We are delighted to share with you the winning poems from the Given Words competition for Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day 2022. New Zealanders of all ages were invited to write a poem including five words chosen by girls at the Our Little Roses orphanage in Honduras. Of the 167 poems received the judging panel made up of Mikaela Nyman, Sophia Wilson and Charles Olsen have selected 35 poems to publish on Given Words alongside the two winners.
Winning poems introduced by Charles Olsen
An ancient warrior, roses as warriors of the night, a wounded warrior, warrior girl, eco-warrior, a yoga pose, a soaring warrior, a different kind of warrior, a warrior beast for God. Warrior’s not the easiest of words to find a place for in a poem—alongside the other four words, thankful, help, different and dream—but many rose to the challenge and we have enjoyed reading them all.
As always, it is a pleasure and privilege to compare notes and read the insights of the other judges, who this year are Mikaela Nyman and Sophia Wilson. It is never an easy task to pick the winners and we encourage you to take the time to read the rest of the poems on Given Words where you will also find our notes on the poems. Before introducing the winners, we are grateful to Read NZ Te Pou Muramura, for letting schools around the country know about the competition, to The Cuba Press for their support and for donating the prizes, and to the National Poetry Day organisers. Each winner will receive books courtesy of The Cuba Press. Congratulations from Given Words, The Cuba Press and Read NZ Te Pou Muramura.
The winner of ‘Best Poem’ is Sarah-Kate Simons for her poem Prognosis.
You dreamed of a different life,
building cities out of boxes
as if you could role-play yourself into
blooming, into blossoming fat-petalled
instead, you learn to be thankful for
small mercies, like the days you can
accomplish the stairs without help
and it feels like conquering Everest.
in your head, you’re a warrior
razing cities, not the tired soldier
doubled over the bathroom sink, wrung
out like old laundry and
plugging their mouth with painkillers
to get some sleep tonight
and in your nightmares you’re confronted by
the ghosts of Spartan mothers with the bloody
of pomegranate seeds
lodged in their teeth,
come back with your shield—
or on it.
Winner of the ‘Best Poem by Under-16s’ is Saphra Peterson, aged 15, for her poem Doubt.
at age 9
I gutted a swan.
You arranged intestines
into smiley faces.
In a practical voice,
you pointed to the crop
guided my trembling hands
(clasped around a rose-pink shard
of Mother’s beloved
and helped me slice.
You picked the rocks
made sure they weighed enough
before filling its carcass.
I removed the crop
thought, for a moment,
how I could use it as a bag—
your hands slithered over my shoulders,
your fingers lukewarm—
we had a job to do.
I opened the box, choked with
crayon-smudged paper and
ceramic cats. There were my dreams
in the shadow of ignorance,
fear of being different
forcing my ambitions
We dropped each crumpled
ball of paper into the crop
and stitched up the swan.
Over the frosty grass
we came to the oily-black
mouth of the well.
I did what you told me to.
With an ever-thankful smile,
we dropped that pristine white carcass
into the water
which shuddered as
'How brave,' you whispered.
'What a warrior.'
I felt like a coward.
About the Poets
Sarah-Kate Simons is a 17 year old poet and writer from rural Canterbury, where she lives with her adorable but troublesome Fox Terrier. She is widely published online, in magazines and in anthologies, such as Toitoi, Write On, Re-Draft, the NZ Poetry Society Anthology, and Poetry NZ Yearbook. She has also placed in several poetry and writing competitions, recently winning the 2021 HG Wells International Short Story Competition. Her other hobbies include ballet, talking to thin air and going ratting along the riverbank with her dog.
Saphra Peterson lives in rural Canterbury but one day aspires to rule the world. She loves reading, writing, creating disturbing artwork, and running from the authorities. She can be found playing violent games of cards or contemplating her own demise. She hates writing biographies, in case you can't tell.