Ciara O’Connor wins Caterpillar Poetry Prize

Michael Rosen picks Dundalk lecturer’s poem, Hints of an Adventurer for €1,000 award

‘For the legendary Michael Rosen to have read my poem is thrilling. For him to have chosen it is the stuff of dreams,’ says the winner of The Caterpillar Poetry Prize, Ciara O’Connor, for her poem ‘Hints of an Adventurer’.

The prize is for an unpublished poem written for children aged 7‒11. O’Connor came within a hair’s breadth of it last year, when another poem of hers was highly commended.

“The Caterpillar has been hugely important to me. It’s the place I first sent my work to and seeing it appear within its gorgeous pages gave me the confidence to keep writing. I know I’m not the only person to feel like that. It’s bittersweet that this is its first “non-print” year but Rebecca and Will’s legacy lives on in this wonderful poetry prize.’

O’Connor, who lives on the east coast with her husband and two teenage sons, is a lecturer in Dundalk Institute of Technology. She first got into writing 10 years ago, when Ferdia McAnna ran a series of creative writing workshops in DkIT, and for the past number of years she has been attending workshops in the Big Smoke Writing Factory, under the guidance of Claire Hennessy. She is currently working on an upper middle-grade manuscript.


‘This is a portrait with the lilt of a ballad,’ says judge Michael Rosen of her winning poem. ‘Bit by bit, we come to see the “adventurer” expressed with sympathy but also with an element of mystery. The persona watching the “adventurer”’ is intrigued, sympathetic, wondering, and that leads us to do the same, but just as we think it’s going to be resolved, the adventurer slips away ... I wanted to know more!’

Ciara will receive €1,000 and spend a week at Circle of Misse in France, a glorious retreat where creativity takes centre stage – set on the verdant banks of the Thouet River, a tributary of the Loire.

Second prize is awarded to the London-based poet Joshua Seigal for his poem Butterfly Necklace. Seigal has several collections of poetry published by Bloomsbury, and was shortlisted for the Laugh Out Loud Book Award in 2017, an award he subsequently won in 2020. Seigal was also the recipient of the 2022 People’s Book Prize. He has performed all over the world, including at the Dubai Literature Festival and the Edinburgh Book Festival. Seigal has written and performed for BBC Television and is an Official Ambassador for National Poetry Day UK.

‘This is a softly beautiful evocation of a treasured possession, which is given an extra twist with the metaphor of the butterfly flying off,’ says Rosen. ‘It’s restrained and calm in tone, and all the more powerful for that. This is a fine example of what a poem can generate in a small space through looking closely at a single object and the feelings surrounding it. It made me want to think about similar objects in my life.’

Third prize goes to the American poet Elizabeth Brown, for her poem ‘My Voice’. Brown’s poetry, essays and short fiction have appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts, Image Journal and The Daily Beast, among other places. She has taught at the University of Arizona’s Eller School of Business and lives on the outskirts of Tucson, in the Sonoran Desert. She shares her home with her pet parrot, Glory Bird, and the many wild animals that live underneath her long wooden porch, including skunks, squirrels, pack rats, desert tortoises, rattlesnakes and Gila monsters.

‘The power in this poem comes from the surprise of the core metaphor ‒ that a voice is seen as something that can be hidden or taken out,’ says Rosen. ‘This is a strong reminder of how our mind can position itself as if it’s looking at something that is in us or part of us. There’s something very poignant about this “voice” character who may or may not thrive in front of everyone else and we’re left wondering, will it? Won’t it?’

Alongside The Caterpillar Poetry Prize, The Moth runs three annual literary prizes. The Moth Short Story Prize, judged by New York Times bestselling author Ottessa Moshfegh, closes on June 30th, The Moth Nature Writing Prize will be judged later in the autumn by award-winning poet and essayist, Kathleen Jamie, and The Moth Poetry Prize opens again in August. Back issues of The Moth and The Caterpillar magazines are available to purchase on their website.

Martin Doyle

Martin Doyle

Martin Doyle is Books Editor of The Irish Times