Theme: Beginnings • Judge Caroline Bird!   THE RESULTS ARE IN!


Theme: Beginnings •  Judge Caroline Bird!  THE RESULTS ARE IN!


We were thrilled with the massive response to this year’s competition theme of BEGINNINGS and to our judge for this year, the amazing Caroline Bird! SO many entries, of such high quality. Caroline spent most of October reading ALL the poems (anonymously of course!) and she has selected her first, second and third prize winners, along with 21 commended poems, all of whom will feature in our annual competition anthology (published by sister press, Verve Poetry Press) and appear, should they wish, at our Competition Event at VERVE 2022 where they can meet and be introduced to our audience by Caroline!




1st PRIZE – BEN RHYS PALMER for his poem ‘Eden the Robot Gardener’ 

Ben Rhys Palmer grew up in Cardiff, Wales. He lived in Barcelona for a number of years, teaching, acting and performing music, and now divides his time between Wales and Mexico. As well as writing poems, Ben works as a translator, songwriter and DJ. He has an MA in Creative Writing from Swansea University. His poetry has appeared in The London Magazine; Forklift, Ohio; Poetry Wales; New Welsh Review; Wales Arts Review; The Caterpillar; Under the Radar; Interpreter’s House; and Neon; and was commended in The Interpreter’s House Poetry Competition and The Welshpool Poetry Competition.

2nd PRIZE – LUKE PALMER for his poem ‘Cruelty’

Luke Palmer ash published two pamphlets. Most recently, In all my books my father dies (Red Ceilings Press, 2021) was  called ‘stark, beautiful & powerfully inventive’ by Luke Kennard. 

3rd PRIZE – HELEN QUAH for her poem ‘When I Marry a White Man’

Helen Quah grew up in Romford, Essex. She is a poet and junior doctor working in North London. Her debut pamphlet will be published by Outspoken Press in 2022. 


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.

HUGE congratulations to them all! And thankyou to everyone who entered our competition with poems of such high quality! Our BEGINNINGS themed event at VERVE 2022 (Sunday 20th Feb 11:00am – 12:25pm), hosted by Caroline, is FREE to attend but tickets must be booked to ensure your place is kept as it is always hugely popular. This event will have BSL interpretation and will be LIVE streamed for those who wish or need to attend remotely. Tickets available from Nov 29.

The judge

Caroline Bird is a poet and playwright. Her 2020 collection, The Air Year, won the Forward Poetry Prize for best collection, was shortlisted for the Costa Poetry Awards and was Book of the Year in both The Guardian and The Telegraph. A two-time winner of the Foyle Young Poets Award, her first collection Looking Through Letterboxes was published in 2002 when she was 15. She won an Eric Gregory Award in 2002 and was shortlisted for the Geoffrey Dearmer Prize in 2001 and the Dylan Thomas Prize in 2008 and 2010. She was shortlisted for Most Promising New Playwright at the Off-West-End Awards, and was a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. Her theatre credits include: The Trojan Women (Gate Theatre, 2012), The Trial of Dennis the Menace (Purcell Room, 2012), Chamber Piece (Lyric Hammersmith, 2013), The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Northern Stage, 2015), and The Iphigenia Quartet (Gate Theatre, 2016). She was one of the five official poets at the 2012 London Olympics. Her 2017 collection, In These Days of Prohibition, was shortlisted for the 2017 T.S. Eliot Prize and the Ted Hughes Award.

Caroline will read all the entries and choose 3 winning poems and 21 commended poems to feature in the anthology. Caroline will also attend and host the Beginnings Poetry event at Verve and introduce the attending poets.

Previous Competitions

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.