The Michael Marks Awards for Poetry Pamphlets 2017

The Wordsworth Trust and The British Library, with the generous support of the Michael Marks Charitable Trust, is pleased to present The Michael Marks Awards for Poetry Pamphlets, in association with the TLS and Harvard University's Center for Hellenic Studies (CHS), in Washington DC and in Nafplio Greece.

Wordsworth Trust Director Michael McGregor says:

We are delighted to be continuing our relationship with the Michael Marks Awards. Our involvement signifies our ongoing commitment to contemporary poetry.

The Awards are now established among the most significant awards in contemporary poetry. They are designed to raise the profile of poetry pamphlets, recognising the enormous contribution that they make to the poetry world.

Previous winners of the Pamphlet award are Elizabeth Burns, Selima Hill, James McGonigal, Roisin Tierney, David Clarke , Laura Scott, Gill McEvoy and Richard Scott.

Previous winners of the Publishers award are: The Crater Press, Oystercatcher Press, Happenstance Press, Smith/ Doorstop Press, Flarestack Poets, Rack Press, Mariscat Press and The Emma Press.



Michael Marks Awards for Poetry Pamphlets 2017

Poetry Award Winner

I Refuse to Turn into a Hatstand, by Charlotte Wetton. Calder Valley Poetry

Judges’ comments: UK poetry has been immeasurably enriched by the wonderful growth of pamphlet publication and all five shortlisted poets would have been a worthy winner. Each very individual pamphlet contains poems that are resonant, daring, poignant, beautiful and important. In the end, we chose Charlotte Wetton’s I Refuse to Turn into a Hatstand, published by Calder Valley Poetry, a very small very new press which started business two years ago. We chose it for its assured craft, its emotional and imaginative conviction across a really wide range of forms and tones, and for its lovely language - fresh, direct, powerful and elegant, all at once. The poems are poised and brief but each feels like a small miracle. Indelible images of restraint, powerlessness and loss dominate, but it's not all grim: Wetton writes with wit, too. She is particularly adept at observing the refrigerated stillness of office life, the draw of the exotic, and how, even in sex, genuine connection is fraught and far from guaranteed. 


Publishers’ Award Winner

The Poetry Business

Judges’ comments: A significant proportion of the pamphlets submitted to the Awards this year were published by The Poetry Business; as should perhaps be expected of such an established publisher with over 30 years in the game. Yet to have two that breezed onto our shortlist is remarkable - Phoebe Stuckes' moving and punkish debut Gin & Tonic, and Theophilus Kwek's well-wrought and imaginative pamphlet The First Five Storms.

There were many other pamphlets that impressed us - Mark Pajak's Spitting Distance provided arguably the most memorable account of a day's work experience ever enshrined in poetry (a day spent in a battery farm, in which the speaker, aged miserable teenager, is tasked with bagging the dead chickens). Other strong entries were Stephen Knight's fun pamphlet A Swansea Love Song, difficult but totally unforgettable, written in an idiom of the poet's own creation intended to capture the Swansea accent. Christy Ducker's Messenger, the ugliest pamphlet of all time, contained beautiful poems about loss, arising from her time as a poet attached to York's centre for immunology and infection.

The publisher isn't just churning out exciting pamphlets, it's also consolidating its role as a major support network for poets young, old, inexperienced, published and unpublished from all over the country. We're excited by its plans to establish an imprint for children and look forward to seeing how it builds its stellar work to bring poetry to more people online, via energetic blogging, audio downloads, live Q&As and so on.


Illustration Award Winner

Rose Ferraby for The Tender Map by Melanie Challenger. Guillemot Press

Judge’s comments: The Illustration Award looks not just from striking images but for images that seem to have an intrinsic relationship with the poems. Rose Ferraby, winner of this year's prize, is an archaeologist as well as an artist, and this seems to be reflected in many of her images. Her bold semi-abstract drawings arise from and interact with the metaphors in the poems in Melanie Challenger’s The Tender Map in a highly original way.



The Michael Marks Poetry Award recognises an outstanding poetry pamphlet published in the UK between 1st July 2016 and 31st July 2017. The judges will take into account the quality of the pamphlet as well as the poetry. The winning poet will receive a cheque for £5,000.

The poet of the winning pamphlet will also become Harvard University’s Michael Marks Poet in Residence at its summer activities in Greece. The residency will take place in July 2018.


Natacha Bryan  If I Talked Everything My Eyes Saw, Gatehouse Press Lighthouse Pamphlets


Fridays was easy,
ackee, callaloo & salt fish
but it wasn’t Friday
& I was ramping around Bill Turner’s place
the man who claimed he won his wife
in a card game. It wasn’t so much
no-one believed him, more
she wasn’t much of a prize.
in the locals eyes at least -
built like a barrel with two corn yellow teeth
placed at the same distance as her eyes
& a tongue that hung from her jaw
like a bright red waterfall. Timmy Tayo
& Jason said Bill was a boogie-man
because he only had one pin
the other had been taken by a mine
although elders have it that it was some Obeah,
either way Bill joked,
I’m not going back to get it. Then told
how he walked twenty-five miles
with a dead man on his back, and at half way
he removed the man’s clothes, just to lighten the load.
Girl, I’ve seen things
that’d make the Devil turn pink
, he’d say,
before his eyes became egg whites
rolling around in his head.
This time I actually got to see it
usually us children were locked away
like ornaments in the glass cabinet
in the room with plastic covers on the seats,
for guests only.
That night I went to bed afraid,
listening to the rain.
Pins fell from the sky all night.

Natacha Bryan grew up in South London with her Jamaican grandparents. Her work has been published in various magazines including Ambit and Rialto. Her ritual theatre performance Nine Night was featured as part of The Yard’s 2015 experimental theatre festival. In 216 she was selected for The Complete Works, a national development programme for Black and Asian poets. If I talked Everything My Eyes Saw is her first collection of poems and won the 2014 Pighog/Poetry School Pamphlet Competition.

Judges comments: We all found ‘If I Talked Everything My Eyes Saw’ to contain a magical and exhilarating variety of forms, addresses and voice, around mothers, daughters, friends and childhood, hospitals, wounds and healing.


Alyson Hallett  Toots   Mariscat Press

the first time


i saw Toots she was
standing on the second step
of the refectory
five feet two
voice like a pterodactyl
jesus I thought
who’s that
she was fresh from the courts
in Glasgow
breach of the peace
hair short and streaked
she walked like a tree
if trees could walk
I hated her at first sight
she hated me too
which meant it was
only a matter of time

Alyson Hallett’s publications and broadcasts include Chalk (BBC Radio 3), Walking Stumbling Limping Falling (Triarchy Press) On Ridgegrove Hill (Atlantic Press) and Six Days in Iceland (Dropstone Press). She collaborates with sculptors, artists, scientists and musicians. Since 2001 she has curated The Migration Habits of Stones, a project that involves taking stones around the world with a line of poetry carved into them. She lives near Bath and is a Royal Literary Fund advisory fellow.

Judge’s comments: ‘Toots’ is a riotous and very original series of poems, in a brash happy witty very direct voice, around a relationship with a wild Glasgow girl on the island of Iona.


Theophilus Kwek  The First Five Storms  The Poetry Business New Poets List (Smith Doorstop)


From The First Five Storms
i. Abigail

We sat up late one night to watch the sky
knowing where they slept, still, in their fury,

a den of them curled in the red-rimmed ledge
of tomorrow’s weather. As we talked, we kept

our predictions close: how long
before the year’s, and our own winters would align,

or the rest of our days reach in to join fingers
with the season’s slow dusk, and disappear.

What came afterwards, or perhaps who,
surprised us both. It was as if they knew

something we didn’t about earth’s velocity,
the speed of spring, time’s machine. Soon the first

trains arrived at Kings Cross with Berwick’s rain.
it was then we learnt to give them names.

Theophilus Kwek has published three collections of poetry, most recently Giving Ground. He won the Martin Starkie Prize in 2014, the Jane Martin Prize in 2015 and the New Poets’ Prize in 2016. He is a former President of the Oxford University Poetry Society, co-founder of The Kindling, an online poetry journal, and co-editor of Oxford Poetry.

Judges comments: These are beautifully crafted poems: a wonderfully exact music, a confident voice and a thrillingly imaginative response to strange aspects of the world from Fibonacci to the re-introduction of red kites to Britain, weaver bird chicks to Scottish lochs, ghost passengers in Japanese taxis after the tsunami to the Chinese idioms for love.’



Phoebe Stuckes  Gin and Tonic  The Poetry Business New Poets List (Smith Doorstop)


Advice for Girls

Vanilla based perfumes drive men wild,
we have no evidence for this. Sudocrem
is good for spots, cuts, grazes, rashes
and sadness. Always accompany your friend
to the clinic. Boyfriends cannot be trusted
in this matter. Eyebrows are sisters not twins,
let this knowledge free you. Get a hot water bottle
for period pain, buy your own chocolate,
boyfriends cannot be trusted in this matter.
Nail varnish can be used to stop tights laddering,
if your tights ladder you cannot keep wearing them,
no it is not Punk. Get someone to help when dyeing

your hair, blot your lipstick. Don’t borrow mascara
from women you don’t trust. Text me when you get home,
keep your hand on the door in the back of the taxi.
I found his facebook. I’m friends with his sister’s
best friend’s zumba instructor. Dairy makes you fat,

gluten is evil but we don’t know how or why or what it is.
Beyonce, Beyonce, Beyonce.

Phoebe Stuckes is a poet from Somerset. She has been a winner of the Foyle Young Poets Award four times and is a Barbican Young Poet. She was the Ledbury Poetry Festival young poet-in-residence in 2015, and her poetry has been published in The Missing Slate, Rising, The Morning Star and Ambit, among others.

Judges Comments: Savage and wild but beautifully cadenced, these are ‘mad chick’ poems from a brilliantly exhilarating voice: a girl persona in our slippery contemporary world, confident, original and fresh as paint.


Charlotte Wetton, I Refuse to Turn into a Hatstand, Calder Valley Poetry


In Mexico

everything will be different.
We will have a house on the edge of the desert,
a yard of hot dust, a rangy dog on a chain.
Lizards will climb in the walls and one eagle
will turn and slowly turn in the blue expanse.
We will eat till we are full and the meat juice
runs down our chins. I’ll put on a little weight
from fat-fried beans and corn and it’ll suit me
- my hips tilt a little wider. In Mexico,
you will bring me flowers for my hair,
as I pour milk into a yellow bowl.
The heat will harden me. I’ll wear boots
with spurs, an icon of the Virgin,
ride pillion on your motorbike, gamble
with dice, smoke and spit with a hoarse
and grainy vigour. I will smell that note
in your sweat, you will eye the shadows
of my blouse and we will make love
on the stone flags, on the dirt of the yard,
until dusk falls, salt stiffens on cooling skin,
and the cicadas sing and sing until death.


Charlotte Wetton was born in the Midlands and now lives in West Yorkshire. She works as a  regional manager for a health charity. Her spoken word album Body Politic was released in 2012. I Refuse to Turn into a Hatstand is her first pamphlet.

Judges Comments: Charlotte Wetton’s poems are poised, crafted and deeply imaginative, exploring transformation and the boundaries of persona in everyday modern life. 



The Michael Marks Publishers’ Award recognises an outstanding UK publisher of poetry in pamphlet form, based on their publishing programme between 1st July 2016 and 31st July 2017. The judges will take into account the publishers’ philosophy, aims, plans, design ethos and marketing strategy as well as the quality of the poetry. The winning publisher will receive a cheque for £5,000.


Mariscat Press

Judges’ Comments: Mariscat Press turns 35 this year and its aim - to publish poetry it likes and wants to share in attractive, affordable formats – was illustrated with a compelling submission of four pamphlets. The explosive ‘Toots’ by Alyson Hallet strode onto our shortlist and we also loved ‘The Parkinson's Poems’ by Frank Ormsby, an unsentimental and wry account of grappling with the illness. The pamphlet seemed to prove how relevant and useful poetry can be in even the most challenging of situations.


V. Press

Judges’ Comments: The V. Press offering of four remarkably diverse pamphlets included a mix of established and new writers. We fell in love in particular with Alex Reed's pamphlet ‘A Career in Accompaniment’ about looking after his wife - quiet poems, carefully crafted, with enormous emotional heft and dignity. 

The Poetry Business (Smith Doorstop)

Judges’s Comments: The Poetry Business’ submission included some of the most interesting that we read. The publisher's commitment to nurturing new and young poets came through with a particularly strong roster of debuts. We were blown away by the writers brought into prominence by its 2017 New Poets List imprint - Phoebe Stuckes, Theophilus Kwek and Jenny Danes all produced surprising and technically achieved pamphlets. 


Rack Press
Judges’ Comments: Rack Press submitted four attractive pamphlets of a consistently high standard. Every entry felt rigorously edited and the order of the poems had obviously been painstakingly thought through. The publisher is investing commendable energy into poetry festivals whilst hosting numerous public events to bring in new readers, writers and listeners. 

The judges are: Phil Hatfield, Curator of Digital Maps at the British Library, Leaf Arbuthnot, Novelist and regular reviewer for the TLS, and award-winning poet Ruth Padel.



The Michael Marks Illustration Award will recognise outstanding illustration of a poetry pamphlet published between 1st July 2016 and 31st June 2017. The judge will consider illustration in any medium and will be looking for a subtle and sustained relationship between image and text, as well as the overall quality of the images. The winning illustrator will receive a cheque for £500.

The Illustration Award will be judged by Nicholas Penny, Director of the National Gallery, London from 2008 – 2015. Meet the judges here.


The winners, along with the winner of the Illustration Award, will be announced at the Awards Dinner at the British Library on Tuesday 12th December.