Winners of the Lord Alfred Douglas Prize announced

stream trickling over pebbles

Congratulations to Michael O'Connor and Connor Johnston who are joint winners of the Lord Alfred Douglas Prize for their poems ‘Let the River Begin Again’ and ‘Jar’. Nick Smart was also commended for his poem ‘On the cellist playing outside Poundland©’.

The Lord Alfred Douglas Prize is awarded for the best sonnet or other poem written in English and in strict rhyming metre. It is open to any member of the University, who is registered for a degree of the University, whether as an undergraduate or a graduate student. A copy of the winning entries will be deposited in the Bodleian Library.

You can read the winning poems below.

Let the River Begin, Again


Tell me about how the river begins 

again: the way the water mutters, stills,

turns and turns again, flickers as it springs

over filigree meanders until it fills

the wide horizon’s girth. Tell me about

snow-melt and trout circle and rose mallow,

about the water’s mountainous redoubt

and the turn of the day in the shadow

of the hills. Tell me about the way things

fight tooth and nail, springing into pattering

sputtering vigour, of how water sings

as it cascades. Tell me of chattering

birds under shimmering, mirroring skies.

Do not tell me how the river stutters, dies.


Michael O'Connor



Lugubriousnesses, morosenesses

Blacknesses of the bile, and shroud and swill

Meandering the cobbles of the will,

Disturbed, as every slavish stillness is,

Obliviously clapping for the ill.

The throes of doze and dose, the witnesses


Bogged motionless by daily scum and tar,

Afloat upon an ocean black with beer,

Inflated by the fogs of aimless fears

And every bath I’ve had beneath the stars,

Regressing there for minutes made of years,

A cryogenic tomb, a pickle jar,


In which to think about the universe,

And grimace, thinking still, things could be worse.


Connor Johnston


On the cellist playing outside Poundland©


Enter won’t budge on the corner-shop till,

 No matter how much boredom drives the flicks

Of the assistant as he sits there still

 Chewing the gum, no doubt, that made it stick.

The door so far denied its rotation

 Makes a play for his attention, it yawns

  At the reversing delivery van

   That beeps in time with his mastication,

But pauses when the motion is withdrawn,

 And stutters to the spot where it began.


Among the cigarettes and torn-off tags,

 And other scraps that linger on the stage

Marked out by heaps of tangled Tesco bags,

 There sounds the indistinct bariolage

Of Bach’s first Cello Suite in G Major,

 Accompanying intermittent streets

  Of sputtering drainpipes and car alarms

    And the ringtones of bunking teenagers.

At last, the off-beat of a builder’s feet,

 With sandwiches balanced across his arms,


He drops twenty pence for the BLT,

 Which – thanks to sticky keys – he didn’t need;

Her eyes glance over at one pound fifty

 Pre-loaded on the contactless machine.

It refused to glint in the dull daylight

 As it disturbed the open cello case

  That sat collecting chippings from the road.

   He stopped a moment, puzzled by the sight,

And prised the air-pod from beside his face

 To watch her stretching fingers as they slowed.


Remembering the tune she once was taught

 When guided by the hands that knew it all,

The sequence came without a second thought.

 Returning to the note as she recalled

The arms which threw her high into the air

 And fell back down from branch to branch until

  Relaunched again, the phrasing dances just

   The way it did in memories they shared

Of alternating notes of varied skill,

 Responding to the call with mutual trust


That they’d find each other filling the gaps

 In music that seemed inevitable.

And as the song awaited its relapse

 Arrived the moment irrevocable

In itself, though repeated time again,

 Of countless doctor’s trips and prescriptions,

  Da capo, the same pills the nurse concocts,

   Though stronger this time, and surely in vain,

The moment that defied all description

 When she realised the music had stopped.


At such a moment of hesitation,

 Her only spectator pretends he sees

Someone he knows outside the bus station.

 She tries to hide the scramble to reprise

To keep him stood beside her but, in truth,

 She seemed relieved that no-one was around,

  On yet another Tuesday afternoon,

   No-one to watch uncertain fingers move

The bow in ways that made uncertain sounds

 As reaching, groping, fumbling for the tune.


The street-preacher sees enough of our sins,

 The wrath of God goes home for tea at five;

Community serviceman checks the bin,

 Misses a packet, the pigeons arrive.

Away go the kids breaking their ASBOs,

 Away goes the swinging sale items board,

  Away into bags goes the till money,

   Away goes the sun revealing shadows

Of the old stray dog that passers-by ignored,

Away chugs the council refuse buggy.


Yet at the dimming of the High Street lights,

 To optimise budget efficiency,

The melody again begins to rise.

 The open strings resonate as if he,

Summoned to stand in front of her once more,

 Depended on their frequency and stayed

  A moment, then disintegrated gently.

   And now she plays alongside closing doors

That scratch across the rubber mat with frayed

 And faded words that read: ‘No entry!’


— Nick Smart