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Entries have been coming in fast and fabulous for the fifth edition of the Verve Poetry Festival Competition—and there’s still time to get your poetry in! Here’s a rundown of everything you need to know before entering.

Theme: ‘Beginnings’
Single poems
No more than 80 lines
Open to anyone 16 or over

DEADLINE: Midnight on 30th September 2021 1st Place: £500
2nd Place: £250
3rd Place: £100
 Entry Cost: £5.00 for the first poem and £3.00 for each subsequent poem. Verve Friends get 2 for 1 on entries. Full details on how to enter on our Competition page. 

We’re beyond ecstatic to have our competition this year judged by poetry superstar Caroline Bird. Since publishing her first collection in 2002 (at the age of 15!) she’s been putting out award-winning collection after award-winning collection. The most recent of which, Air Year (Carcanet, 2020), won the Forward Poetry Prize for best collection, was shortlisted for the Costa Poetry Awards and was named Book of the Year by both the Guardian and the Telegraph. Whew!


“I’m looking for poems that have surprised their own poet, poems that fling open the door of a first line and usher me inside, poems that trust their images to do the talking, poems written in the privacy of one person’s imagination that is now – via some magic telephone – available to me.”

As in previous years, we’re compiling the winners plus 21 commended poems and 4 commissioned poems into a gorgeous anthology, published by our sister press Verve Poetry Press – and just like in previous years, it’s going to be brilliant.

Our launch event, always a highlight of the festival, is going to kick off our final day. It’ll be hosted by judge Caroline Bird and we’ll be inviting everyone featured in the anthology to read on our stage, in front of the always enthusiastic Verve audience.

After missing a year, we know the comeback is going to be *marvellous* so do join us—the event is free to enter but you will need to register for a seat, so keep your eyes peeled for when tickets go on sale!

For a little inspiration, why not have a look at what wonderful work has come out of the competition before.  Here are some of the poems that hang in the Verve Poetry Festival Hall of Fame:

Verve Poetry Festival 2017 (This is Not Your Final Form)

This Is Not Your Final Form is a collection of poems about Birmingham, depicting a second city which is no longer content to play second fiddle.

1st Prize: The Second Law of Thermodynanamics by Susannah Dickey

2nd Prize: CBSO by Jenna Clake

3rd Prize: The Rowan Tree by Gill Learner

Commended: Margaret Adkins, Reza Arabpour, Carole Bromley, Natalie Burdett, Keith Chandler, Jenna Clake, David Clarke, Nellie Cole, Rishi Dastidar, Bernard Davis, Susannah Dickey, Jennifer Edwards, Tessa Foley, Heather Freckleton, Victoria Gatehouse, Roz Goddard, Shaun Hand, Nick Knibb, Gregory Leadbetter, Gill Learner, Bernadette Lynch, John McGhee, Kibriya Mehrban, Jill Munro, Nusayba Nabeel, Rachael Nicholas, Cheryl Pearson, Helen Rehman, Ali-Noor Salam, Maya Stokes, Louise Vale, Rob Walton and Charlotte Wetton.

Verve Poetry Festival 2018 (It All Radiates Outwards)

The theme for our 2018 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. 

1st Prize: Myself as Playboy Bunny by C.I. Marshall

2nd Prize: Shoreditch by Jacqueline Saphra

3rd Prize: Brain as City by Claire Trévien

Verve Poetry Festival 2019 (Clsoed Gates or Open Arms)

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.

1st Prize: Every Girl Knows by Amy Acre

2nd Prize: Relationality by Jack Emsden

3rd Prize: Mindfulness Begins Oliver Fox

Verve Poetry Festival 2020 (We’ve Done Nothing Wrong, We’ve Nothing to Hide)

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.

And finally, a word of advice: our festival is all about having all different kinds of poetry sharing a stage, sharing a shelf and – in our festival anthologies – sharing a book. With a new judge every year and as few restrictions as possible, we just want to see the best of what you do best!

This is Not Your Final Form


It All Radiates Outwards


Closed Gates or Open Arms?


We’ve Done Nothing Wrong, We’ve Nothing to Hide


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