Prizewinners of Poetry Competition Announced

Friday 5 December 2014

Writing a good poem can be difficult, and doing it in a second language more so. Yet more than 180 people, including school students, rose to that challenge from the Institute of Modern Languages Research, the British Museum and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).

Competitors showed real imagination and creativity, producing poems based on all sorts of objects including clocks, bank notes, sculptures and a handcart. Inspiration for Nicola Jacques (Watford Grammar School for Girls) came from a model of Friedrichstrasse station, a training device used by the Stasi, the East German secret police, to track potential attempts at escape. Her poem Der Bahnhof (the station), written in German, expresses her dismay at the seemingly innocent object that was used to such a harrowing purpose, and won the student one of the first prizes in the secondary school category.

Contestants were allowed to use no more than 250 words, in German or English, and poems had to be based on one of the objects in the Museum of London’s ‘Germany – Memories of Nation’ exhibition. The poetic form is known as a Dinggedicht, a poetry of objects.

The competition had two aims: to encourage the writing and reading of poetry and to celebrate language learning in secondary and higher education. Supported by the German Embassy and the Goethe Institute, it was divided into three categories: secondary schools, undergraduates and ‘others’.

Entries came from across the UK, and were more than double the number usually received for DAAD writing competitions. Some 90 poems were from secondary schools: 44 in English, 35 in German and 11 a mix of both languages - which impressed the judges. Made up of poets, writers and academics, they said the quality and maturity of the writing were superb with many poems succeeding in bringing the exhibits to life through clever use of metre, tone, rhyme and language.

‘It was interesting how the same objects come up again and again', said Karen Leeder, Professor of modern German Literature at Oxford University and a prizewinning translator of modern German poetry. ‘The best poems managed to say something about the thing itself and reflections on broader themes were channelled through a precise observation of the object under scrutiny.'

Winners and runners-up from each category will receive prizes ranging from scholarships for a summer language course in Germany to a guided tour through the exhibition on the German artist Kurt Schwitters (Merzbarn Wall) at the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle. All the winning entries will be read at a celebration at the British Museum on 12 December 2014.

’Running this competition has been hugely rewarding, because of the sheer quality of the poems we received and the intensity of the writers’ engagement with German culture, history and language', said Dr Godela Weiss-Sussex, Senior Lecturer in German Literature at the IMLR. ‘The number and quality of entries in German, sent in by people of all ages and from all walks of life, exceeded all our expectations – a sure sign that the engagement, especially among learners at schools and university level, is alive and well.’

Prize winners
English-language poems:
First prize: Ruby Mason (University College London)
Poem title: Trümmerfrau (on a mosaic sculpture of a ‘rubble woman’)

German-language poems:
First prize: Rebecca Williamson (Durham University)
Poem title: Der Schweigende (on Ernst Barlach’s hanging sculpture of a hovering angel)

Second prize: Tom Pitt-Brooke (University College London)
Poem title: Notgeld (on bank notes printed in the inflationary years of the 1920s)

Secondary Schools
English-language poems:
First prize: Alanna Gilmartin (Oundle School)
Poem title: Never Alone (on Der Mittag, a painting by Caspar David Friedrich)

German-language poems:
First prize: Nicola Jacques (Watford Grammar School for Girls)
Poem title: Der Bahnhof (on a model of Friedrichstrasse station, a training device used by the East German secret police)

Second prize: Nicole Boyd (Woldingham School for Girls)
Poem title: 12 Stunden in Deutschland (on a clock made by German clockmakers in Strasbourg)

English-language poems:
First Prize: Anne Ryland
Poem title: Rubble Woman (on a mosaic sculpture of a ‘rubble woman’)

German-language poems:
First prize: Gerd Wagner
Poem title: Der Leiterwagen (on a handcart used by German expellees from Poland at the end of the Second World War)

The prize giving and readings will take place in the West Clore Foyer at the British Museum between 18:50 and 19.20 on Friday, 12 December. Following this event, Emeritus Professor Martin Swales (University College London) will give a talk on German literature's fascination with objects from folk tales to 'Dinggedichte' and Berlin novelist Annett Gröschner will read a new 'Dingtext' from her current work in progress.


Venue: The British Museum, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG
British Museum 'Germany: Memories of a Nation' website