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Ekphrastic Competition with Rare Swan Press

As a co-judge of an Ekphrastic competition (the image above as a starting point), what I wasn’t suspecting was the sheer quality of entries. And that’s not just the shortlisted entries. All the poetry I read that had been written in response to the image was unique, beautiful and amazing.

You can read the shortlisted entries on the Rare Swan website as well as the finalists (poets Louise Mather and Roger Hare) and the winner, the utterly amazing Ankh Spice.

What I was looking for in the poems

I was looking for transformations. What excites me about ekphrastic poems is how they can take an existing narrative and change it, as opposed to describing it. I love how images and words can dialogue, and that’s even more exciting when it’s with poets across the world; a kind of heightened intersection of stories that are full of possible, full of the not-yet-discovered.

What I loved about each poem on the shortlist

What I loved about the winning entry, Largatil (Ankh Spice) was how it presented a moving, entirely different perspective, an eco-poem, in its way, a powerful poem of sadness, of the hurting-ness and innocence of love, a storytelling of witness, of questioning, of destruction. Of, for me, the ultimate power of ‘difference’, of being ‘other’ and of having that uniquely critical perspective. The picture may have been the starting point for the poem, but the poem is stand-out, stand-alone.

Louise’s poem was so different – an enchanting sliver of a poetry song; spellbinding, lyrical and almost-plaintive. It took the image in a different direction, transforming the different aspects of the picture and bringing them different meanings, which I enjoyed very much.

Roger’s poem was impressively and beautifully coherent. Quite how he managed to craft so complete a story in such a short time is incredible, itself, particularly given how the poem works as a perfect dialogue with the image (but again, taking it in a different direction, bringing a different narrative to the picture).

And on a word level, all three pieces had stunning imagery and word-level phrasing, as did the shortlisted entries, from Z.R Ghani, whose poem was filled with scents and magical landscapes, and Gaynor Kane’s fantastical, magical realist world full of equal parts of wonder and dread.

Thank you

Thank you to everyone who entered. It was an honour to read your work and I can’t thank you enough. I look forward to future Ekphrastic competitions by Rare Swan, too and huge thanks to them, and to their managing editor, Marcelle Newbold, who definitely deserves pre-Christmas kudos for her amazing organisational spreadsheet of wonders!


I’ve loved sending out small real artifacts so much that I’ve decided to keep on making five or so physical objects each month from visual poems; experiments in making curious small tangible things. I want to experiment with cut-outs and dioramas in January & postcards later on (see image). Please subscribe to my occasional newsletter if you’re interested in receiving one of these experimental giveaways.

Filed under: Collaboration, Poetry, Writing

About the Author

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Bio: Sarah-Jane's work is inspired by fairytales, nature, psychogeography and surrealism. She uses bricolage to explore the space between real and imagined; creating alternative narratives as small acts of resistance. Sarah-Jane's work can be seen in various journals, including Waxwing Literary Journal, Petrichor, Sugar House Review (Sugar Suites), Thrush Journal and Iron Horse Literary Review. You can find her on Twitter @Sarahjfc or on her website at

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