Many congratulations to Natalie Perman (English and German, 2018) for winning this year’s prize with her poem “prayer for healing in brother’s bedroom, pesach 5775”, inspired by “To The Nile” by Keats.

Natalie PermanThe prize, named after the actor, writer and director who founded the Society in 1946, is awarded annually to 'an emerging, noteworthy voice within the Oxford poetry community'. There is a cash prize of £300 for the winner, and this year the prize was judged by Professor of Poetry, Alice Oswald. 

This is not the first time Natalie has been recognised for her poetry talent, having previously won the 2020 Mapleton-Bree prize. She is also one of two winners of this year’s New Voices First Pamphlet Award, run by a poetry press of Cheltenham Poetry Festival, meaning her poetry will be published in a pamphlet in the autumn. More information can be found on her webpage here.

Natalie said: “I’m so honoured to have been awarded the Martin Starkie Prize, especially as so many poets I admire, such as Theophilius Kwek and Mukahang Limbu, have been recognised by the prize in recent years. In a year of fear and uncertainty this poem circles illness, prayer and the way we mythologise lived experience. I wanted interweave Keat’s poem “To The Nile” with the Passover story. It was my first time writing a poem sparked by something by Keats and I loved exploring the complex imagery of the Odes. I am so thrilled to have been read and judged by Alice Oswald, whose lectures as Professor of Poetry I have found fascinating”.

prayer for healing in brother’s bedroom, pesach 5775
After ‘To The Nile’ by Keats

Daughter of sandals arms and snakes of wood
Please strike blood into my brother firstborn
Let him grow into the heart of the almond trees

Nurse of mothers who pull the tether of kings 
In flooding rain please cure my brother firstborn
Among the frog-legged cows and sickled goats
He blooms against the bitterness of unripe figs 
He is more beautiful than anyone could have imagined

Oasis of bedroom-desert sheet mirages please free 
My brother who wipes his eyes behind the screen of spring
He hides in small rooms and tabletop cupboards 
From poppy-throwing bullies and oiled faces 

Shaded hyacinth please protect my brother 
The ancestors of our ancestors have become ovens and
Nursing bowls feeding the darkness of mourning
We hunger under their blue eyes  

Brother, my brother prince of crocodiles of the water sliding 
Into the sides of the nile we have never visited home 
It is a land that scorches the soles of our feet
In its name our sorrow rushes green like the sunrise.  

Brother let us live with water or tenderness 
We have carried baskets of ash from the river within you 
With only a dimpled red cheek to remember you by 

Please join us in congratulating Natalie on her exciting win!