Theme: Eco-Poetry • Judge: Helen Mort!


Theme: Eco-Poetry • Judge: Helen Mort!


We were thrilled with the massive response to this year’s competition theme of ECO-POETRY and to our judge for this year, the delightful Helen Mort! SO many entries, of such high quality. Helen spent most of January reading ALL the poems (anonymously of course!) and she has selected her first, second and third prize winners, along with 21 commended poems and ten of our 11-17 year old entries, 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 2024 where they can meet and be introduced to our audience by Helen!




1st PRIZE – OLI ISAAC for their poem ‘the sun never gets sick or wakes up late or smokes too much’.

Oli Isaac is a London-based playwright and poet, who likes to write tender poems about their tender thoughts. Having grown up with a stutter, they are interested in how language can fail us + how experiments in poetry and multimedia can attempt to cross that gap. Oli is a recipient of Audible Theatre’s Emerging Playwrights Fund and has previously been selected as a lead artist for the Barbican x CRIPtic showcase and the BBC’s Words First festival. They are an alumni of Soho Theatre Writers’ Lab, Roundhouse Poetry Collective and the Apples & Snakes’ Writing Room, as well as a current member of Barbican Young Poets

Helen’s thoughts on the winning poem: ‘The poem that rose to the surface as my winner has an enviably great title: ‘the sun never gets sick or wakes up late or smokes too much’. It sounds as if it is going to be arch, tricksy even. And it does bristle with dark humour: ‘we lay on your front lawn persuading our shadows / to stand up’ (what a fantastic line break, incidentally / not incidentally).

But there’s more at play here, disguised by the lack of capitalisation and staccato statements: ‘…you joke that the sun could go / on a killing spree and it would blame us / for having high expectations.’ In the age of climate emergency, a joke is never just a joke. 

The speaker worries that the earth’s rotation will come to a halt and, again, their arch pronouncement seems prophetic. It is a piece which comments on the apathy we can feel in the face of global warming and global disaster, the way it can be hard to know where to begin (but we must).

I think what I loved most about this poem – apart from its refusal to take itself too seriously somehow, even given the gravity of its subject – was its last word on the capacity we have as humans for self-delusion. It’s there in the final line: ‘our accelerated mortality gives me back my appetite.’

2nd PRIZE – BEN VERINDER for his poem ‘Eel’.

Ben Verinder lives in rural Hertfordshire. His debut pamphlet, Botanicals, was published by Frosted Fire in autumn 2021 and his second, We Lost The Birds, by Nine Pens in March 2023.

3rd PRIZE – SOPHIA ARGYRIS for her poem ‘How caves love you’.

Sophia Argyris was born in Belgium to a British-Greek family. Her first collection How Do the Parakeets Stay Green? (Indigo Dreams Publishing) won the Geoff Stevens Memorial Prize.


Corinna Board – Hannah Burrows – Ger Duffy – Lily Dyu – Elizabeth Gibson – Roger Hare – Tim Kiely – Caroline Maldonado – Agata Maslowska – Isabella Mead – Lesley Quayle – Tom Sastry – Rachit Sharma – Harry Slater – Sue Spiers – Alison Tanik – Milena Williamson.


Dominic Anaya Gulaya – Japmeh Gujral – Emily Hunt – Kai Lee – Lilly Prince – Disha Ramesh – Aneesha Sandhu – Isabelle Wei – Evie Williams – Laurie Wiseman.  


HUGE congratulations to them all! And thankyou to everyone who entered our competition with poems of such high quality! Our ECO-POETRY themed event at VERVE24 (Sunday 25th Feb 11:00am – 12:30pm), hosted by Helen, is FREE to attend but tickets must be booked to ensure your place is kept as it is always popular. This event will have BSL interpretation and will be LIVE streamed for those who wish or need to attend remotely. Tickets available NOW! VERVE 2024 Line-Up | Verve Poetry Festival


This year’s competition closed for entries on 12/11/23!

We had SO many submissions to our competition on the theme of Eco-poetry this year! Thankyou to everyone for sending us your wonderful poems 

Judge Helen Mort will spend December selecting what she considers to be the three winning poems, along with a further 21 commended poems. All winning and commended poets will hear from us before the end of January 31 2024 and will be invited to attend and participate in our competition winners event which will take place at #VERVE24 and be hosted by Helen herself! All 24 poems will also be anthologised by sister press VERVE Poetry Press, and all included poets will receive a free copy of this at the festival, where it will also be available to purchase.

MEANWHILE our FREE to enter eco-poetry comp for 11-17 yearolds remains open until end of Nov 30th 2023. Know anyone who should enter?? To Visit our Young Person’s Competition page, please click here! 



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.

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 took part in our first ever Zoom season of fortnightly workshops which has been running since June and closed in early November. (We will be reviving our Zoom Workshop Season in 2024. To be kept abreast of this and hear all our other news, please sign up to our regular newsletter here: Verve Poetry Festival ( or follow us on our socials (see bottom of page for links)).


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

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.