News from some of our St Cross Poets

News from some of our poets on National Poetry Day
Kate Venables (Emeritus Fellow, 2015 competition organiser and anthology editor)

St Cross was 50 in 2015 and, as part of the celebrations, the College ran an international poetry competition with ‘four corners’ as the theme. Over 250 poems were entered by 140 poets from all over the world. We selected the best thirty poems for publication and 'Four Corners', the resulting anthology, can be purchased from the College's Alumni Office for £5, or online here.

Our poets, and their poems, are an impressive bunch and this article shares news about seven of them. I talked to our lead judge, Mimi Khalvati, recently and she commented again on how good the poems in the anthology are – the match of any international competition prizewinners.

Di Slaney – the overall winner – is a publisher and smallholder. Two of her prose poems, each rooted in the topography of Nottinghamshire, are included in the anthology. She runs the livestock sanctuary Manor Farm Charitable Trust which cares for over 170 rescued and rehomed animals. She owns Candlestick Press which prints the poetry pamphlets which are familiar features next to bookshop tills and which many of us have sent to friends instead of cards. Her poems have been widely anthologised and published as well as being shortlisted for the Plough Prize and the Bridport Prize, and commended in the McLellan Prize. As well as the St Cross competition, she was highly commended in the 2016 Forward Prizes. Her poetry pamphlet Dad’s Slideshow was published in 2015 and her first full-length poetry collection, Reward for Winter, in 2016.


Dr Thomas Paul Burgess was the winner of our St Cross prize for his sonnet Coming up to Oxford. At Oxford, he wrote a Master’s dissertation in the Department of Education about the moral and ethical ramifications of a religiously segregated schooling system in Northern Ireland. He is an academic in the School of Applied Social Studies at University College Cork, and is also a songwriter and novelist. The Contested Identities of Ulster Catholics (Palgrave Macmillan) was published in 2015 and his second novel Through Hollow Lands (Urbane Press) is out in July 2018. His band, Sacred Heart of Bontempi, released a single, Shane MacGowan’s Smile, in January 2018. He also contributed to the College's magazine, Crossword, in 2015.


Another Oxford alumnus who appears in the anthology is Theophilus Kwek, whose poem The Weaver is also about coming up to Oxford, as well as about his memories of home in Singapore. Theo was the President of the Oxford Poetry Society when he was a Merton undergraduate at the time of the College's 50th anniversary. A prodigiously active poet, he has won many prizes and has published four poetry collections. Currently, he co-edits Oxford Poetry; and he won The Interpreter’s House Poetry Prize in 2018.

Nancy Campbell is an Oxford local with a yen for places much further north and with a series of residencies behind her in Arctic research stations, reflected in her polar poem in the anthology, The Debate. She is currently working with the Canal & River Trust and The Poetry Society as the UK’s Canal Laureate. Her first poetry collection Disko Bay came out in the same year as the Four Corners competition and was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection 2016 and for the Michael Murphy Memorial Prize in 2017. Her memoir of the north, The Library of Ice, will be published in 2018 (Simon & Schuster).


Alexandra Strnad is another of the Oxford alumni collected in the anthology, with two of her poems: Waiting in Lodi Gardens, and The Camel. She did the Oxford MSt in Creative Writing and is currently poet-in-residence at Carfax Education. Her poetry has been published in many journals and anthologies and she won the Parallel Universe poetry competition run by the Radcliffe Science Library in 2016. Her debut poetry pamphlet 'H is for Hadeda' appeared in 2017 (Poetry Salzburg).


Denni Turp is a Field Officer for Disability Arts Cymru. Her poem 'Agnes Smedley Teaches Communists to Dance' appealed particularly to the College’s then Master, Sir Mark Jones, and it was selected to be one of the poster poems which St Cross erected on the construction hoardings around the West Wing. Her poems have been widely published and anthologised, including in the first Bread and Roses poetry competition in 2017 and in Bonnie’s Crew, an anthology which raises funds for the Children’s Heart Surgery Fund.


Lesley Saunders’ 'The Four Corners' was also one of the poster poems. She is an educational researcher as well as a highly-regarded poet. In 2016 she won the Stephen Spender prize for literary translation, with a version of a poem by the Portuguese poet Maria Teresa Horta; the collected translations will be published in 2019 (Two Rivers) as Point of Honour. Her chapbook Periplous (Shearsman, 2016) was based on the legendary circumnavigation of the British Isles by the Greek merchant sailor Pytheas; and another, Angels on Horseback, was one of the winners of the 2017 Poetry Business pamphlet competition. Nominy-Dominy (Two Rivers, 2018) is a praise-song for the Latin and Greek literature Lesley grew up with as a schoolgirl.


4 October 2018