The 2023 Jon Stallworthy Poetry Prize, worth £1000, has been awarded to Jennifer Kim (Exeter College) for her poem Trente et Quarante – After Lucian Freud’s “The Big Man” (1976), painted to repay his gambling debts.
The competition was judged by the Professor of Poetry, Alice Oswald, and by Professor Bernard O'Donoghue, who commented:
"The given topic was 'Disgrace': a subject that we settled on partly because of the openness and divisibility of the word, containing the idea of grace as well as a negativing prefix which we felt builds in an inviting contradiction. Some of the most interesting entries played on this promising complexity."
Jennifer Kim's poem won out over 90+ entries submitted by Oxford's postgraduate poets. The runner-up was Paul Norris (Brasenose), and the other shortlisted poets were Eliza Browning (St Hugh's), Jordan Maly-Preuss (Merton) and Eira Elisabeth Murphy (Mansfield).
A YouTube video of the award event will shortly be available on the Wolfson College website, and later in the year the shortlisted poems will be published in the annual Jon Stallworthy Poetry Prize booklet, available to read in Oxford libraries. The judges, the English Faculty and Wolfson College would all like to extend their congratulations to the winner and those shortlisted, and thank all the entrants for their submissions.
Trente et Quarante
After Lucian Freud’s “The Big Man” (1976), painted to repay his gambling debts.
In Monaco, I’m afraid
you’ve lost the grand tableau again
and fled to our narrow suite above the tabac.
The Big Man who came brawling upstairs
neck tight in a howling ring
leans now in your weary armchair, waiting to be made whole.
Out of the corner, in drunk atonement, you pull your tricks:
palette knife, hog bristle,
eight tubes of lightfast oil.
If you asked, I could tell you how you will make me.
Sink his dark suit into the room
until every wrinkle struggles away.
Burn the impossible mirror white.
Suppose his flesh in peach and vermilion
worked up in crests that knuckle under your brush.
Last, where the light lands pale and arrogant, mark it –
pitch his forehead in Cremnitz, tumble it down his jowls,
whorl in opal the moon atop his chin.
I am your long apology,
your loss lured into the gorgeous.
Your expert hand slips varnish over my cadmium skin.
Rouge gagne et la couleur:
The game is fixed for you now
as you strike out your due on my angled face.
How spare, how silent the room must be to hear
the panting of your bristle against linen
every hue belonging to him before I can become myself.