Fergal McNally is first Irish winner of Caterpillar Poetry Prize

Roger McGough chooses winning poem for children who ‘sometimes feel out-of-step with the world’

The Zebra with the Leopardskin Pants by Fergal McNally has won this year’s Caterpillar Poetry Prize, the first Irish winner in the prize’s history.

Roger McGough, the “patron saint of poetry” and this year’s judge, said: ‘I knew I was in good hands when I set off on the journey with a zebra who felt like an outsider in his community, through no fault of his own. There was a happy conclusion to the poem that will appeal to any young reader who may sometimes feel out-of-step with the world. Should we need it, there is a Zaggeldy Creek waiting somewhere for all of us.”

Mc Gough admitted entering a poem for the prize himself a number of years ago but got nowhere. “So I am a very sympathetic judge,” he said.

The annual prize of €1,000 is judged blind and awarded to the best unpublished poem written by an adult for children. It is run by The Caterpillar, the international art & literature magazine for children based in Ireland.

McGough, whose latest book, Money-Go-Round, was published in March, said, “A surprising number of entries feature home-schooling and loss of freedom, all laced with optimism and humour perhaps, but still a sad reflection of the times we live in.”

McNally, who is from Co Meath, said: “I spend more of my life than I’d like to reading emails. Recently I opened one from The Caterpillar. Now all I want to do is write something that could make a reader feel half as happy as reading that email made me.”

The poet completed an MA in creative writing in NUI Galway in 2006. “I learned as much about the craft as I was capable of understanding at the time,” he said. “Since then I’ve earned my living as a TEFL teacher, explaining words for cash by day and writing them for love by night.

“I’ve been drifting around for a while, scribbling my stories over cafw tables in Taiwan, Portugal, Poland, Spain and Italy. At the moment I’m mainly working on fairy tales, struggling through the complicated process of trying to keep it simple. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, a nursery rhyme will emerge. I’ve no idea where any of it comes from. It seems to me that if you fill your head with enough books eventually you’ll find a book of your own growing in there among the rest.”

McGough also commended poems by Brian Cooke (Ireland), Jackie Hosking (Australia), Joseph Moorwood (UK), Kate O’Neil (Australia), Coral Rumble (UK), Robert Schechter (USA) and Sarah Ziman (UK).

The winning poem is published in the summer issue of The Caterpillar, available to purchase at thecaterpillarmagazine.com.

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