Three Ways to Look at a Person: South African Poets Slow Down to See Better    
Fri, 31 May 2024

In April this year, the AVBOB Poetry Project ran a mini-competition on the theme ‘Three Ways to Look at a Person’. Today, we are announcing the names of the three winning poets and sharing their powerful words.
First-prize winner: Second-prize winner: Third-prize winner:
Ann Scarborough Moore Kiara Naidoo Collen Thabo Molahlehi
Cash prize: R1 000 Cash prize: R700 Cash prize: R300
Because so much information is easily available to us today, it is easy for us to assume that we are better informed than the generations who walked the earth before us. But the truth is that much of this information confirms what we already think we know, especially when it comes to the lives of other people. In order to have a real experience of another person, it is usually necessary to slow down and look at them from several perspectives.
This year, the AVBOB Poetry Project celebrates poetry’s ability to create small but complex worlds that force us to slow down and pay close attention.
The response to this mini-competition has been remarkably thoughtful and sensitive. “We didn’t know what to expect,” said Johann de Lange, the competition’s chief judge. “This was quite a challenging theme. But poets rose to the challenge and sent us their finest work. There are poems here that will move readers, that will inspire them to think and feel more attentively. Better still, it is clear that interest in these competitions is growing. That in itself is very encouraging.”
He went on to say, “Poets definitely entered into the spirit of this competition. Whether they were describing themselves or immersing themselves in the mystery of another person, they wrote from a place of empathy and deep concern. The language of poetry is uniquely able to summon the inner life of a person in very few words, and this is something the winning poets were able to do admirably.”

First-place winner, Ann Scarborough Moore, is an artist and ceramicist living in Kenilworth. She won first prize in the English category in the 2020 AVBOB Poetry Competition and first prize in the 2020 AVBOB COVID-19 Competition. Some of her poems have appeared in Stanzas, the AVBOB anthology I Wish I’d Said, and Crossroads of the Century, an anthology produced by the Poetry Institute of Africa.
“This poem explores the dimensions of three of the many components that make up the whole of who we are. We are all, in some capacity, a small part of something huge while also being a big part of something small. The poem ends on a light note, suggesting that one should aim for balance in all things.”
Through A Fish-Eye Lens
Ann Scarborough Moore
I’m a small fish in a big pond
on my corporate C.V.  –
just a silver sliver in a shoal,
yet simultaneously,
I’m a big fish in a small pond
on arriving home at night,
and my family fishbowl features me
in quite a different light;
but when I’m in a muddle,
and the fishbowl springs a leak,
I’m a fish that’s out of water  --
in a puddle, so to speak.
But one way or another
it’s irrelevant, the size
of the bodies of life’s waters  --
I’ve got bigger fish to fry.

Second-place winner, Kiara Naidoo, is currently pursuing an Honours degree in Medical Virology at the University of Pretoria. She won the 2021 Youth Mini-Competition with her poem, ‘Rising Thespians’, and a few of her poems have been published in the AVBOB Poetry library.
“The theme of the competition coincided perfectly with an idea for a poem that had been brewing. My inspiration stemmed from forensic pathologist Prof. Ryan Blumenthal, who, after reading hundreds, possibly thousands of suicide notes, concluded that the reasons why people kill themselves could be grouped into at least one of three major ‘battlefronts’. I believe we also judge people based on these categories.
Kiara wrote a villanelle, a challenging form with 19 lines, a specific rhyme scheme using only two rhyming sounds and with the 1st and 3rd lines of the opening verse being repeated in the other verses. It is very rewarding when you get it right.

The worldview of a forensic pathologist 
Kiara Naidoo
There are three battlefronts of life 
Taught by the dead to the living 
Work, health, relationships bring strife 
Judgement points for the afterlife 
Earned in love, labour, and life's giving 
There are three battlefronts of life 
Actions dissected with a knife 
Do you deem them unforgiving? 
Work, health, relationships bring strife 
Say I brought home treasures so rife
Would wealth deem a life worth living? 
There are three battlefronts of life 
You failed to look beyond the strife 
Each view had its own misgiving 
Work, health, relationships brought strife 
Say up high we start a new life 
An essence beyond mere living 
There are three battlefronts of life 
Work, health, relationships bring strife

Third-place winner, Collen Thabo Molahlehi, lives in Auckland Park, Johannesburg, and is a full-time engineering student. His poems have been featured in poetry anthologies (Shadow of the Soul, Letting In the Light and Mental Health) and on several websites, including and
 “I entered this competition to showcase my work and also to grow as a poet. A theme such as this takes poets out of their comfort zone, and the resulting ‘out of comfort zone’ tends to spill into one’s future body of work.
“This poem came to me while I was reflecting on how far I have come over the past few years. I wrote the poem to remind myself that as much as it feels that there’s no end to the challenges that come my way, the end is often on the other side of acknowledging that these challenges do not define me. Rather than letting life’s challenges swallow me, I should remind myself of who I am and what it took for me to get there.”
Remember who you are!
Collen Thabo Molahlehi
Your cry is another piece of corrugated iron
That lost its voice to the rain 
You were not like this,
the midnight zone was not your home,  
your prayers were not this cold.
There was a you before you became the phases, 
A you, before you became a reflection of the life
That once hung on to those reclining eyes.
I know Thabo the fighter,
who could dance with the devil 
Until he got on his knees, 
Not this façade who has pretended for so long
that defeat to him tastes like he has won.
no matter how many times this life has flashed before those eyes 
you stood taller than the hairs at the back of your neck 
you have hailed from beneath
The rubble meant to bring you closer to the gods
 And brought the life back into the hymns 
they wanted to sing 
while your flesh descended 6 feet beneath.
Thabo, your roots will swim in her 
beautiful springs and you will spring  
back to life when the storm ends. 

In a world where knee-jerk opinions often divide and polarise us, poetry remains a reliable tool to sharpen our imagination. By forcing us to pay close attention to what may not be immediately accessible to us, it teaches us how to open our hearts and minds to let in the world in all its messy complexity.
Whatever challenges lie ahead of us, our success and happiness will surely depend on our ability to re-examine our assumptions about those who share our world. It is only by doing this that we can reimagine our relationships with them as we build, nurture and redefine the communities we belong to and love.
The 2025 AVBOB Poetry Competition opens its doors on 1 August 2024. For details on how to enter, please visit the AVBOB Poetry Project’s social media channels.