Congratulations to the winners of the 2019 WriteNow poetry competition

By WriteNow | Posted: Monday August 19, 2019

2019 Judge

The judge for the 2019 WriteNow poetry competition was Fiona Farrell. Fiona is one of New Zealand’s most acclaimed and versatile writers. She is an award-winning poet, novelist, short story writer and essayist. In 2007 she was awarded the Prime Minister’s Award for Fiction, and she held the 2011 Robert Burns Fellowship at the University of Otago. Recently she edited the 2018 edition of Best New Zealand Poems.

You can read more about Fiona Farrell on her website here.

Judge’s Report

Thank you to all the young poets who submitted work to this year’s competition! It was a pleasure to read your work.

There were some fine poems here, but the most notable feature was that the Junior entries were so much stronger than the Senior section. I am not sure if this comes down to some very talented young writers at junior level, or to some individual teachers doing a better job of encouraging and developing natural talent. Either way, the poems submitted by the First place-getter in the Junior section were by far the best in the whole competition, whether for the Junior or Senior sections.


  1. They had a clear structure: three birds, three words. A clear basis on which to build the structure of the work. They were shaped well on the page.
  2. They used vivid imagery, deftly drawn.
  3. They used direct, exact language. They avoided generalisation and abstract nouns, in favour of precise detail. They ‘zeroed in’, rather than working in wide focus. (When writing poems, don’t tell me about ‘humanity’. Show me a single child.)
  4. They understood the power of a poem to surprise. One linked death with birds. The other told a story about two people in a relationship. Both poems expected the reader or listener to work at making connections and figuring out their meaning. There is always an element of the puzzle to a poem. It should never be a passive experience, to read or hear a poem.

Congratulations to our winners

Junior competition:

This is an extraordinary poem, and far and away the best of all the poems, Junior and Senior, entered in this year’s competition.

The poet understands the power of metaphor, not just the birds but the landscapes they inhabit, beginning with the tarmac that is replaced suddenly round a corner by ‘everlasting fields’ and the kotuku with its ‘rounded shoulders’. The poem is a tangible realisation of the journey through grief to the moment where in a transcendent and utterly beautiful image, the poet faces ‘directly into the sun’ where bird that is also the father is ‘rising, singing’. The whole work is superbly structured and delivers real emotional weight.

A second poem submitted by the same poet was equally impressive. ‘Think White‘ is superbly crafted. The poet shapes the work around that introductory ‘Think…’ then proceeds to elaborate on three words: ‘candescent’, ‘ailment’ and ‘gleam’. The result is a highly sophisticated work, by a writer blessed with an acute sensitivity to language and an artist’s eye. The three sections are drawn together to form a tantalisingly elusive narrative, through colour and form. This is a young poet to watch.

This poem earns its place in a very strong section with its simple evocation of happiness: skipping along a beach, a candy floss sky. It’s delightful.

  • Third: Book Fish‘ by Jessie Avison, Year 9 Queen’s High School

This poem chooses a surprising and original image for becoming absorbed in a book, and develops it colourfully. The language is fresh: the writer’s mind ‘slithers’. The brain is ‘sandy’. And the whole poem works toward the moment of surfacing from the experience. A fine piece of writing.

Senior competition:

The image of bags like ‘huhu grubs’ on the sand is arresting, and the sense of coming awake in the morning round a cold fire is perfectly timed, with that pause before the final word ‘conscious’. It takes a small moment in someone’s life and uses language and poetic form to make it very special.

It is good to read a poem in the fine tradition of poems that honour individuals we have admired. This poem in memory of a ‘great pilot and a great friend’ is a good example. It is a carefully structured imagining of the pilot’s last moments, in a series of rhyming four line stanzas. The final verse speaks powerfully and directly to the reader.

  • Third: The Survival‘ by Abi Barton, Year 13 Logan Park High School

This poem tells a narrative of survival in just six stanzas. The poem begins with an evocation of the smells of a hospital, then explores the feelings of the poet watching someone they love going through a terrifying ordeal. With the final stanza, the whole poem lifts into celebration, filled with love and admiration.


Junior (years 9-10)

  • First prize: $100
  • Second prize: $70
  • Third prize: $30

Senior (years 11-13)

  • First prize: $150
  • Second prize: $100
  • Third prize: $50

All placegetters also receive book tokens courtesy of the University Book Shop and publication on this website.

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