We interview the Wexford man who won Francis Ledwidge International Poetry competition for 2023

A Wexford man received some fantastic news recently…

On Friday, November 17th, a Wexford man was informed that he had won the Francis Ledwidge International Poetry competition for 2023.

Francis Edward Ledwidge (19 August 1887– 31 July 1917) was an Irish war poet from County Meath. Sometimes known as the “poet of the blackbirds”, he was killed in action at the Battle of Passchendaele during World War I.

For the 2023 Francis Ledwidge International Poetry competition, Wexford’s John Cooney was the successful applicant for his poetry submission entitled ‘Cripple’.

John Cooney is a native of Courtnacuddy in Co. Wexford. His poetry highlights a sense of place and the emotional struggles of the everyday people who occupy the landscape and the streetscape. His work has been published on two occasions in the Wexford Bohemian and he was commended for his poem ‘Letterfrack Graveyard’ at the 2021 Frances Ledwidge International Poetry Awards.

John has published three collections of poetry, ‘Three ‘L’s’ in this Alphabet’ in 2021, The Well of Souls in 2022 and his most recent collection is ‘One More Bell to Ring’ published in August of 2023.

Interestingly, it is the second year in a row that a Wexford poet has won this coveted international award, with Wexford’s Anne Cousins winning it in 2022.

We caught up with John to discuss his motivations, his work in poetry, and to discuss the poem as a whole.

“Occasionally I submit pieces to different competitions and literary journals. I always submit to the Francis Ledwidge competition, it is a well thought of competition and prestigious in writing circles. Plus I am a big fan of Ledwidge’s poetry. He was an amazing talent taken far too young by war,” John told Wexford Weekly.

John explained to us that his successful entry ‘Cripple’ is about “the loss of a friendship, dealing with the realisation of the loss and trying to move on from it,” hand that the motivation behind most of his work comes from a sense of place.

“The poem itself is about the loss of a friendship, dealing with the realisation of the loss and trying to move on from it. Most of the inspiration for my work comes from a sense of place and the connection people have with their own place and the people who share that place with them. I try to highlight the emotions that people experience in their life as a normal part of life, inescapable emotions as we journey along, trying to highlight the normality of those emotions and the need to express them,” he said.

Although John’s piece was of course an individual piece, he was quick to mention that the incredible literary scene and community in Wexford which is flourishing at the moment:

“I was thrilled when I received the news and I felt it was another accolade for Wexford writing at the moment. There is an amazing literary scene in Wexford at the moment with some incredible writers. I am part of the Purple and Gold Writers Collective which was formed this year and this is very much an award I wish to share with them because of all the support and inspiration I have received from my fellow writers and the incredible ‘family’ of artists that has developed around Red Books in Wexford town.”

“The collective has just finished a series of readings called ‘Trailblazers’ during the recent opera festival which was very successful. Wally in Red Books has created an incredible space for people who wish to perform and get their work out there. This is the second year in a row that a Wexford writer has won the Ledwidge Award. Anne Cousins won it last year.”

Winning an accolade like this is something to be proud of. It brings attention to the literary scene in Wexford and may act as a motivator for others which John recognises:

“I only began writing seriously in 2020, but there has always been the desire to do so. There is no doubt that the encouragement and friendship I have received from the members of the collective and Red Books has kept me writing and will do so into the future. I am immensely proud to receive the Ledwidge Award for 2023 and it will always remain a highlight of my writing journey. Awards like the Ledwidge competition are very important to the literary scene in Ireland by both promoting and encouraging writers to keep writing,” he continued.

Copies of all three of John’s poetry collections available at Red Books in Wexford town.

John has kindly given us permission to share his poem ‘Cripple’ which won the Francis Ledwidge International Poetry competition. It can be downloaded below.

Wexford Weekly
Wexford Weekly

This article was published by a member of the Wexford Weekly team.

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