Forward/emagazine Creative Critics 2020 – Results

Judges' comments

Barbara Bleiman and Lucy Webster, emagazine editors

We had a bumper crop of entries this year, of an exceptionally high standard. Students were inspired by a wide range of poems and wrote with commitment, energy and a high degree of skill. For many, this seemed like part of their longer journey in discovering a poetic voice rather than a one-off and we were extremely impressed by the crafting, confidence and power of their writing. They seemed as if they had something important to say. The commentaries, once again, showed how writing a poem of your own can take you further into the original text. It is a strong argument for this kind of work in English A Level classrooms.

We shortlisted 12 entries, which we sent to Julia Copus to make a final decision on the winner and runners-up.

Julia Copus' comments

There was something to discover in each one of these brilliant shortlisted entries. I was deeply impressed not only by the ingenuity and range of the poems but by the erudition of the accompanying commentaries. In the best entries, the commentaries shed light on both the model poems and the newly minted responses. But in the end, a poem must also stand on its own feet. Each of the top three poems does just that, and each has its own distinct note. These are poems in which thought process, imagery and rhythm are sustained right the way to the end; poems which – importantly – end as strongly as they began. I’d like to pass on my congratulations to the authors of the shortlisted and commended poems, but also to everyone who entered. The overall standard was extremely high and the maturity and sophistication of this shortlist suggests that our poetic future is in safe hands.

The poems

In this competition students are asked to respond creatively and critically to a poem taken from one of the books shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Collection of the Forward Prize for Best First Collection.

This year's selection of 10 poems are available to download here.


Joyce Chen (Westminster School) for ‘Cuttlefishing off the coast of Hong Kong’ in response to 'Holy Man' by Will Harris

Julia Copus comments:

In this magical poem (inspired by a single stanza in Will Harris’s ‘Holy Man’), the speaker remembers herself back to a childhood memory of night fishing and depicts, with great clarity and poise, the disconnect she feels from the adult world even as she blends – ‘small and forgotten’ – with her surroundings. The experience is recreated with a cinematic sensibility: ‘The boat washed dimply yellow, the shade / of my bedroom in those years of nightlights and spinning dreams’; elsewhere, a teapot lid on a tablecloth floats ‘belly-up like an apology / or a dead thing’. But the poem’s metaphorical significance is only revealed as it moves towards its close and the colour black provides a link to a present-day Hong Kong suffused with political unrest and – as the illuminating commentary puts it – ‘a sense of the confusion and guilt that often accompanies dual identity’.

Download ‘Cuttlefishing off the coast of Hong Kong’

The runners-up

Ariba Saeed (London Academy of Excellence) for ‘Hide and Seek’ in response to 'Rookie' by Caroline Bird

Julia Copus comments:

There is an enormous energy and a powerful imagination at work in Ariba Saeed’s poem 'Hide and Seek', written in response to Caroline Bird’s ‘Rookie’. Using a skilful interweaving of well-known nursery rhymes and fairy tales, the poem maintains a strict rhyme scheme throughout its 28 lines while it builds a moving and compelling narrative of victimisation and escape, making clever use of the LGBT+ ‘in the closet’ metaphor.

Download 'Hide and Seek'

Katie Kirkpatrick (Hills Road Sixth Form College, Cambridge) for ‘things i am freezing to come back to later’ in response to 'The Larder' by Vicki Feaver

I love the gentle and sustained note of nostalgia in this poem (based on Vicki Feaver’s ‘The Larder’) about experiences so deeply treasured that the writer is storing them up to return to at a later date. The final line contains the surprising revelation that one of the items they will be ‘freezing’ for later is the poem itself – a decision that appears to be reached just as the final full stop is inked into place.

Download ‘things i am freezing to come back to later’


  • ‘Kid’ by Luke Tinworth (Little Heath School, Tilehurst)
  • ‘A Second Evening’ by Iqra Naseem (Lordswood Girls’ School and Sixth Form Centre, Birmingham)’
  • ‘pass time’ by Thariny Suresh (Royal Latin School, Buckingham)
  • ‘Vilnius’ by Yael Katz (Haberdashers’ Aske School for Girls, Elstree)


  • 'Child' by Erin Violett-Camp (Newton Abbot College)              
  • 'You Are Mistaken' by Nia Mercurius-Johnson (Royal Masonic School for Girls)     
  • 'Pakistani Praises' by Ibrahim Usmani (Repton School, Dubai)                               
  • 'Hawker Centre' by Maria Ma (Queen Ethelburga’s Collegiate)   
  • 'Close (several short poems)' by Hala Almodares (Lycée Internationale Jeanne d’Arc)