Durham A-level student wins Oxford University poetry prize

Poetry Award

A Year 13 student from St Leonard’s Catholic School in Durham has won a prestigious poetry competition.

Amy Beverley wrote Dance of the Prisoner in her front room, inspired by lockdown. It was chosen from over 600 entries to win the Oxford University Tower Poetry Competition.

Amy, who is studying English Literature, History and Geography A Levels, accepted her award at a virtual prizegiving ceremony, broadcast from Christ Church College’s Great Hall (made famous by the Harry Potter films), when Amy and the other six finalists read their poems. Amy also won £3000.

Amy, 17, who enjoys writing in her spare time, says: “I was thrilled to win this award. Ever since my childhood I’ve found solace in writing and have so many incredible experiences and successes as a result of my love for creative writing. In 2020, I was fortunate enough to have my poem The Cold Within Him published in an anthology by the Young Writers’ Competition. Since then, my confidence has blossomed.”

Head of English at St Leonard’s, Mrs Grehan-Bradley, says: “This is a great achievement for Amy and we are delighted that her hard work and talent has been recognised. Amy is a fantastic student with a real passion for English in its many forms, and is hoping to read English at Edinburgh University. We are so proud of her.”

What the judges said:

“… so arresting, with a stunning mastery in the use of the sonnet form… a striking dynamic was established between speaker and object in the turn of every precisely crafted line…’ Elise Paschen – American poet 

“…a touching chronicle and chart of our time and for our moment. You had the opportunity to crystallise this and you took it. Poetry is vital. Never stop writing!’ Kwame Dawes – Ghanaian poet 

“You have a great gift; a great gift of creating and interrogating a perspective…I feel the better for having read your poem.” Professor of British and Irish poetry at Oxford University, Peter McDonald.  

Amy’s sonnet:

Dance of the Prisoner

Suspended in a slight bubble of glass,

Porcelain arms contorted unbearably,

I dream of being able to surpass

The imposition of that wretched key.

It turns. I dance. It turns. I dance. It turns—

This sentence in a spot I don’t belong

sparked an insatiable fire which burns

Through freezing water. Electrified song.

I imagine words, and with no great haste

Sing to the tune: o, o, o, to be free

No cure for a ballerina encased.

No respite from the merciless brass key.

Forever plagued by the oppressive sound

Spinning around and around and around.


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