfeeding with soothing rhymes and gentle iambics. ‘Making Tea for One’ is another formal poem in which the rhyme works very well and seems natural. It’s a sad topic which rang true for me, of a daughter wishing her mother could be there still to drink tea with her as they used to do.

‘Lucky Lucy, Lucky Last’ also struck a chord, as I was the last child in my family too. It was the descriptions of the child that tipped this poem into a commended, and the lovely sensory words like ‘dandle’ and ‘toddle’ and ‘dowel’. The speaker worries about the challenges the child will face after this phase is left behind, and ‘Troubled Mother’ addresses that anxiety beautifully. The rhyme words act as a comfort as the speaker tells the mother not to worry, pointing out all the good things about the son, and the wisdom of allowing him to make his own mistakes, trusting in the upbringing he has had.

And finally, ‘This Work’ encompasses the whole of parenthood. I liked its structure with the repeated opening to each stanza and the progression from the negative aspects to the positive. It is fantastic to know what a fruitful subject parenthood can be and also to read so many beautiful poems which include breastfeeding and all its joys.

The children’s winner is ‘My Family’ for its sense of fun and the way each family member is characterised. I like the way parts of it rhyme but the poet has not forced a pattern on the poem as a whole, but just let them occur where they fall. ‘Breastfeeding’ was a commended because it was good to see a young child enter and with such a concise celebration of breastfeeding.

Susan Last prose report

Winner – Going Back or Dusky Bluebells

I’ve chosen this for several reasons – one of which, I confess, is a ‘Going Back’ moment of my own. My parents had a copy of Iona and Peter Opie’s Lore and Language of Schoolchildren on their bookshelves when I was a child, and once I discovered it I devoured it greedily, dipping in and out of the rhymes and songs and comparing them with our own playground ditties. This piece brought back those days, sat cross-legged in front of the bookshelf in our spare room, and made me smile at that recollection. I enjoyed the way this piece reminded me of the brief, joyful and magical moments that come and go throughout our lives, and the importance of being ‘in the moment’ to appreciate them. I’ve resolved not to rush my own children out of the bath too quickly so that they can enjoy the delights of sliding up and down very fast! I thought the piece was well-structured too, with easy movement between the author’s personal experience and the more factual information, and the well-drawn images of childhood (skipping, bathtime, bedtime reading) perfectly illustrated what the author means when she describes our awareness of our own past childhood as our children grow.

Commendeds – in no particular order

And She Sucks: I loved this breastfeeding story – there were so many telling details in it that spoke to me about what a unique relationship it is. The ‘spidery little hand exploring’ made me smile in recognition, and the image of the mother breastfeeding while out on a hike when her partner was carrying the baby made me chuckle out loud! The rhythm of this piece was very well-crafted and the repetition of the core phrase never became clunky.

The Mothering Ocean: I enjoyed the image at the heart of this piece, of mothering as like ocean tide rolling in and out and bringing gradual change; I’ve personally been very aware of this as my small children have grown up and I now no longer have a baby in the house. I thought that this was an interesting lens to examine parenting through and that the piece was very successful.

Mother Tells Me a Meaningful Story: This piece was special because it was a parenting piece written by a non-parent, which reminded me that of course we all have our own experiences of parenting whether we have children of our own or not. The way in which the author describes her evolving relationship with her downtrodden mother is very touching.

When you are tired, I carry you: This brought a tear to my eye because it brought back such clear memories of carrying my first child around in the sling – I carried all my children and this author captured all that I felt about it in a really beautiful way. I found the descriptions evocative, and the emotion very genuine and tender. Lovely!

Intimacy: This piece is a beautiful depiction of the incredible closeness that exists between a mother and her child; the author manages to put into words a feeling that many of us have, but few can articulate so clearly. I loved the vocabulary and imagery of this piece too and the bittersweet feeling that such an intense intimacy can only ever be a passing phase as the child grows.

Milestones: I liked the idea at the centre of this piece, of examining the milestones of parenthood alongside those of the growing child – it expands on the idea that when a child is born, so is a mother – which is a concept that I personally have found important in my own parenting journey. I enjoyed being invited to reflect on how motherhood has changed me, and reading the author’s own experience.

Night Flower: This piece was absorbing and richly evocative; the author has tapped in to the magic of birth and used all the tools of our language to describe that most intense of moments in a really original piece of writing. (It was such a poetic piece I half-wondered if it ought to be in the poetry category!)

Mother of Five: I thought the central image at the heart of this piece was a very strong one that worked extremely well as a way of describing the incredible depths of feeling motherhood brings; it was touching and heartfelt and makes a strong point about the different, yet very real, emotional bonds we have with all our children.