Winners 2019

National Schools Poetry Award celebrates New Zealand’s poets of the future


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, with her poem ‘Mammalian’.

Xiaole Zhan receives a prize of $500 and the opportunity to attend a poetry masterclass with poet Chris Tse and Starling editor Francis Cooke 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.”

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.”

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.

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 winner also receives an additional package of literary prizes provided by the New Zealand Book Council, Victoria University Press, Sport, Landfall and the New Zealand Society of Authors. The nine finalists receive prizes from the New Zealand Book Council and Sport, as well as $100. Flights and accommodation costs are covered for students outside of Wellington to attend the masterclass at the IIML.

The 2019 National Schools Poetry Award is organised by the IIML with the support of Creative New Zealand and advertising agency Ogilvy (formerly Ogilvy & Mather), with promotional support from Wonderlab.

Chris Price
International Institute of Modern Letters,
Victoria University

2019 Award winner : Xiaole Zhan – ‘Mammalian

Finalist : Maia Armistead – ‘A Long Drive Home

Finalist : Charlotte Boyle – ‘Orion’s Rust Belt

Finalist : Sebastian Macaulay – ‘Old man

Finalist : Claudia Snow – ‘Our Gardener Ali

Finalist : Pippi Duncan – ‘the bonds of love we meet

Finalist : Rachel Lockwood – ‘Felicity Wishes

Finalist : E Wen Wong – ‘one world sleeps in an apple

Finalist : Emily Blennerhassett – ‘March 15th

Finalist : Elizabeth Nahu – ‘Te Pō