The winner of The Moth Poetry Prize was announced at an event at Poetry Ireland in Dublin last night. The winning poem, ‘A Gun in the House’ by Canadian poet Natalya Anderson was chosen from among thousands of entries from across the globe by the judge Daljit Nagra. ‘A succession of sensually unsettling images drive this nervous, ironic poem forward,’ Nagra said. ‘The girl “cocks her head like a confused coyote”, “Her throat/ burns like gunpowder.” It seems that the person charged with saving her may have been the source of her undoing.’
This isn’t the first time Anderson has been shortlisted for this prestigious prize, run by the international art & literature magazine The Moth. Her poem ‘Dance Therapy’ was chosen by the 2015 judge, Billy Collins, as one of his four finalists.
‘I began writing poetry as an antidote to being told my memories were not real,’ says Anderson. “A Gun in the House” is a manifestation of that practice. I was raised by a single mother, which was not uncommon in the working-class neighbourhood I grew up in. What was different about our situation was that my mother was a priest. While I was proud of what my mother accomplished on her own, and while I still have deep respect for her achievements, my perspective and experiences from that time are marred by loneliness and trauma. When I told the people responsible for looking after me about my most traumatic experiences, I was trained to pretend they never happened. I existed that way for the first 10 years of my life.
‘In that decade I looked for a way to silently express my darkest anxieties. For many years, training as a professional ballet dancer worked well. But when I injured my knee one too many times – eventually beyond repair – this means of artistic expression was no longer an option.
‘As I searched for another lyrical form of catharsis, and as I moved my way through an undergraduate and master’s degree, creative writing and poetry became a natural, almost musical, way to fill some of the void ballet had left in my life. In this capacity, I began to write poems that represented my worst fears. I wrote “A Gun in the House” in one of those moments.
Anderson won the 2014 Bridport Prize and was highly commended at the 2015 Forward Prizes. Her poetry and feature writing have appeared in The Globe and Mail, Poetry London, Prac Crit and other fine publications. She is the founder and curator of The Poetry Extension, which aims to forge cross-Atlantic relationships between poets and dancers.
‘Many of us who write poetry for “a living” do so as a way to navigate childhood trauma or anxiety, and this rarely stems from a foundation of financial strength. Like most of my poet colleagues, I have mostly known financial struggle and distress – a spectrum of debt that this award will just barely allow me and my family to emerge from. I consider this prize to be a huge privilege, and a great gift, when I think of how it will help me, my husband and our young son. I will never take this for granted.
‘I would encourage any writer who is considering entering The Moth Poetry Prize to summon the strength to go for it. No matter the outcome, getting those deeply personal words out of the mind and into the universe is a courageous act, and just knowing that someone will read and acknowledge those words may release you in ways you could never have imagined.’
About Natalya Anderson:
Natalya Anderson is a writer and former ballet dancer from Toronto, Canada. She completed a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, England. Natalya won the 2014 Bridport Prize for her poem ‘Clear Recent History’ and the same poem was highly commended at the 2015 Forward Prizes. This is the second time Natalya has been shortlisted for The Moth Poetry Prize (Billy Collins shortlisted a poem of hers in 2015). Her poetry and feature writing has appeared in Poetry London, Prac Crit, The Globe and Mail in Canada, and other fine publications. She is the founder and curator of The Poetry Extension and is married to a very tall Irish man and they have a six-year-old son.
The Winning Poem:
A Gun in the House
Our daughter’s nose won’t stop bleeding, Father.
Come in. Welcome. Sit at the head of our table.
Would you do us the honour of blessing this
meal, Father? Upstairs, in the highest chamber
she won’t eat. Her nostrils are raw,
crusted. Bread, Father, break it
with us. She tells us she’s too hot, says
it’s as though she is trapped
inside her own mouth. Her throat burns
like gunpowder. Help yourself
to beef, potatoes, veg, Father.
At night she gnarls into floorboards, her fingers
rooting for something she calls cool peace.
We hear her hissing. She says her moons are heavy.
Please enjoy an extra helping, Father. Around her waist,
she digs her nails until the wounds scab, complains
she cannot remove the scent of gawking. Custard
now, Father. Cake. Repossess her,
Father, protect us. We are terrorized
by her fear. Her hips are creaking, she whimpers,
cocks her head like a confused coyote.
The backs of her legs are splintered. Cream,
Father, please take more. Our daughter’s blood
is everywhere, her refusal to pray
a metallic pox on our family. Before dawn she fires
off her walls, feet, fists blasting up a chalky outline.
Bring your cognac, Father, go up to her, you
remember where we keep her locked.
(c) Natalya Anderson