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Poetry competition celebrates key workers

10 June 2021

The competition was organised by the Christian cleaning company Clean for Good


A POEM about a hospital chaplain anointing a patient dying from Covid was among the top 100 poems selected in a new national competition, Poetry for Good, which celebrates key workers.

The competition was organised by the Christian cleaning company Clean for Good, which promotes “fair pay and dignity” for cleaners. It was founded in 2017 (News, 13 October 2017) and is majority owned by St Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe, in the City of London; the Centre for Theology and Community; and the Church Mission Society.

The winners of the competition in four categories were announced on Thursday.

Gemma Barnett, an actress turned GP receptionist during the pandemic, won the Spoken Word category with her poem “The Front Desk.” Violet Smart topped the Written Word with her poem “Night Shift,” in English and Spanish, inspired by a university halls cleaner; and 15-year-old Jacinta-Maria Ifeoluwapo Chidiebere Wajero won the Growing Word prize for her poem “Life Support,” which compared key workers to oxygen: essential but invisible. A special prize for a poem about cleaners was awarded to Isaac Delaney, aged 11, for his poem “The Small Girl.”

The top 100 poems of more than 500 submissions were published in a virtual anthology on the same day in recognition of the hard work of millions of key workers over the past 16 months in the UK.

In her poem “The Chaplain Came,” Helen Pepper writes that the chaplain

reached out
And anointed my Yorkshire lad,
My prince amongst men
The hairs on my arms prickled
As she blessed his face,
Her fingers traced
Our prayer.
He left us.

We couldn’t have left him, then
Without her care,
Without her signing off

One of the judges, Katherine Lockton, said on Thursday: “I was impressed by the sheer number of poems that were submitted and the quality of the entries. The standard was incredible and it was clear that people had invested a vast amount of energy and creativity in their submissions.

“It was also clear how much they appreciated and loved key workers. They celebrated everyone from cleaners to nurses and shop keepers. There was everything from free verse, rhymed poems to villanelles. It was clear that a lot of talented writers had submitted.”

The managing director of Clean for Good, Tim Thorlby, said: “We have read every poem submitted and have been delighted — and heartbroken — by the public’s response to Poetry for Good. We want to thank everyone who participated and shared their thoughts with us.

“So many of these poems share personal and moving stories from the sharp end of life over the last year. If anyone was in any doubt that something needs to change for millions of low paid workers in the UK today, then this selection of stories surely settles that debate for good.”

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