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  • Jean Rafferty


It was a great pleasure to me to be a judge for Beyond Borders Beyond Borders' 2019 competition on the theme of Inspirational Women and I'm delighted to announce the shortlist and winner.

The five entries chosen are all, in their own way, extraordinary. In no particular order, as they say on The X Factor:

Barbara Pollock's story about Marie Curie time travelling to the future to the world she helped create, Dreams are made of black holes and humming boxes, is imaginative and powerful, showing the links between generations of women scientists and the power of example.

Meron Berhanu stays very firmly in real life with her moving story, Mystic Treats, about a 15 year old girl, whose backstreet abortion sends ripples through the lives of her family, particularly her adoring younger brother.

Elizabeth Train-Brown's poem, Mother in Red, the Crucifixion as told through Mary's story, is direct and touching, compelling enough to move even non-believers. Her second, shorter poem, We're the ones they fear in the dark, could just as easily have sat on our shortlist.

Another short and direct poem, Sarah Spence's The Edinburgh Seven, 1870, celebrates the courage of the first women to study medicine and their determination in the face of male opposition.

All these entries really did have the X factor but for us, the clear winner was Pnina Shinebourne's beautiful and haunting poem, Jeanne Baret sails around the world.

The subject of the poem, Jeanne Baret, was the first woman to circumnavigate the globe. A botanist whose work with Philibert Commerson is enshrined in the French National Herbarium, she joined him on ship as his assistant - and lover.

The story is told through selected incidents in Jeanne's life and, too, through ravishing images expressing the love of nature that drove her to defy naval regulations and live on board as a man.

Subtle, witty and exquisitely judged, this superb poem questions what it is to be a woman and celebrates the courage of a woman who dared to defy authority in order to do what she loved. It shimmers in the mind long after first reading. Unforgettable.

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