Poem inspired by New York mugging wins top prize in National Poetry Competition | Books

A poem inspired by the author’s experience of being mugged has won the first prize of £5,000 in the National Poetry Competition.

The Time I Was Mugged in New York City by Imogen Wade tells the story of being locked in a van at JFK airport by a man dressed in black, driven to Grand Central station and made to give the man money.

“Writing this poem helped me step into my memories and unknot an event that I’d never processed,” said Wade, who lives and works in Surrey. “I revisit my 19-year-old self, an exchange student in the hazy cityscape of New York, as she travels from the airport to the station.”

Judges said that the poem’s “paradoxical lyricism in the account of an abduction demands reading and rereading. Opening with the speaker’s recollection of ‘finding herself’ in her abductor’s van, the poem narrates in strangely beautiful detail how she travels with him as his prisoner through the city, where he finally takes all her money and then helps her out of his van ‘like a princess’, holding her bags ‘like a vassal’ and kissing her on the cheek.”

Wade added that the van’s interior “emerges as a charged symbolic space when the narrator encounters it again in her interactions and dreams. I learned that the past doesn’t always stay past and sometimes in order to process a trauma, I have to revisit it – even if that means entering the same van I am trying to escape from. Process is progress and poetry carries great psychotherapeutic power.”

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Wade’s poem was selected from 19,000 poems from 8,841 poets in 110 countries, which were judged anonymously by the poets Jane Draycott, Will Harris and Clare Pollard. Winning the competition “feels like a dream come true”, Wade added. “I work so hard at my writing, and to have recognition at this level from the judges is incredible. It marks an important transition point in my career as a poet.”

Fawzia Muradali Kane was named as the second prize winner for her poem Eric, while the third place winner was Rency Jumaoas Raquid for Like Her. The top three poems will be published in the spring issue of the Poetry Society’s journal The Poetry Review. The seven commended poets are AV Bridgwood, george graves, Harriet Jae, Katie O’Pray, Jack Nicholls, Anna Selby and Madeleine Wurzburger.

Previous winners of the competition include Carol Ann Duffy, Ruth Padel and James Berry. In 2022, Eric Yip was named the youngest ever winner of the prize.

The Time I Was Mugged in New York City

I told people that the travel sickness pills
made me stupid. I entered JFK with a red
suitcase and no one to greet me. A man
came up to me, dressed in black. I found
myself in a car park by an expensive van
and he was holding my luggage. Get In, he
said. There wasn’t a single thought in my
head. I found myself inside his van; he
locked the doors immediately after; made
me switch my phone off as we went under
the bridge. We spoke about Niagara Falls.
He chose the narrowest roads in the city,
a needle making a joke out of Manhattan.
When he pulled up outside Grand Central
station, he said – don’t get out, there are
bad people around. He made me unzip
my suitcase, books and bras spilling over
the seat, and give him all my money. Then
he helped me out of the van like I was a
princess; he held my bags like a vassal and
kissed my cheek. Get In, I hear whenever
a man pushes me too far; Get In to my big
black car. Sometimes in my dreams, I am
sitting beside him on the leather; I don’t
need to be ordered and together, we drive
with melodious speed over the East River.

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