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Sri Lanka – Edward Lear Prize for Poetry

Edward Lear was a 19th Century English artist, illustrator, musician, author and poet. He is known mostly for his literary nonsense poems and prose and especially his limericks. His poetry takes an irreverent view of the world.

Lear’s nonsense poems delight in the sounds of words, both real and imaginary. A stuffed rhinoceros becomes a “diaphanous doorscraper.” His heroes are Quangle-Wangles, Pobbles, and Jumblies. My favourite Lear poem is the Dong with the Luminous Nose.
I think it is the words “Jumbly Girl” that triggers a happy memory and makes me smile.

But when the sun was low in the West, 
The Dong arose and said; 
— “What little sense I once possessed 
Has quite gone out of my head!” — 
And since that day he wanders still 
By lake and dorest, marsh and hills, 
Singing — “O somewhere, in valley or plain 
“Might I find my Jumbly Girl again! 
“For ever I’ll seek by lake and shore 
“Till I find my Jumbly Girl once more!”

Perhaps one of his most famous verbal inventions, the phrase “runcible spoon,” occurs in the closing lines of the poem The Owl and the Pussycat.

They dined on mince, and slices of quince
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

Inspired by Edward Lear, The Owl and the Pussycat hotel in Thalpe, near Galle Fort, Sri Lanka, is offering an annual prize to support young aspiring poets. They are asked to consider Lear’s work and to create something unique and resonant. The Edward Lear Prize for Poetry will be presented annually (up to 10 years) by the Owl and the Pussycat Hotel at the Galle Literary Festival to the best poet, who – in the opinion of judges – has written an eligible poem in the English language.

Some of the aspiring poets performed their competition pieces before an eager and appreciative audience this week. The winners were announced at the special event organised by hotel in collaboration with the Fairway Galle Literary Festival.


1st Ashwin Dias (He was not present, so his mother who read his poem beamed as she collected his prize).
Poem – The funny people of Sri Lanka – Prize (250,000/-) (Approx €1650 )

2nd Rashmika Nambuwasam
Poem – In quest for a grander west  Prize (150,000/-) (Approx €800)

3rd Pawan Kalugala
Poem – Misfortunes of a fisherman’s daughter (75,000/-) (Approx €400)

4th Sarah Jaufer – Red Shoes

5th Shafni Awam – A collection of poems ( A small scence/Asparagus, the ravenous / Bakthi-Ektasis)

There were three international judges and two local judges.  See details below.

What added to the occasion was the appearance of the London born poet  Kate Tempest.  She performed a brave, powerful rap poem, that just blew my socks off.  No wonder she won the Ted Hughes Award in 2013 and will be curating the Brighton Festival in 2017.


I wanted to talk to one or two of the Edward Lear prize winners, over lemonade, iced tea and chicken-ham sandwiches, but after being recognised, they disappeared back to work and homes.

This prize is an opportunity for young (18-30 year old) poets.  The theme each year follows in the vein of Edward Lear’s Nonsensical Poems, with the aim of bringing about a feeling of lightness and optimism to Sri Lanka and the world.

The Edward Lear Poetry award 2017 will be open for entries from 1st September 2016.

Details of Judges


Vihanga Perera is a writer of fiction and poetry, a literature critique and conservationist. He has won the Gratiaen Prize (2014) and the State Literary Award (2015) for his poetry. He has also been a lecturer in English Literature at the Universities of Peradeniya and Sri Jayewardenepura.


Pia is a journalist with Bloomberg News, currently covering the global technology industry. She has worked at the BBC and Reuters in cities over the world, including Mumbai, London and Washington DC. Before that, Pia studied History at Oxford University and has a passion for film, literature and travel. She lives with her husband in New York City.


Dilhani Thantirimudalige is a poet and a free-lance communication specialists who hails from Kandy. She began writing and publishing poetry as a young student of Good Shepard Convent. Her poem at that time “The world I see” was chosen to be published in the American Poetry Anthology of 1991. Among her favorite styles of writing are the narrative and confessional poems that share expressions of memories and experience. She owns a Bachelors Degree in the stream of social sciences from the open university of Colombo. Presently she lives with her husband and two children in Homagama.


Gehan Talwatte is a London based media entrepreneur and investor. He chronicles his search for the best martini at martinimandate.com


Ameeta has over 20 years of corporate experience in developing, managing, financing and executing projects for corporate sector across in India and UK. She now works as an advisor to startup companies on finance and business strategy with her consulting firm Espandere Advisors. She has authored two books ‘A Jouney in Love’ and ‘Joyful Soul – Rellections of a Happy Soul’. Ameeta graduated in Bachelors in Commerce from Lady Sriram College for Women, Delhi University and she is a management graduate from Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore.

More information about the prize can be found here

The poems are reproduced in full here (with kind permission from the Edward Lear Prize for Poetry)

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