Theme: Beginnings • Judge Caroline Bird!   Entries CLOSED at midnight on 30/9/21


Theme: Beginnings •  Judge Caroline Bird!  Entries CLOSED at midnight on 30/9/21

Our Competition on the theme of Beginnings CLOSED on 30/9/21!

We have been 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’s next job, through October and into November, is to read ALL the poems and then to select a first, second and third prize winner, along with 21 commended poems to feature in our annual competition anthology (published by sister press, Verve Poetry Press) and to appear, should they wish, at our Competition Event at VERVE 2022 where all the winning and commended poets will meet and be introduced to our audience by Caroline! Results should be with us Mid-November at around the time of our line-up and ticket launch! In the mean time, thanks so much for all your wonderful entries, and watch this space!!!















Details of this year’s competition – open for entries 1/8/21 – 30/9/21!

Due to the pandemic, we decided to take a year out for Verve in 2021 but we’re pleased to write that we will be back in February 2022! As a result our regualar competition for individual poems is also back with a wonderful new judge and a brand new theme. Relaunching the festival after our time out feels strange, and as (fingers crossed) the world begins to awaken and people can begin to engage with each other again, particularly in art settings, it feels like something is beginning. We are looking and what we had before and wondering what we should keep and what we should leave behind. We are doing it when we think about our festival. We are doing it when we think about our lives.

You won’t be surprised, therefore, to hear that this year, the theme for our competition is BEGINNINGS. And we are hoping this year’s poems will be a celebration of the opportunities that this brief pause might have given us, and new directions that might emerge. But the pandemic has also 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. We hope your poems will engage with one or all of the issues, concerns, challenges and changes that accompany the start of something. 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!

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.

How to apply:

PayPal payment

The cost of entry to our competition is £5.00 for the first poem and £3.00 for each subsequent poem. Please pay using the Paypal button below. Only online payment is accepted.

Poem Options

Email Entries
Once your Paypal payment is completed you must email your poem(s) to, each on a separate Word or PDF document. Your personal details must not be anywhere on the document(s) containing your poem(s). In the body of your email, please leave your name, postal address, email address and telephone contact details, along with the receipt number for your PayPal payment.

Audio Entries
Because we wish to encourage entries from performance poets as well as those who write with the page in mind, we will accept audio entries of work on mp3 or .wma. ALL audio entries however must also be accompanied by a written version of the work and be emailed as described above.


If you are a friend of Verve submitting a poem then you can submit your first 2 poems for the price of 1. For example if you want to send two poems then choose the option for 1 poem in the drop-down menu and send us two poems by email!

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 on the theme of BEGINNINGS.
  • Poems must be in English and your own original work.
  • The competition is open to anyone aged 16 or over.
  • 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 Caroline. 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.
  • There are three cash prizes: £500 for first place, £250 for second place and £100 for third place. 21 ‘commended’  poets will be included in our Beginnings Themed Anthology and invited to read their poem alongside the prizewinners and four commissioned poets at our Beginnings Poetry Event at Verve, hosted by Caroline! Those who attend will be given a free one day pass to enjoy ony of the other events on that day at the festival.

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 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.