Ex-toymaker wins The Moth’s €10,000 Ballymaloe International Poetry Prize

Arterial by Abigail Parry stopped me in my tracks by putting a fresh, daring spin on the theme of the broken heart, says judge Billy Collins

Abigail Parry spent seven years as a toymaker and is a former circus skills coach. She is poet in residence at the National Videogame Arcade. Her poems have been printed onto mirrors and scattered over London from a helicopter, as well as being published in numerous journals and anthologies. Illustration: Within Reach by Jonathan Queen

Abigail Parry spent seven years as a toymaker and is a former circus skills coach. She is poet in residence at the National Videogame Arcade. Her poems have been printed onto mirrors and scattered over London from a helicopter, as well as being published in numerous journals and anthologies. Illustration: Within Reach by Jonathan Queen

 

The fifth annual €10,000 Ballymaloe International Poetry Prize, in association with The Moth, one of the most lucrative in the world for a single poem, was won last night by Abigail Parry at the Irish Writers Centre in Dublin for her poem, Arterial.

The judge, US poet Billy Collins, said: “An actual human heart throbbing along the M4 would seem an ill-advised start to a poem. But what follows is a dazzling bit of shifting between the real and the metaphoric, which lifts the poem to a level of metaphysical play before it descends abruptly into the touchingly real. The reader’s pleasure is keeping his feet under him as the ground rules change.

“Any poetry competition carrying a €10,000 prize for a single poem might be thought to put some extra pressure on the judge. But once I dove into the pile of manuscripts, thoughts of the money were replaced by the poems themselves. Narrowing the longlist of over 100 poems to 25 came easily; really good work rises always to the top. I knew from the opening lines of the four winners that I would come back to them again as the field narrowed. Arterial stopped me in my tracks by putting a fresh, daring spin on the theme of the broken heart by shifting back and forth from the heart as symbol to the heart as an actual pumping organ until in the end, the real broken heart writes this beautiful poem in a car parked near Membury in the rain.”

Parry spent seven years as a toymaker and is a former circus skills coach. She is poet in residence at the National Videogame Arcade. Her poems have been printed onto mirrors and scattered over London from a helicopter, as well as being published in numerous journals and anthologies. She received an Eric Gregory Award in 2010, was a prizewinner in the Poetry London competition and has twice been a finalist in the Manchester Poetry Prize – but this is her first major win, and marks her as a young poet to look out for.

“The abundance of good poems made my work both more enjoyable and more vexing,” Collins said. The other shortlisted poems – Natalya Anderson’s Dance Therapy (“a wonderfully funky, touching love poem”); James Leader’s Phoebe and the Troopship (“a seriocomic display of poetic craft”) and David McLoghlin’s Tom Crean Sings Sean-nós at the Tiller in the Southern Ocean (“its own heroic achievement”) – were each awarded €1,000 and appear alongside Arterial in the spring issue of The Moth.

The prize is sponsored by Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookery School, in association with The Moth.

Arterial

I’m only half-surprised to find the heart
stranded half-way down the M4. This is not,
as you might think, a metaphor. The cats’ eyes
all join up and there it is, red-raw and chugging.

The stereo’s on the blink. So it’s the racy roar
of eighty miles an hour in the dark, and that hot,
nagging tattoo – a doom-drum, counting down.
Three years ago I split the thing in two,

left one half of it in town, lobbed the other
out beyond the London Orbital. Now here it is,
jammed crudely back together, flashing red.
Just like my mother always said – leave one man

for another, and you leave the better part of you.
She knew a thing or two about the heart, its plush
interiors, dim-lit. The heart has four red rooms,
through which the blood is pushed in roughly rhythmic

stops and starts. Think of the poor dull traffic,
nudged from heart, to brain, to gut, and back again.
Once I read that the heart can only travel
at walking pace, so it can't keep up this shuttle,

shuttle, shuttle. These are not helpful thoughts,
said the therapist, behind her wedded fingers.
Also – We cannot treat you for a broken heart.
I went away with sertraline instead – a little oil

for a scrapped Tin Man. I’m counting down the junctions.
All the while, that little tyrant’s in his palanquin,
drunk on his drumroll. You draw a broken heart
with a cartoon fracture line, like the house

built on a fault, walls gone, all rooms exposed.
You can die of a broken heart, something to do
with the vagus nerve, and enough rancid adrenalin.
At eighty miles an hour, I find it hard

not to think of myself as a rope-bag full of blood
thrown forward faster than it was meant to go –
the ventricles, the veins and valves, the arteries,
whose A is a rude mnemonic, and also means

away. Away we go, my tin can and my palanquin,
my unhelpful thoughts, my little scrawl of blood.
Anyway, I pulled off at Membury to write you this
while the wipers beat their soft, half-hearted thud.

Abigail Parry

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