Maynooth University Library Ken Saro-Wiwa School Poetry Competition

By Helen Fallon, Deputy Librarian, Maynooth University Library


Maynooth University Library and Maynooth Education Campus organised a Ken Saro-Wiwa school poetry competition. Prize winners were announced at the Ken Saro-Wiwa Seminar on 14th November 2018.

Jessica Traynor, poet


Background to the Award

Ken Saro-Wiwa was a writer and environmental activist who lived in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria. He fought against the pollution of his homeland by the international petrochemical industry and was executed along with eight others (the “Ogoni 9”), in 1995.  While in military detention, he wrote letters and poems full of hope, and sent them to his friend Sister Majella McCarron (OLA). Ken Saro-Wiwa’s letters to Sister Majella were smuggled out of military detention in breadbaskets and donated, by Sister Majella, to Maynooth University in 2011. Each year, the Library organises a Ken Saro-Wiwa seminar to mark the anniversary of his death.
The school poetry prize was part of this year’s initiative. Poetry workshops were facilitated by poet Jessica Traynor.  She was also the competition judge.

Commenting on all the entrants Jessica remarked:

“I was so happy to see how the students had responded to the theme of global pollution, and answered Ken Saro Wiwa’s call to become eco heroes in their own right. We had a number of really passionate pleas to turn back the tide of pollution, and a real sense of awareness of the damage that is being done to the earth. The part that human greed has to play in pollution of the planet is also clearly expressed in these poems. The students aren’t afraid to try out form, and I was delighted to read a number of haiku, and also poems that showed real imaginative flair, where the writer has placed themselves in the shoes of another speaker and really channeled their experiences. These poems transport the reader to far away places, and imbue them with an urge to change things for the better. I hope all of the writers will continue to write in future – there is so much potential here.”

Sr. Majella McCarron (OLA) presents the 1st prize to poetry competition winner Conor Walsh. 


Overall prize winner was Conor Walsh, for his poem 1859


Standing there at the side of the drill,

Watching the oil, black as coal, being poured into the container,

Seeing Mr. Drake’s face as he watched on, the pride clearly evident,

It was simply magnificent.

Thinking of what heroes we were,

How the world will change because of us,

The legacy we will leave behind.

We rushed to tell them what we had found,

How different their reaction was to what I had envisaged.

We were not glorified heroes,

We were monsters.

They told us “if used this oil would be the death of the human race.”

Sitting here now knowing that we almost damaged the earth in an unthinkable fashion,

I am comforted in the knowledge that we will always remember the dark day when oil tried to kill us.

We must take the lessons learned from that day and allow them to influence everything we do,

The mistakes of that day must never be made again

Because if they are the consequences will be grave.


Commenting on 1859, Jessica Traynor remarked:
“This is a really imaginative take on the idea of global pollution, a unique historical take focusing on Edwin Drake’s striking oil in 1859. I think that the poet has been very clever in going back, in a sense, to the source of our current problems and creating a very dramatic and ominous atmosphere, foreshadowing the trouble that the reader knows will come. The poet does a really good job of evoking the voice of the oil-worker who slowly discovers the ruin their discovery will wreak on humanity. This poem shows a passionate engagement with the subject and a lively imagination. A very impressive poem, and a well-deserved first prize.”


Second prize was awarded to Zofia Terzyk for her poem “Elements of Life.”


Elements of Life

Wounding word pollute the water,

thrown away dreams damage the earth,

tears of lost love blow out fires,

sharp knives cut the trees,

furious fists punch the metal,

Wounding word pollute the water,

Only heroes can save us now,

fight the crime and turn back time,

Peace, Love, Hope and Joy,

cleanse the world,

bring back Life,

So strong yet so shatterable.


Commenting on the poem, Jessica Traynor stated:

“This is a poet who has a great sense of music, who creates beautiful and sounds and images to get their message across. The image of fists punching metal is timeless and speaks volumes, evoking great industrial waste lands and the violence that is being done to the environment. The title is also strong, reminding us of all of the small but important components that make life on earth possible. This is a poet with a great instinct for poetry and I hope this entrant continues to develop their talent in future.”


Third prize was awarded to Eva Paturyan  for her poem “The Sun Shines Down”


The Sun Shines Down

The sun shines down

On views changed for the worse.

Yesterday it shone on a paradise of trees,
Today it shone on a barren wasteland.

Last week, on waves of water,
This week, on waves of plastic.
Last year, on faces lit with hope,

This year, on faces fearing for their future.
Last century, on wildlife left untouched,
This century, on wildlife fast disappearing.

The sun shines down

On this earth we call home,
And will continue to shine

While we undo our wrongs,

Until it shines down once again
On views changed for the better.


Commenting on “The Sun Shines Down,” Jessica Traynor stated:

“This is a poem by a confident writer who plays with meaning in a clever way – the double meaning of ‘views’ to include landscapes and points of view creates a strong start to the poem which is borne out by its clear and concise listing of the various ecological problems which face us.  Again this is a writer with great potential, and I hope the entrant continues to explore that potential in the future.”


There were two runners up “Pollution” by Áine Dooley,  and “Melt” by Maeve Byrnes.

Sr Majella McCarron with Ken Saro-Wiwa poetry competition winners Conor Walsh, Maebh Byrnes and Zofia Terzyk


A global problem arises,

Like large plumes of smoke

From the industrial chimneys of greed-driven goliath

Causing the earth and air to choke

A global problem arises,

Like large mounds of plastic waste

Accumulating on our oceans floors and surfaces

Condemning all sea-life encased

A global problem arises,

Like large volumes of environmental noise

Emitted from unwanted human activities

So loud, so continuous, it annoys

A global problem arises,
Like air, sea and noise pollution

Merging to form climate change

A growing concern that requires your eco-hero contribution



Melting cap of ice,

We tum the earth to an oven,
Sets the earth on fire
Cooking the scorched lands,
Killing the beauty of Earth.

Our Earth, too precious


Commenting on the Ken Saro-Wiwa Poetry Competition, Helen Fallon Deputy Librarian said:

“We have had many initiatives to encourage engagement with the Ken Saro-Wiwa Collection at Maynooth University Library. While we have had visits from schoolchildren before, the poetry competition with the local school is new. It’s great to see such interest in the issues Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni people fought for, and lovely to see so many fine poems.”

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