Many thanks to our 2021 judges - William Letford, Sandy NicDhòmhnaill Jones and Robert Alan Jamieson.



William Letford - Wigtown & Alastair Reid Pamphlet Prizes


The thrill of discovering a fantastic poem is a wonderful and powerful sensation. There came a point in the judging process where the poems around me were gathered like friends. In this respect, choosing a winner was difficult but the wider experience of searching and discovering was a pleasure. Thank you to everyone who took the time to perfect their work and send so many poems my way.  


We bring so much of ourselves to the reading of a poem, our short space in history, our emotional geography and our physical geography and every quirk and turn of imagination that makes us the person we happen to be. What we give to a poem becomes just as important as the words on the page or sound in the ear. Absorbing a poem is a subjective unfolding. You should always be the harshest critic and best judge of your work. On a different day, with another person, many other poems could’ve been considered a winner. That said, the choice for first and second place in the Wigtown Prize reached upward to grip me and still, to this moment, have a hold on me.  


In Byne Hill the sweep and scope over the high places of Scotland opened a new horizon. The subject of the poem may be mortality, but the words and the drive urge us forward to continuation. The final lines of the poem have been echoing inside me for weeks. Mermaid Indoors creates its own world and took me somewhere unexpected. The detail and the precision was a reminder of the magic of language. I wanted to climb inside each stanza to spend more time there. And I did. The poem is no longer something I’ve read. It is somewhere I’ve been.  


Jawbreaker, the winner of the Alastair Reid Pamphlet Prize drew me in poem by poem. Revealing its perspective slowly. The language swings between being delicate, dazzling, and dangerous. I was never sure of my footing, often wondering about the eyes I was looking through. The urban landscape being brought to life was simultaneously familiar and fresh. And making the familiar new is no easy task. 



Sandy NicDhòmhnaill Jones - Wigtown Scottish Gaelic Prize


It was a privilege to be invited to judge this year’s entries for Wigtown Scottish Gaelic Poetry Prize: and an absolute pleasure to read and reflect on more than fifty entries.  They were of a consistently high standard, warranting buoyant confidence in the vitality of Gaelic poetry today.  They also offered a rich variety of subjects and styles; and of poetic forms.


With a line-limit of forty lines, some competitors opted for the full allowance, writing anything from a tiny epic to something conceptually more compact.  Others chose as few as a dozen lines; and, of these, some beautifully depicted an event, an insight, or a powerful experience.   It was not a straightforward task to do justice to such variety in one competition. 


The six short-listed poems that shone through had an arresting quality to them. Impact without gimmickry; mastery of language and pace; an assured choice of form; and an almost musical coherence of their own. They addressed multiple themes: there was a luminous love-poem; a poignant paean of grief in ‘shape-poetry’; a touching portrait of music’s power to move us; a lovely song of joy for springtime renewal; and reflections on life, love, morality and mortality.    


The runner-up poem, ‘Glanadh’, created a movingly sparse and restrained image of the final loving act of respect for a departed parent or close relative: washing and arranging the body.  It had a mesmeric quality and conjured a vivid image of hallowed intimacy in dead of night.


The winning poem, ‘Dante air an C1144 agus U1207’, is a magisterial inter-literary ‘tour de force’.  This was a multi-layered adventure in the footsteps of Dante’s ‘Divina Commedia’, abandoning hope in its first line, as ‘Inferno’ does in its third Canto.  It then romps for forty lines along Scottish rural single-track roads, liberally dispensing colourful Dante-esque allusions and metaphors, with a light, almost playful touch - even when the poem laments the fate of valley villages drowned to create reservoirs to serve the far-off big bad city.  After a whistle-stop tour of drowning, baptism, despair and tribulation – even taking a brief detour to Eliot’s ‘Wasteland’ – it reaches its last line: with love moving the heavens and stars, just as ‘Paradiso’ also ends in Canto 33.  The whole thing is delivered with glorious ease, in polished rhyme and metre, and with an effervescent deftness.  Bravo – Virgil was surplus to requirements!


Thank you to the Wigtown Poetry Prize team, and all those who submitted such beautiful poetry. Please keep writing!



- Duais Bàrdachd Gàidhlig Bhaile na h-Ùige 2021: Measadh a’ Bhritheimh – Sandaidh NicDhòmhnaill Jones


Bha e na urram dhomhsa cuireadh fhaighinn gus a bhith nam bhritheamh am bliadhna airson Duais Bàrdachd Gàidhlig Bhaile na h-Ùige: agus bha e na fhìor thoileachas na – còrr is leth-cheud - tagraidhean a leughadh agus a’ meòrachadh orra.  Bha iad aig ìre àrd gu cunbhalach, a tha na chùis misneachd làidir mu spionnadh bàrdachd na Gàidhlig an-diugh. Bha iad cuideachd a’ tabhann measgachadh beartach chuspairean, stoidhlichean agus chruthan bàrdachd.


Le cead suas gu dà fhichead loidhnichean a sgrìobhadh, roghnaich cuid nam farpaiseach an cuibhreann slàn; a’ tairgse mion-dhàn-mòr goirid, no bun-bheachd nas teannte. Thagh cuid eile mu dhusan loidhnichean a-mhàin; agus shoirbhich le feadhainn dhibh mion-dhealbh àlainn a thairgse de thachartas, sealladh, no eòlas cumhachdach.  Cha b’ e obair shìmplidh a bh’ ann idir ceartas a thoirt ri leithid chaochladh ann an aon cho-fharpais a-mhàin.  


Bha teist tharraingeach a’ deàrrsadh às na sia dàin air a’ gheàrr-liosta. Buaidh às aonais carain; briathrachas ealanta agus siubhlach; roghainn chinnteach de chruth; agus cha mhòr ceòlmhorachd leotha fhèin. Chuir iad aghaidh air grunn chuspairean: dàn gaoil soillseach; cumha tiamhaidh ann am ‘bàrdachd-cumadh’; dealbh drùidhteach dhen bhuaidh ciùil oirrn; òran aoibhneis àlainn mu ùrachadh an earraich; agus meòrachadh air beatha, gaol, moraltachd agus bàsmhorachd.

Chruthaich an dàn a choisinn an dàrna àite, ‘Glanadh’, dealbh cumhachdadh ach srianta, ann am beagan bhriathran, dhen ghnìomh-spèise mu dheireadh do phàrant no dlùth-dhàimh a chaochlas: a’ nighe agus a’ rèiteachadh a’ chuirp. Ìomhaigh draoidheil is bheòthail dhen bheannachd dlùth-chàirdeis ann am marbh na h-oidhche.


Tha an dàn a bhuannaich, ‘Dante air an C1144 agus U1207’, na mhòr-euchd shònraichte eadar-litreachais. B’ e dàna-thuras ioma-bhreathach a bha seo, ann an ceumannan coise ‘Divina Commedia’ le Dante, a’ trèigsinn dòchas anns a’ chiad loidhne aige, mar a nì ‘Inferno’ san treas Canto. Bidh e an uairsin a’ ruagadh rè dà fhichead loidhnichean air rathaidean aon-shligheach dùthchail na h-Alba, a’ frasadh luaidh is samhla dathach Dhante, le suathadh aotrom, cha mhòr spòrsail – fiù’ s nuair a bhios an dàn a’ caoidh mar a chaidh bailtean beaga nan gleann a bhàthadh, gus lochan-tasgaidh a dhèanamh airson nam bailtean mòra grànnda fad’ air falbh. Às deidh turais tuaineil tro bhàthadh, baisteadh, eu-dòchas agus àmhghar – agus còrr-bhealach goirid chun ‘Wasteland’ le Eliot - ruigidh e an loidhne mu dheireadh aige: an gaol a thionndas nan nèamhan agus nan reultan, dìreach mar a thèid ‘Paradiso’ gu crìoch ann an Canto 33.  A huile càil air a lìbhrigeadh gu furasta glòrmhor, le rannachadh agus meatair snasta, agus le liut balganta. Bravo - cha ruigear a leas cuideachd Virgil!


Mòran taing do sgioba Duais Bàrdachd Bhaile na h-Ùige, agus do gach neach a chuir a-steach bàrdachd cho brèagha. Cùmaibh oirbh a’ sgrìobhadh!



Robert Alan Jamieson - Wigtown Scots Prize


Upo the first readin, I wis taen bi the range o the wark that folk had sent in, a cannie lot o subjecks an a maxter o wyes o makkin poyitrie. The Scots language ranged aboot as weel, different airts o the countrie aft inflectit wi the mark o some partieklir localitie, an fae poems in literary Scots that wid see the benefit o a glossarie, tae a mair naetril spokken tone. It wis a plaesir an a honour tae read them aa, an the proof lies there that Scots is alive an weel.

Eftir the first winnooin, I fun masel wi aroond thertie poyims I thocht wir wirthie, an fae there the task wis a sair wan, seekin t’naerroo doon tae the hidmaist half-dizzen. Readin them owre an owre, mebbie a wee hirple o the rhythm, or a line that didna joost hing thegither, mebbie a English wird that sat oot o place, micht shaw itsel. In some cases anither readin shawed ye somethin braw ye’d missed, an the poyim cam intae focus a bit mair, an why it wis ye’d liked it on the aerlier scan.

The six I settilt upo wis a maxter o the twa, anes that stood oot richt awa, an wan or twa ithers that rewardit ye mair the mair ye read it.  So the final bit, wirkin oot the prizewinners amang the six, wis far fae aesie. But still, this is it:


Runner-up - ‘Thi Loast Bairn’ is a poyim that belies the fack it’s no aa that lang wi the effeck o a wallop i the lug, as it near gaurs ye greet. There’s a wheen o the starkness o a Border Ballad, catcht in a handfu o lines, an it is athoot doot a poyim that bides wi ye lang eftir. The language is spokken, simpler Scots than in monie entries, but perfeck for the hairt-cry it contains.

Winner - 'Peeweep’ haes a dowie tale tae tell, set i the days o the Fife coal mines. The feel o the place comes owre wi a powre i the local names an wirds, an although tragedie is mebbie hintit it’s no owredune as it micht o been - instead the daith o the canary stands stark against the refrain o the peeweeps abune, an that link seems tae echo in the reader’s mind eftir. No a single wird waestit here, sharp an sweet baith, an memorable.