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  • Writer's pictureKayleigh Willis

1st Prize - Maiya Dambawinna 'Five Sonnets (Confessions for Stomach Lining)'

We are so thrilled and honoured to introduce our winning poet, 21-year-old Maiya Dambawinna. Maiya was chosen overall winner by Joelle, and is a poet, aspiring writer and student from Leeds, UK. A recipient of the Foyle Young Poet of the Year Award 2018, she has been​​ published in “The Walls Were Not Big Enough To Hold You” anthology, on Picaroon Poetry and Petty Bourgeoise Magazine, among others. Maiya is an exceptional talent, with an incredible future in poetry ahead, and we are thrilled and honoured to announce her as the winner of the 2022 MONO Poetry Prize. Read on for her interview and winning poem...and don't forget if you scroll to the bottom of this page, you'll find a space to leave comments and reactions. : )

Five Sonnets (Confessions for Stomach Lining) - 1st Prize winner

Last night, someone bubbled a prayer in cheap

mink & coughed – took you as priest, drank in a stream of the mountain’s blush & still didn’t fall. Believed all the world was linen, touched a woman, only to realise all the world was an atom bomb. Oil lay deep in the pore & without hesitation

anointed the last drop of sacrament on a passer-by, lips sealed with sloppy communion. Under the moon, you were one jaguar made of ash, everyone else a crisp bone of air. Whilst pissing, I

came to this conclusion – the jungle is a paradise for those who have the time.


Paradise. For those who have the time, dawn

is nothing more than a purple stain on a doorman’s cheek. Coming to in a swarm of blue light, eyelids square and stepping back-

wards like a wild cat in a river-boat,

your paws become stump-roots & amputate.

Morning cuts thick through glass like a wound. So, here’s my confession: I never wanted to be a killer, I only wanted to experience a red, rainless sky,

to understand a night in the desert, to tunnel light from here to Michigan.

This spine cracks like any other spine &

like any other day, I wake bleeding.


Like any other day I wake, bleeding

Dribble, the stench of sour milk and damp.

Sun wakes and blinks and sleeps again. Moon gives gestures of solidarity with her absence. Street-people keep dancing over each cobble, as if the pavement won’t frac- ture beneath them; no words to describe the moments between, not the sharp breath torn through lung, not the rot clung to intestine, not the clot-broken arteries. Today, I am dizzy with the career of being, I inhale spearmint to calm the hunger, I pillow each vertebra with your hands. Face awash with the cool bronze hue of dawn, Seems a stranger to the ghost smiling back.


There are stranger ghosts who have smiled back –

in a dim flicker, strobed mist catches eye,

for I, shaded and crow-sheened, glitter like

a boy approaching the last summer surf.

I’ve already told you about the sweat.

Another confession: blue fluorescence,

each shape a cobra, defanged and dancing,

tendrils shrunken nebulas. Universe

all over your face. Quiet light to hide

shadows collapsing their slippery pink

necks, melting to a deluge down your spine,

sparking hot flash at the hem and burning;

each syllable powdered into your gum,

no names taken, carried home on your own.


I take no name but my own, would carry

it to my grave if I had to, would dig

deep scars in the fabric of the pavement

just to complain about the dirt under

each fingernail. In this life, where the light

is ungenerous, you could mistake a

flutter of dead cells for a disco ball, and the dark-cast shards of broken mirror

for better luck. Your nostrils full, unsnot and shatter, estuaries unthroat to rotten pink sugar custard. Here, bending

over unsympathetic porcelain horseshoe, you mother your abortion. Hurt came so easily, this is where it stopped.

All Rights. Maiya Dambawinna.


Tell us a bit about yourself and writing history... Maiya Dambawinna (she/her) is a Durham University graduate and currently undertaking her MA in Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Literary Studies. She is 21 years old, proudly biracial, and a former Foyle Young Poet of the Year. She is interested in writing dualities, be that through experiences of her own heritage, the interaction of form and content, or surrealist images. Since winning Foyle Young Poet of the Year in 2018, which sparked her drive to write professionally, she has since been published in a variety of magazines: Pulp Poets Press, Picaroon Poetry, THREAD, Iceberg Tales, SINK Magazine, and Pink Trolley, to name a few. Her experiences have led her to be a part of some incredible things, featuring on BBC Radio show 'The Verb' with Ian MacMillan, at a reading with Wakefield LitFest, and onstage at one of the largest UK student fundraisers - Durham University Charity Fashion Show. Why did you enter this particular competition? I entered the MONO. Poetry Prize because I wanted to submit to a competition that values experimentalist work, the surreal and the modern; having read the prior shortlisted poets, the publications and MONO. itself, I became enchanted with the quality of work that it turned out and loved the idea of becoming part of that fold. I find the bounds of my own work often transgresses the 40-limit line count on so many competitions, and the competition's freedom allowed me to submit one of my most experimental pieces, one that I am incredibly proud of. MONO. amplifies those voices that aren't at the centre, but those who find themselves pushed to the edge.

What inspires you? I was having a conversation with one of my very close friends the other day, and it really made me realise how visual of a thinker I am; so much of my inspiration is drawn from poets I read, movie scenes, visions from my own life and narratives told to me by friends and family. In fact, Five Sonnets (Confessions for Stomach Lining) began as a retranslation of American Sonnet 51 by Wanda Coleman but developed into something entirely different as I interpolated language and inspiration from Aria Aber, Danez Smith, Ocean Vuong and Jericho Brown. The fourth sonnet partially retells a scene from the Shannon Murphy movie Babyteeth (2019), and the rest came from moments I've witnessed. I'm inspired by the extremes of writing, and do try to tell that which is usually untold (code: my fantastic seminar leaders at university once told me I had an extraordinarily unusual focus on bile). As a person of dual heritage, I do find that exploring the chasm between two opposites can be a dark and dangerous place, but incredibly exciting to delve into. My poetry definitely tries to handle issues of selfhood, identity, particularly through duality and contrast. One quote that informs a great deal of my work comes from Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance - 'you have to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair' - that's what my poetry tries to do. Who is your favourite poet and why?

This is always such a difficult question, I guess I've got two answers: my longstanding favourite poet is Danez Smith, purely due to their influence on my formative writing years, but at the moment I'd have to say Rachel Long. That said, I am currently reading Richard Scott's Soho on the recommendation of a friend, and he's definitely climbing up my personal rankings.

Congratulations Maiya. We can't wait to see what you do next!

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