Congratulations to the winner and runner-up of the 2022 Eugene Lee-Hamilton Poetry Competition, Oriel students Siddiq Islam (Maths and Statistics) and Cameron Nicholls-Iggulden (Classics). It is great to see the literary excellence displayed by Oriel students in this competition in which Sylvia Plath came second in 1957.
The Eugene Lee-Hamilton Poetry Competition invites undergraduate students from Oxford and Cambridge colleges to submit a Petrarchan sonnet on a theme or topic of their choosing. The prize is awarded each year in honour of Eugene Lee-Hamilton, a poet and novelist who studied at Oriel (1864-66) and revived the use of Petrarchan Sonnets in his own work, as well as encouraging it in others. The poetry competition prize was founded by the late Mrs Eliza Ann Lee-Hamilton by bequest in 1943, in order to encourage the composition of the Petrarchan sonnet in Oxford and Cambridge.
Siddiq Islam’s winning sonnet is called Colourblind, and runner-up Cameron Nicholls-Iggulden’s sonnet is titled As I Looked Out Across a Raging Sea.
You can read both poems below:
I’m colourblind, don’t see the subtle way
Ma darkens at me, how she disapproves
Of all my mischief, cultural counter-moves,
And all else that I do to her dismay.
I wonder, Amma, whether they will stay
In adulthood, these scars that with teen hooves
I tractor in my skin, these deep white grooves
That from your warm brown stables lead away.
I’m colourblind, I don’t know rong* from right.
With time, though, I will learn inside to host
Both dark and light. I’ll navigate the sea
Of tans and beiges bridging brown and white.
I’ll get to know which colours suit me most
And keep the shades I deem belong to me.
* In Bengali, ‘rong’ means ‘colour’.
By Siddiq Islam, Oriel College, Oxford
As I looked out across a raging sea,
Alone, and poised to leap upon the swell,
A whispered voice from some forgotten Hell
Appeared like dust from air. It said to me:
“O fool! How reckless Man is wont to be,
When dreaming of the tales he will tell,
Believing, like immortals, to repel
Death’s call, when in that fray he calls for thee.”
As I began to take the offered hand,
Terror and fury woke some part which slept,
“A death it is, to never take a stand!”
I said. “Who wants to live a life unwept?
My greatest days are yet unknown, unplanned,
But I will face them all.” And so, I leapt.
By Cameron Nicholls-Iggulden, Oriel College, Oxford
Explaining the meaning of his sonnet and the inspiration behind it, Siddiq said:
“This poem describes insecurities and fears that are often on my mind. As an ethnic minority, there is a contrast between how life is lived at home and what one experiences outside, and there are differences between the experiences of every generation of an immigrant family. One can struggle to cling onto the culture of a country one doesn’t live in and will inevitably end up stretched and confused – and this is on top of the usual stress of trying to define one’s identity whilst becoming an adult. I think that you cannot handle two entire cultural identities, but rather have to form a new one out of a mixture of them both.
I have been interested in poems since I was little. My mother and sister used to read them to me at bedtime. This is why some of my favourite poets are children’s poets whom I haven’t grown out of yet. Dr Seuss is a genius and my absolute favourite.
I try to keep up poetry-writing at uni when I get time. I like doing non-mathsy things because I want to maintain a creative side and be able to express myself without the use of equations. It would be a dream to one day to publish an anthology or a longer piece. I have a lot of unfinished poems as notes on my phone, so I enjoy trying to submit to student magazines because the deadlines encourage me to complete them.”
A very well done to Siddiq and Cameron for their success in this year’s competition – it is the first time in recent memory we have had two winners from Oriel and we hope this inspires other budding poets to take part next year.