Award celebrates poets of the future

Issue: Volume 98, Number 17

Posted: 14 October 2019
Reference #: 1HA0HW

A Year 13 student at Auckland’s Westlake Girls’ High School has won first place in the 2019 International Institute of Modern Letters’ (IIML) National Schools Poetry Award.

Xiaole Zhan has taken first place in the prestigious IIML National Schools Poetry Award with her poem ‘Mammalian’. She receives a prize of $500 and the opportunity to attend a poetry masterclass at the IIML, home of Victoria University of Wellington’s prestigious creative writing programme. 

Xiaole’s school library also receives a $500 book grant. Nine others were shortlisted in the awards and they will also attend the masterclass.

“This is very exciting news – I feel encouraged and supported as a young poet,” says Xiaole. “Opportunities like this are crucial in the development of young writers like myself, and help us to gain confidence, have the rare opportunity of extending our skills with established writers, and connect with like-minded students across New Zealand.”

Poems reflect concerns of young people

Judge Chris Tse – whose poetry has been widely published and performed in New Zealand and overseas – says the young poets who entered the competition are writing about topics that reflect the interests and concerns of young people today, from the frustration of wanting to grow up faster, to the desire for the world to slow down.

“Xiaole Zhan’s evocative poem ‘Mammalian’ triggers a multi-sensory response in the reader. From its bold, imagistic opening to the breathless desperation of its final lines, ‘Mammalian’ reeled me in and refused to let me go until the final word,” he says.

“There were a number of entries about, or inspired by, the terrorist attacks in Christchurch. Poetry, along with other art forms, is a valuable way of engaging with what’s happening around us, and I was deeply moved by many of the poems entered this year that focused on these, and other, issues.”

Shortlisted poems

The nine shortlisted poets are: Maia Armistead, Waikato Diocesan School for Girls; Charlotte Boyle, Cashmere High School; Sebastian Macaulay, Wellington High School; Claudia Snow, Wakatipu High School; Pippi Duncan, Takapuna Grammar School; Rachel Lockwood, Taradale High School; E Wen Wong, Burnside High School; Emily Blennerhassett, Cashmere High School; Elizabeth Nahu, Onslow College.

Future of poetry in good hands

IIML Senior Lecturer and poet Chris Price says, “from compelling responses to the Christchurch mosque shooting to an intimate portrait of a father-son relationship, the shortlisted poems are alert to the big issues and the small moments of connection in human relationships. If this shortlist is anything to go by, the future of New Zealand poetry is in good hands.” 

The National Schools Poetry Award(external link) has been providing a forum for young writers in Aotearoa New Zealand since 2003. The award is funded by Creative NZ.


mamma, your back is flowered dark red and purple perfect circles, mamma, fleshy hills along the road of your spine, your blood suctioned to the surface of your skin, you tell me it helps with your pain, paints you the colour of tender bruises, blisters oozing with yellow liquid along the rim of each cup, too much moisture in the body, you say, I imagine the body as a dark cave, bones dripping stalactites, corroding canals and canals, there seems to be such a fine line between hurting and healing, mamma, remember sleeping in the summer, mamma, the mosquitoes plodding down on our wet skins, bellies fat with the mingling of our blood, the watery softness of your flesh in the dark startled me, mamma, I imagined you old and soft and dead beneath my arms, remember when we made tomato soup together, and I couldn’t cut a tomato without the insides pulping out, red, red, the raw warmth of it round in my belly, remember when you told me you’d never be able to hate me, mamma, and I’m sorry for all my livid love, mamma, all this tender violence, and you’re doubled over dripping snot onto the road, sobbing how could you do this to me how could you do this to me, and I was the size of a kitten, you say, when I was born, and when I mewed for you in the dark you thought you’d imagined it, you say, you thought you’d lost me, lost me, and they say the heart is a muscle the size of a fist, mamma, your nails are bloodied with the seeping bruise of my heart, mamma, and there’s all this blood between us, mamma, all this blood because of us, mamma. there’s such a fine line between hurting and loving

Xiaole Zhan

"Poetry, along with other art forms, is a valuable way of engaging with what’s happening around us, and I was deeply moved by many of the poems entered this year that focused on these, and other, issues.”

Chris Tse


BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:22 am, 14 October 2019

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