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Julie Anne Gilligan – View from Dystopia

Inspired by the poetry of Wislawa Szymborska (1923-2012)

With practice I can say her name, pronounce it
carefully, like the whisper it is

though probably not as she would,
even on her own island of possibilities,
even where nothing might happen twice.

She had so many ways to use the same odd words,
turned them from meaning to experience

from form to feeling.

First met in essence inside a New York poem,
she leaped from page to understanding.

Photograph from September 11 it was,
stuck within the core of me
all she could do (she said) was to describe this flight,
leave the last line to others,
those who queue at the door of closure.

But her all was just enough

for me to take a different leap,
to dive into the sea of her mind.

I carry in my pockets a loose change of words,
oddities and others that are far from odd.

I shall use them carefully
though probably not as she would
as nothing might be written twice.

‘View from Dystopia’ won second prize in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (April 2021) judged by Mary Anne Smith Sellen.

JULIE ANNE GILLIGAN’s poems have appeared in several anthologies, e-zines, journals and readings. Her debut collection ‘The Thickness of Blood’ was published in 2012. She holds several qualifications, most recently The Open University.MA in Creative Writing (2018). She firmly believes in a positive outlook and a sense of the ridiculous. She is an active member of The Open University Poetry Society and Poets Abroad, a collective of poets mostly from Ireland, UK, USA and Australia. She lives in semi-rural Essex.

Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition April 2021–Report and results


Adjudication Report


clip_image002Judging the April 2021 SLQ Poetry Competition has been both a privilege and a pleasure, so I would like to start by thanking everyone who submitted; I very much enjoyed reading your work. It was intriguing to see what subject matters had inspired the poems: mythology, local history, biography, personal experience, humour, lockdown, loss, place and nature – trees, birds, wildlife and weather. There were more concrete poems than I had expected, and fewer formal. It was obvious that much thought and research had been invested in many of these, and I learned a lot from them. As I correctly anticipated, it proved to be a difficult task to sift down a shortlist of twelve poems from out of several hundred entries – but it had to be done. Ultimately, I chose the poems that struck me the most, by their imaginative use of language, rich imagery, the discipline and skill demonstrated in their crafting and editing (the ‘less is more’ approach), and from how they remained with me – even after just one reading. I hardly need to say that many of the submitted poems ticked all these boxes for me, so please don’t be disheartened if your work hasn’t been placed this time. These are my own individual choices, and another judge may well have chosen differently. A few things to consider, if you are a less experienced writer: I have always found that it helps to read a poem out loud, as this will straightaway flag up any issues with repetition, enjambment, punctuation and flow. Having someone else read your work (on the page and out loud) is also a useful exercise, as is taking work to be critiqued by a writing group. The first time you do this can be quite daunting, but it can also prove to be invaluable – and I speak from personal experience. Most writing groups are friendly and encouraging, and you can learn so much from other writers. So – please keep writing, keep learning – and keep submitting!

First Prize: Snowy Owl

This poem caught my attention from the first reading. Its delicate form perfectly captures the owl’s elusive nature and distinctive appearance, and in its spareness, the bleak landscape of their habitat. From the opening line ‘pale tossed blossoms / coalesced’, with its mythical hints, the succinct choice of language and imagery holds the reader spellbound and breathless throughout, as though sharing the owl’s flight. I was also impressed by how much thought had gone into the layout of the poem, and the highly effective use of spacing.

Second Prize: View from Dystopia

This captivating poem impressed me from the start. I like the way Szymborska’s style has been effortlessly referenced here, as the poet describes their own first meeting with her work. ‘I carry in my pockets a loose change of words’ is a line that particularly resonated with me, after reading the Syzmborska poem that had ‘stuck within the core’ of the poet.

Third Prize: Flattened

A wonderful dialect poem, which describes with ironic humour how a photographer takes detailed photographs of Scottish streets just before they are all swept away. It immediately brought to my mind the paintings of Glasgow streets and their children by the artist Joan Eardley, whose centenary is being celebrated this year with many exhibitions and events. There is great poignancy in the personal detail (‘the wee yin’s dress swung, flitting like she was dancing in it’), and particularly in the closing line where the narrator reflects how they still occupy those streets, albeit only in the never-seen photographs.

Highly commended:

The Hare

Hares are a perennial source of inspiration for writers, but I like the way the poet turns this on its head by delightfully suggesting that they should be allowed to exist ‘beyond the snare of your words’.


An evocative and closely observed tour through the sad ruins of a Welsh cottage, likening it in turn to a wrecked boat, a human body and a graveyard, where nature is gradually reasserting control and only different types of silence remain.

Soch Vichar

A perfectly paced and thought-provoking poem, beginning with a description of fire as something beautiful and useful. In the third stanza the poet then seamlessly turns this to suggest a more disturbing outcome, culminating in an unequivocal warning in the final line.


Frankenstein’s Dog

Written from the point of view of the dog, I was particularly struck by the precise handling of this unsentimental expression of loyalty.

Chatsworth Street

This poem deftly describes a return visit to a former family home, reflecting on the different atmosphere and attitudes – and smells – to be found there now, and why it is that we only ever seem to remember the days of sun or snow from our childhood, never rain.

Sumburgh Head

In this beautifully paced and acutely observed poem, an RSPB webcam at Sumburgh Head in Scotland helps to sustain the housebound narrator throughout the long days of lockdown, as does the familiar voice of the Shipping Forecast during sleepless nights.

Special mentions:

Sundial in glorious pestilence of clover mites coming up through cracks

Intriguingly titled, this wonderful, visual poem vividly evokes memories of time spent in the garden of a former family home, as a series of flickbook images.

The Legacy of Alice Cliff Scatcherd

In the voice of suffragist Alice Cliff Scatcherd, this beautifully worded poem describes her life and legacy as a tireless campaigner for women’s rights.


We return to the garden in this poem, and the perilous task of growing flowering plants from seed in unpredictable weather, A very original take on a perennial problem, adeptly done.


Special mentions

Ted Gooda – Seeds

Becky Cherriman – The Legacy of Alice Cliff Scatcherd

Becky Cherriman – Sundial in glorious pestilence of clover mites coming up through cracks


Ama Bolton – Sumburgh Head

Trevor Breedon – Chatsworth Street

D A Angelo – Frankenstein’s Dog

Highly Commended

Wendy Toole – Soch Vichar

F. Philip Holland – Bwthyn (Cottage)

Maggie Wadey – The Hare

Third Prize

Debbie Love – Flattened

Second Prize

Julie Anne Gilligan – View from Dystopia

First Prize

Marilyn Donovan – Snowy Owl

Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition


No Last Line – poem by Julie Anne Gilligan

Julie Anne Gilligan

No Last Line

‘I can only do two things for them – describe this flight and not add a last line.’

from ‘Photograph from September 11’ by Wislawa Szymborska, translated by Stanislaw Baranczar and Clare Cavanagh


From Times Square we stepped down arrow-straight sidewalks,

tap-tapping our feet to that old Broadway magic, through

Madison Square to Lower Manhattan. Stopped by the sea wall

at Battery Park, saw the Staten Island Ferry slice through

the iced water, cutting wakes spliced to bow-waves

that criss-crossed the channels.


Just visible, through layers of chiffon-scarf mist, Liberty’s torch

still held out her promise: the certainty of freedom and comfort

for all. Ellis Island lay dark and low in the water, first taste

of America for so many long-dead. This, their safe haven

where all would be welcome, away from oppression, starvation

or worse. Their currency was labour, bartered for freedom;

worked hard for themselves and their New World order,

turned into proud citizens, for the generations to come.

They constructed foundations for those who came later,

who built the twin glories of splendour and wealth.


As the last hazy sun slipped below the horizon,

the diamond-bright city turned on its night lights.

The star-spangled sky turned a deep speckled turquoise,

clouds of our breath told the coldness of night.

The bone-biting wind off the sea made us shiver,

so we turned from the water, our thoughts set on warmth.

That district is the hub of museums, memorials:

veterans and mariners; the dead of all wars.

The American Indian, the long Jewish Heritage, strong

pictures of history, of what went before. They stood

like sentinels of pain and experience, unknowingly circling

a conflict to come. Within the next year,

New York would be mourning.

Whatever the future, there can be no last line.



No Last Line by Julie Anne Gilligan was highly commended in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (May 2018) judged by Derek Adams