The winners of the first Merton College Louis MacNeice Prize for Creative Writing have been announced, with graduate student Laura Hankins taking top spot in both poetry and short story categories.
Laura, who is currently studying for a DPhil in Chromosome and Developmental Biology, said she was delighted to have her creative writing recognised by the college, adding:
“I am grateful to both the judging panel and to the organisers of the competition; the experience has been incredibly encouraging for me personally.”
Laura was awarded the prizes for her short story, Bodies of Water, as well as for her poem, Forgetting.
In Bodies of Water, a group of teenagers working at a punt station over the summer find the body of a hare floating in the river. As relationships between the teenagers become more fraught, the hare takes on an increasingly symbolic meaning.
Meanwhile, Laura’s poem, Forgetting, follows a memory card of family holiday photos that is lost to the tide when it is dropped on a beach at Dungeness. Laura explained:
“When I write, I often try to expand upon small memories or experiences. I started writing this poem whilst reflecting on a what might have happened to a camera card that I lost as a teenager, and what those misplaced photographs symbolised to me.”
First-year Classics DPhil student Jordan Maly-Preuss was awarded proxime in the short story category. She said:
“I am particularly excited to have received a prize for Bottle of Rocks, as the story has been waiting for a public outing for 15 years! I first wrote it for a small, informal weekly writing group in 2005, and my writing crew told me all the way back then that I should submit it to competitions. So ever since I was 15, I have had it in mind to do just that.
“I'm thrilled to have had a story I love recognised by the college I'm devoted to. This encouragement will, I hope, catalyse work on a couple of novels I've had in various developmental stages for years.”
The poetry category proxime was second-year Modern Languages graduate student Yvette Siegert, for Self-Portrait as My Sister’s Keeper, the second poem in a series she submitted. Yvette explained the poem's origins and evolution:
“Self-Portrait as My Sister’s Keeper is a poem that I wrote a long time ago, when I was an undergraduate. It won’t let go of me, however, and recently inspired a longer sequence about sisterhood.
“When I wrote this poem, I had just read Jorge Luis Borges for the first time. I was floored by his famous piece Borges y yo (‘Borges and I’), which is about a private narrator who compares himself to a public figure – himself – with whom he shares a name. Reading Borges reminded me of childhood and the fact that I was named after my sister, who did not survive infancy.
“The title of my poem considers the bitterness and envy of Cain’s demand, Am I my brother’s keeper? – in reference to Abel, the favoured brother he has murdered – and re-imagines ‘keeper’ as a role that expresses longing. The speaker reflects on growing up as a haunted namesake. What is it like to live with the absence of a person, to love someone you cannot know, who shares but cannot experience your family’s complex histories of immigration and loss?”
The competition was open to all current students enrolled at Merton College and has been named in honour of a Merton alumnus, Louis MacNeice (1926), a poet and playwright who attended the college during the 1920s. The entries were judged by two of this year’s Visiting Research Fellows in the Creative Arts, the poet Penny Boxall and the writer Kirsty Gunn.