Friday, 10 July 2020

Poems from the Backroom 117: Sharon Black

I’m currently working on commission from the Wigtown Book Festival for a wee pamphlet about the Wigtown Poetry Competition to go with the prizes this year, a history really, and a reminder of what a boost it’s been for the writers who’ve won or been commended. For a laugh, and since among non-winners there's always been a suspicion that competitions are won by a certain type of work, I thought I’d compose a poem for it with advice how to win. It contains the lines

“Approach the poem like
Ken Buchanan did
Ismsael Laguna
in Puerto Rico in 1970”

Our guest today in the Backroom, Sharon Black, should be writing that poem because behold her list of winners:

1st prizes in the Guernsey International Poetry Competition 2019, 'Poets Meet Politics' Poetry Competition 2019, The London Magazine Poetry Prizes 2019 & 2018, Cheltenham Poetry Festival Competition 2017, Poets & Players Competition 2017, Manchester Cathedral Poetry Competition, The Silver Wyvern Prize 2016 (Poetry on the Lake), Prole Laureate Competition 2016, Shiny New Books Poetry Competition 2015, Ilkley Literature Festival Poetry Competition 2013 and The Frogmore Poetry Prize 2011. Runner-up in the Robert Graves Poetry Prize 2019, Myslexia Poetry Competition 2017, Troubadour International Poetry Prize 2013, and Wigtown Book Festival Poetry Competition 2011.

Help ma boab. And winning the London Magazine Competition two years running, after all my attempts! In an interview I link to below Sharon says the secret to winning competitions is to enter loads but I can tell you with no further research that the way you win poetry competitions is to enter really good poems like Sharon Black does.

Sharon Black is from Glasgow and lives in a remote valley of the Cévennes mountains. She once spent a year in rural Japan. Her two collections are 'To Know Bedrock' from Pindrop in 2011 and 'The Art of Egg'  published by Two Ravens in 2015. A third is forthcoming in 2020 from TLM Editions (the poetry imprint of the long lived and fantastic London Magazine) and she is currently working on a fourth, about the Cévennes. Since 2016 she has been editor of Pindrop Press, based between Scotland and France.

 Sharon writes from personal experience, and confronts real issues but her work often also has a light 'otherness', short poems that are small revelations of the reality of observation, of being alive.

Here she is reading 'I Never Used my Smartphone Camera', a response to the restrictions of lockdown:

Sharon's Website:

Two poems in 'Peony Moon':

An Interview in Honest Ulsterman:

I Never Used My Smartphone Camera

Two cancelled trips to see my parents.
Now I send them photos, themed:
the family; man-made objects on my daily walk;
the rail line of a disused steam train; trees. I ping
peonies, marigolds and tulips from the garden;
wildflowers from the field.

We’ve had no rain for weeks.

I learn composition, perspective; start
to highlight, filter, saturate; to isolate
a detail on a wrought-iron gate
wedged firm in knee-high grass leading to
a water mill, now someone’s second home.
I hike my skirt, clamber over, photograph

a climbing rose, meandering, unpruned;
the millpond and a tributary hushing
through a sluice; the mossy wheel;
a small stone terrace, half-repaired.
That night, I sort and crop them,
entitle them Things That Used to Rush.


A butterfly’s wings fold and unfold
like pages of a tiny notebook;

wind shuffles through poplar,
cherry and peach.

So small I didn’t feel it on my hand –
a spider

walks a tightrope thread
from my chair

to yours, carrying
my words on its back.

(Reprinted from 'The North')


An opened avocado doesn’t darken 
if you leave the pit in. 

Brown nut baby in your creamy 
green-gold womb, what spell do you summon 

when the fridge-light cuts? 
What seed of mine 

should I keep hold of to stop
 the damage setting in?


  1. "a detail on a wrought-iron gate"- that echoed with me.
    In pre lockdown days my husband and I were parked in a road just off the busy shopping street of Morningside Road in Edinburgh's posh Victorian suburb. We were waiting for my daughter and as were sat there idly chatting my gaze became more concentrated and I started to focus on the architectural details of wrought iron gates and carved stonework of pillars and window mullions. I think I will come back and photograph these I said-but my husband said you can't it's peoples houses. Perhaps I just need to photograph them with my eyes which despite their shortsightedness are a far better camera than a smartphone and use poetry to record it instead. Thanks for the inspiration Sharon. I would love to visit the Cevennes too to walk Robert Louis Stevenson rail

    1. I think you should just go back and photograph them next time you're there. Just smile and explain what you're doing if someone asks: "I'm a poyit". Life's too short, non?

      The Stevenson trail - yes! I'm going to do it one of these days too :-)