The Limerick Writers’ Centre announce the winners of this year’s Desmond O’Grady International Poetry Competition.

The Limerick Writers’ Centre announce the winners of this year’s Desmond O’Grady International Poetry Competition.

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Desmond O’Grady International Poetry Competition 2021. Judge: Eileen Sheehan

 Winner: Anatomy of a Disordered Personality: Skin                   (HLR)

2nd place: The Grammar of the World is losing its Syntax           (PR Walker)

Highly Commended:

“diary of a dead eel boy”                     (Dean Gessie)

Girls of Fairhill                                     (Joanne McCarthy)

The Return                                           (Partridge Boswell)

Don’t Call Me a Balcony                       (Peter Wise)

“[sic]stemic”                                          (Dean Gessie)

The Major                                            (Breda Joyce)

Kerosene                                             (Isabella Mead)

Work Experience, Garter Lane Art Gallery    ( Joanne McCarthy)

“a mother mulls her son’s self-injuries”          (Dean Gessie)

Three Days in the County Mayo                     ( Daniel Johnson)

Reading poems blind is a pure experience of poetry: each poem holds its own space, unencumbered by the name of the author or by an impressive biographical note. I did not have a preconceived idea of what type of poem I was looking for but rather was open to whatever the large bundle of entries would yield up to me. I read each poem more than once. I read them off the page and out loud, for the ear can often catch a subtlety that the eye has missed. The writing, overall, was of a high order and covered a diverse range of subject matter and approaches. It was a pleasure to read so many memorable, well-made poems.

My thanks to Dominic Taylor of The Limerick Writers’ Centre for inviting me to be the judge for 2021. They are to be commended for continuing to facilitate this competition which celebrates the life and work of one of Limerick’s finest poets, Desmond O’Grady.

– Eileen Sheehan

 About the winning poem and poet.

“In the winning poem, “ Anatomy of a Disordered Personality: Skin”, poet turns cartographer: a visceral, at times unsettling mapping of marks on skin. The poem is exquisitely crafted with each blemish representing an individual story imprinted on the landscape of the body. The poem is related in an objective, sometimes clinical language which is paradoxically infused with immediacy and vibrancy of emotion. A poem which vividly affirms the interconnectedness of body and mind and spirit.”  (Eileen Sheehan)


HLR writes poetry and short prose about living with chronic mental illness, trauma, and grief. Her work has been widely published in print and online, most recently by Misery Tourism. Her highly regarded debut prosetry collection History of Present Complaint (Close To The Bone) is available from Amazon. Her micro-chap Portrait of the Poet as a Hot Mess, which ‘Anatomy of a Disordered Personality: Skin’ is a section of, is to be released by Ghost City Press this summer. HLR lives in north London, where she was born and raised. Read more at / twitter: @HLRwriter / IG: /hel.rol.

Anatomy of a Disordered Personality: Skin        by (HLR)

1 /

white – 23andMe informs you that you’re 100%
European – Cornish / Irish / Polish / French

you are furious and you look it, your flesh flecked
with freckle constellations, remnants of careless

sunburns lie in blurred edges, outlines of phantom bikinis:
surprisingly, despite your pallid history, you tan easily

your skin is soft, it does not betray your age, silken
swathes that drape your neck / breasts / cheeks / thighs / chest

1.5 /

a memory: you are a child, watching your big sister
moisturise her elbows and knees and you are thinking
“I’ll have to do that one day, if I ever get to be a teenager”

2 /

a carving block is how you have treated your shellscape:

scratched porcelain / once pretty now pretty fucking angry
flesh slashed, painted, gouged, burnt / reluctantly

holding your organs hostage
inside your reluctant body

3 /

and bruises and bruises, you are forever covered
in yellow, merlot / smothered by blue, green
marks of violence / disasters / accidents / mysteries:

“do you always bruise like a peach?
or are these marks from rough sex?
or domestic violence?”

4 /

and your skin has little holes in it

some of the holes were manmade:

9 extra holes in your left ear / 7 in your right ear / left nostril (R.I.P)
bottom lip once pierced with the safety pin that held your school skirt together
bellybutton pierced with a fork by the bassist of Bloc Party in a field Holland
thousands of microscopic holes in your brain made by as many lines of cocaine
picking at chicken pox and popping acne and a cigarette burn on your chin
cavity / crater / empty space in your chest where your heart is meant to live

the rest of them you were born with:

entries / exits, rules for which is
which ones we’re told feel good to fill

(the word ‘orifice’ makes you sick)

others that you shouldn’t put things into but do, you
put straws up your nose and cotton buds in your ears
and toothbrushes down your throat

(you fear that you will always be empty
even in moments when your body
has tricked you into feeling full)

(sometimes you feel so full of grief
you fear that you have run out space,
that you cannot physically contain
any more misery and pain)

(you are empty and full
of fear)

5 /

and you’ve got a few tattoos, too, marks
that can confidently call themselves ‘art’:

right thigh:

Latin script, a bad job, text permanently raised
you can feel it on the surface of your skin, men will attempt to read it like Braille
this one was your first and you were disappointed to find that it didn’t hurt

right wrist:

what Dad wrote on a post-it note in his handwriting: it’s important,
unique, perfect, also handy when you need to forge his signature – well, it was
handy before but, now that he’s dead, you won’t need to sign for him ever again

upper right thigh:

an English rose that looks like a red cabbage – you wanted to feel physical
pain to detract from mental pain – you recently saw a pornstar with the exact same
in the same place: she wears it so much better, and you are “going to get it covered,”
you announce to the empty house, “as soon as lockdown is over.”

right hand:

stick ‘n’ poke prison tatt, a semi-colon in black
ink, steadily turning green – you love it, and it means
nothing, really… sorry 

left ribs:

the date you have chosen to die –
a numerically perfect day to take
your own life is printed there on your ribcage
to scare the coroner: fuck yeah you can see into the future, you funny little genius!

6 /

and then, the scars:

some born innocently, most created by your poorly
brain and battered heart and your mental diagnoses when they
all decide to wreak unholy havoc on your failing body:


two (2), both obvious

 1: straight across the centre of your hairline / toddler, ran into edge of a glass table
“the blood came down like a sheet”, you ruined your only good dress, “sorry mummy”

2: when people ask, you always say it was a cat: it’s easier that way

 right brow bone:

horizontal red line / mistaken identity, face smashed
into wall – pencil over it so it looks like your eyebrow /
no hairs will ever grow there, this scar is angry
and makes sure that you know how mad it is

right cheek:

one (1) diagonal, a daily reminder…
you don’t want to still can’t talk about it,
but goddamn those fucking scummy bastards


 playground accidents / chicken pox / cystic acne / when you flew
across the dancefloor and your jaw caught the corner of a subwoofer

 behind right ear/on neck:

 the doctor cut the lump of badness out. You could hear
the scraping and slicing and stitching from the inside, amplified.
You saw the badness in a jar, a big, hard globe with bloody tendrils,
an ugly octopus, saw it float upwards in a clear solution, trying to escape
through the silver lid. She wouldn’t let you keep it: she wouldn’t let you
keep your own badness. You were sad − you’d grown fond of it.


lots: red and white and pink and purple, mashed-up knuckles / fits
and fights and intravenous lines and getting stabbed with a corkscrew (upon which
you didn’t even flinch) and visits to the vampire for your daily blood tests
when you were on Lithium, the chubby nurse who was pleased to see you at 7am
but called your blood “uncooperative” which made you apologise profusely
for your body’s own bloody ineptitude


this is difficult, you’ve never counted them before / you can’t
do it / yes you can / okay / breathe

left arm:

upper arm: 1 bad stab wound / still red and open, will be your widest scar

crook of elbow: 18 bad ones, you guess

forearm: approx. 29 (?) bad ones / you’re sorry, you can’t
bear / don’t dare to count them

wrist: too many to count / they merge into a mess
one in the shape of an E, one in the shape of a T, one is a W,
they made these shapes themselves; you don’t know what they mean

right arm:

crook of elbow: 9 bad ones

forearm: 16 (17?) bad ones / 1 bad knife wound (old) / 3 thick vertical lines from

wrist to elbow / Clipper lighter smiley face burn (girl gang)

wrist: 1 BAD really bad one, covered with tattoo – you hate the scars on your arms /
idiotidiotidiot / wish someone had told you to choose more secret spots to self-harm


all of those nicks you gained
learning to shave with Dad’s cheap razor blades,
same on both shins, accidentally (or subconsciously
purposely?) took chunks out

right ankle: outer: another shaving mishap, all the way up the side, you picked those
scabs for weeks / inner: 6 lines each approx. 1cm long, your “clever, new, secret”
place to self-harm / the blood makes your cuts stick to your socks / extra pain
when you peel them off and more when you plunge your feet into a hot bath

right knee: that same scar that everyone has from that time they fell off their bike
when they were 5


 on the tops of your feet, two white marks like faded bullet holes – you don’t know
how they got there but you do know that one morning you woke up feeling
like you’d been crucified, and your body proved your own suffering to you
with evidence of stigmata on your feet and on the palms of your hands.
The holes in your hands disappeared over the course of about a year
but the scars on your feet made by iron stakes remain to this day.
Make of that what you will.

Runner-Up ‘ The Grammar of the World is losing its Syntax’                           by   PR Walker


I’m the man in calfskin loafers, my algorithms do the talking.
Like a virtual hand of God, my hidden billions give me sway,

speak to the scratch card impulse in every one of us.
I collect views from penthouses – on the 99th floor

clouds part even on overcast days, afford a distant view.
I fetch myself away from that world of eligible women,

keep a fresh stable of the world’s most-garlanded chefs,
hold the mortal bug in check with brutal routines,

skin-toning, a massage of nerve ends and prostate.
I watch the world through filtered air, plan for floods.


I’m the street man genuflecting before a silhouette of diners.
I watch as they feed on Michelin-starred fishes and loaves,

bloodshot with candlelit markups.  I move between tables
with deference, offer a rose, a tune, nod my ragged head,

mention money, my face skimmed with the dust of hope.
My bended knee counts for little as the maître d’hôte

harries me to the door.  I hold out a hand, make a show
of my A & E wristband, declare again and again this is not

who I am.  Mouthfuls of pasta hang loose from forks,
untouched glasses of Merlot shimmer as I’m eased out.


I’m the reader shuffle-jogging my three score years and ten
from beach to bluff in the freshening wind I feel in my heart.

At the milepost I meet the boy and we sit, me to catch breath,
he for the company.  We used to talk, now we mostly just sit.

He’s older and I’m less patient.  He says I’ve taught him to read.
The lines on his fourteen-year-old face tell me he sees the future

for what it is, we all die, sooner or later.  He tells me he called
the police when his mother started to beat him, ran away

when his mother’s boyfriend started to beat him, lived in a hide
near the canal for twenty-one days and no one came looking.


I’m the fisherman mending nets, drawn to heads bobbing
on the swell, the desperate risking all on tidal gyres.

I’ve left my paltry catch, two parts human, one part fish,
for the market, scrubbed boat and deck to clear all trace.

I unzip my skin from sternum to groin, peel back waste.
I’m brittle, my insides viscous, my heart irresponsible.

I hunker down for breakfast, fresh dabs and mackerel
crisping on the grill, the gulls banished to their bins.

At dusk I kneel at the water’s edge, cast off, head out
again towards those brave enough to risk their lives.










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