Talented Wick-based student wins trophy in UHI’s first ever High Life Highland Poetry Prize

The ‘High Life Highland Poetry Prize’ is a pilot prize event delivered collaboratively by the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) and High Life Highland (HLH). Submissions were open to all active UHI students with entries on the theme ‘My Life in the Highlands and Islands’ with the winner unveiled in a virtual cross-campus ceremony at 11am on Tuesday 20 June.

The poetry competition entrants stretched from wide and far, attending UHI Outer Hebrides, UHI Inverness, UHI Moray, UHI North Highland, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig in Skye, UHI Shetland, and UHI Perth.

Entries were received in English, Gaelic, Scots and, Shetlandic.

Selected for first prize was the sensory and evocative poem titled ‘Wide and Free’ by Wick-based student Florence Murton-Armer: “I'm home-schooled and have enjoyed studying a variety of courses through UHI North Highland over the past few years.

“I live in Caithness and love to create. Living by the sea gives me lots of inspiration to use my imagination. I love exploring the beaches and wild landscapes Caithness has to offer, the big Caithness skies are one of its features that inspired 'Wide and Free'.”

The poems were shortlisted by an internal panel of UHI lecturers for our courses of Creative Writing, Literature and Gaelic.

Julie Corcoran, High Life Highland’s Head of Libraries, said: “We were all very impressed by the selection of entries, as well as the broad geography they all covered in area and in language. It was incredibly tough to narrow down a winner for the competition, with such unique entries!

“Ultimately what it came down to was that we felt the most connected to Florence’s poem. The more we read, the more we were immersed into a sensory experience that allowed us to experience Wick through her eyes. Her composition is expressive, lyrical, and beautiful.”

Paul Shanks, UHI Inverness’ Lecturer in Literature and Drama, added: “We are delighted to share this opportunity with High Life Highland to run a poetry competition for our students at UHI and were very impressed by the high standard and wide range of the poems submitted.

“Every entry demonstrated facility and imagination when it came to poetic techniques, with some particularly effective use of sound patterning, imagery, and rhythm. The breadth of languages in which the poems were written was also inspiring.

“There was an interesting variety of themes and ideas, from celebrations of specific places and landscapes to reflections on cultural and historical displacement within the Highlands and Islands region. It was heartening to see such a high standard of work from budding poets at UHI and we look forward to running the competition again next year.”

Steve Walsh, High Life Highland’s Chief Executive, concluded: “High Life Highland are keen to promote literature and celebrate creativity in the Highlands and Islands, especially following 2022’s ‘Year of Stories’ and the exciting Spirit of the Highlands and Islands ‘Spirit:360’ story archive set to be featured in the upcoming Inverness Castle Experience.

“Florence is a fantastic writer and is very deserving of winning the first ever ‘High Life Highland Poetry Prize’. High Life Highland is excited to be working in collaboration with UHI to see this competition grow, and in doing so, continue to celebrate the diverse culture within Highland and Island communities.”

The prize will include a £100 voucher for the student, a custom-engraved trophy to be displayed at the winning student’s closest campus – which in Florence’s case is UHI North Highland – and finally, an extract of the poem displayed on the walls of the student’s local library at East Caithness Community Facility.

You can read Florence’s poem ‘Wide and Free’ below:

Wide and Free

Standing on the cliff top

one Wick summer morning,

salt wind sighing round my ankles.

No mountains yawn here.


I watch boat busy men gearing up,

a sea washed journey calling.

A giant playground,

fit for a sea king frolicking the waves.


The puff put of grease oiled engines float

to rooftops barnacled with gulls,

gossiping with their lewd catcalls,

breaking slumber.


In dribs and drabs the unhurried boats

steel out to comb the flotsam drift matter.

I watch until they dwindle on that

wide northern horizon.


I turn for home,

Dive-bomb gulls fly one by one,

wings outstretched

where the north is wide and free.