Young Person's Competition

Theme: Eco-Poetry • Judge: Helen Mort!

Young Person's Competition

Theme: Eco-Poetry • Judge: Helen Mort!

Details of this year’s competition – open for entries 10/09/23 – 12/11/23!

To Visit our Adult’s Competition page, please click here!  

With VERVE Poetry Festival 2024 looming in the near distance (have you saved the dates?? It’s 21/02/24 – 25/02/24!) it’s time to announce the return of our annual VERVE Poetry Competition with a fabulous new judge and a brand new theme. It is also time to announce that this year, for the first time, we have a special FREE to enter competition category for 11-17 year-olds!

And what better theme for this year’s comp, as we sweat in September’s heat having gotten rain-drenched in July and August, than one that engages with the worrying trends impacting our climate and looks at the wider issues facing our ecology? Just what is going on and what can we do about it? What might the world look like in our near or even further distant future and how will we have to develop to deal with the ecology that awaits us? What do we love most about the natural world that sustains us and which most of us seem to have little regard for? What would David Attenborough say if he were a poet? YEP, this year we’re plucking our buried heads out of the sand and taking a good look at ourselves and our brethren in the mirror. And we’re asking for your best ECO-POEMS.

As always we are looking for fresh approaches to a broad subject, and a range of emotions. We can’t wait to see what you come up with!  And remember, this year, as well as being open to adults, our competition is also open to 11-17 yearolds, who can enter a maximum of one poem for FREE to our young person’s part of the competition.

This year’s judge

Helen Mort is a poet and novelist. Her collections Division Street (2013), No Map Could Show Them (2016) and The Illustrated Woman (2022) are all published by Chatto & Windus. She’s a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and teaches at Manchester Metropolitan University. She lives in Sheffield. And before all that she was a young poet, winning the Foyles Young Poetry Prize no less than five times!

Helen appeared at the first ever VERVE Festival in 2017, and appeared again this earlier this year when she headlined alongside Imtiaz Dharker and Hannah Sullivan. She also workshopped at the festival both for adults and for young poets in association with Poetry Society Young Poets Network and has been part of our first ever Zoom season of fortnightly workshops which has been running since June and closes in early November. Needless to say (but we’ll say it anyway) we are bog fans of both Helen and her wonderful poetry!


What the judge says:

‘I am looking for poems that insist I read them more than once, poems that won’t let me walk away from them, that yield more on each reading. I have really eclectic tastes in literature and enjoy a variety of forms and styles, so I am open to being impressed by any approach to any subject!

I think sometimes with competitions people try to second guess the tastes of the judge or select work that is in keeping with the kind of poetry the judge writes. But I am often most impressed by poems that I know I couldn’t have written, pieces that make me think differently about voice or about the possibilities of form. Be yourself: write the kind of poems you’d like to read, send the poems that excite you.
Write the poem only you can write.

I’m really looking forward to seeing your work!

Helen Mort

2023/4 Judge

The Prizes:

The poems that Helen considers to be the ten best poems entered will be published in our annual festival anthology along with the prize-winning and commended poems from the adult section of the competition. The ten writers of these poems will be invited to the festival for the day to read their poem at our eco-poetry event which will be hosted by Helen. They will each receive a copy of the anthology and will also be invited to attend a special poetry workshop on the day where refreshments will be served.

NB No travelling or accommodation costs can be paid in connection with any prize awarded or for attendance to read at VERVE Poetry Festival.


How to enter:

Email Entries

Please email your poem to, each on either a Word or PDF document. Your personal details must not be anywhere on the document containing your poem. Please label your document with the title of your poem only. In the body of your email, please leave your name, postal address, plus an email address and telephone contact details which can be those of your parents. Please let your parents know that you are entering.

Competition Rules

  • Poems must be no more than 80 lines long excluding title, and be typed on A4 paper, either as a Word doc or PDF. There is no minimum length for entries.
  • Poems should be ECO-POEMS.
  • There is a parallel competition for adults that is pay to enter and has different prizes.
  • Poems must be typed, in English, unpublished, (they must not have been published, self-published or accepted for publication in print or online, broadcast, or have won or been placed in another competition at any time), have a title, and be your original work. No translations, please.
  • All poems will be read and judged anonymously by Helen Mort. They cannot be returned, and may not be altered after submission. The judge’s decisions are final.
  • No person may win more than one prize.
  • The copyright of each poem remains with the author, although the organisers have the right to publish winning and commended poems on our website, on online social media, and once in any anthology of poetry that Verve Poetry Festival chooses to organise.
  • The ten best 11-17 year-old poets as judged by Helen will be selected to be in our competition anthology, invited to read at our competition event at the festival and to attend a special workshop at the festival on the same day (Sunday Feb 25). The festival takes place in Birmingham at Birmngham Hippodrome (B5 4TE).

No travelling or accommodation costs can be paid in connection with any prize awarded or for attendance to read at VERVE Poetry Festival.

Previous Competitions


For 2023, Judge Kim Moore was keen to see what we had in the way of PROTEST poetry, and she was bowled over with what she got. The bredth and quality of the approaches to the idea of protest was vast, and Kim has a job on her hands to select her three winners and 21 commended poems (see the results in full below). We knew there was some anger out there, but perhaps not quite how all pervasive it had become, how strong the sense of injustice is in the poetry community, whether it focussed on genders issues, eco-protest, anti-war or in the case of the winner, entire politcal systems. We hope this year’s theme will be as productive!

1st Prize: Ovation by Wendelin Law

2nd Prize: In The Pines by Miranda Lynn Barnes

3rd Prize: When They Ask For Proof by Casey Jarrin

Commended Poets:

Becky Balfourth – Gemma Barnett – Fiona L Bennett – Hannah Burrows – Sujana Crawford – Glyn Edwards – Jack Emsden – Christopher Horton – Perla Kantarjian – Stephen Lightbown – Arji Manuelpillai – Nicholas McGaughey – Steve Pottinger – Julie Runacres – Sue Spiers – Caroline Stancer – Scarlett Ward – Iain Whiteley – Spencer Wood – Ros Woolner – Ruth Yates.

FOR 2022 the theme of our competition was ‘Beginnings’ and the judge was none other than Caroline Bird! We hoped that this year’s poems would reflect the pause that the pandemic that shall not be named has forced upon us all, some violently, some peacefully, but all of us together, pausing. We hoped they would also, in part, be a celebration of the opportunities that this brief pause might have given us, the new directions that may have emerged as a result. But the pandemic has been a harrowing thing for many, with loved ones lost, careers ended, financial struggles, and these things won’t just disappear with a vaccine and the return of live arts events. With every beginning there is also an end, and not all that is new is for the best.


1st Prize: Eden the Robot Gardener by Ben Rhys Palmer

2nd Prize: Cruelty by Luke Palmer

3rd Prize: When I Marry a White Man by Helen Quah 

Commended Poets:

Kathryn Bevis . Julian Bishop . Helen Bowell . Rachael Chong . Maria Ferguson . Catherine Gander . Katie Hale . Tania Hershman . Christopher Horton . Julie Irigaray . Christopher M James . Ellie Jenkins . Prerana Kumar . Vanessa Lampert . James McDermott . Estelle Price . Tom Sastry . Matt L.T. Smith . James Trevelyan . Rushika Wick . Annina Zheng-Hardy.

For our 2020 festival, the theme for our competition was Diversity (what better for a festival with diversity at its heart?). The quality of the entries was sky high and gave judge and event host Andrew McMillan a real problem when it came to selecting his top three and his commended titles.(see the results in full below). We wondered with our theme how celebratory the poems might be, and the feeling was fairly unanimous that while diversity should be celebrated, it wasn’t yet time to ignore the struggles and misunderstandings that often surround diverse approaches to love and life. However these poems also carried a determination to communicate the frustrations as well as the positives of varied approaches to living and ways of being, and the feeling was of a quest to create understanding and tolerance not yet over. There is work to be done! We hope the anthology that contains all the winning poems from the competition will help carry on that fight by helping to communicate diverse stories and approaches to the world.

1st Prize: The Dogs by Eleanor Penny

2nd Prize: Gaylord by Jack Parlett

3rd Prize: How To Wheel by Karl Knights 

Commended Poets:

Isabelle Baafi, Estelle Birdy, Dale Booton, Claire Collison, Jack Cooper, Natalie Crick, Jade Cuttle, Miles Fagge, Samuel Green, Roma Havers, Prerena Kumar, Paul Howarth, Christopher James, Tim Kiely, Zosia Kuczynska, Maria Leonard, Stephanie Papa, Michael Saunderson, Thomas Stewart,, Kat Payne Ware, Hilary Watson, Natalie Whittaker.

The theme of our 2019 competition was ‘Community and was judged and hosted by the wonderful Joelle Taylor who was shocked both by the quality of the entries and the Brexit negativity that ran through the poetry – these communities were bemoaned rather than celebrated and the resulting collection, ‘Closed Gates or Open Arms?’ stands as a testament to a time of uncertainty that is with us still. Amy Acre, Jack Emsden and Oliver Fox were our three winners.

The theme for our 2017 competition was ‘City’. We figured that a city centre poetry festival needs city poems! We were inundated with entries of an amazingly high standard, giving the competition judge, Luke Kennard, a very tough task indeed. In the end, three winners were chosen: Consuela Marshall, Jacqueline Saphra and Claire Trévien.

These three poets, along with 21 commended poets, contributed to an anthology published by Verve Poetry Press in 2018 titled It All Radiates Outwards.

In 2016, our theme was Birmingham and our superstar judge was Hannah Silva. Entries contributed to a beautiful anthology, This is Not Your Final Form, published by The Emma Press.