“Looking for poems which tilt the world”: the National Poetry Competition 2021 is now launched

Artwork by Whooli Chen
L to r: National Poetry Competition judges Fiona Benson, David Constantine and Rachel Long (photo: Amaal Said)

Fiona Benson, David Constantine and Rachel Long are the judges of the National Poetry Competition 2021, which is now open for entries

The National Poetry Competition, run by The Poetry Society, is one of the world’s most prestigious prizes for a single unpublished poem.

The three judges this year are outstanding and award-winning writers. Fiona Benson has won the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize for a First Full Collection, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize and the Forward Prize for Best Collection. David Constantine, who was an editor of Modern Poetry in Translation for ten years, has published over a dozen volumes of poetry, and is a recipient of the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. Rachel Long, founder of the Octavia Poetry Collective for Women of Colour, has been recognised by the Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection and the Costa Poetry Award, and has previously judged one of The Poetry Society Poetry News members’ poems competitions.

Rachel Long said: “I am looking for poems which tilt the world for me; poems that alter the way I think, feel, consider an orange in a fruit bowl; poems that bite me from the title, from the first line; poems that move and make me say aloud: yes, that’s exactly what it looks/acts/felt like, why didn’t I know it that way before?”

Fiona Benson said: “I am incredibly excited to read the poems this competition brings. I know I will find poems that catch at my heart and throat, and engage my brain; that are textured and dynamic, and full of song.”

David Constantine said: “At this time of widespread mendacity in public life, I shall be looking for poems that whatever the subject in their own ways seek to tell the truth.”

Since it launched in 1978 the National Poetry Competition has been a hugely important milestone in the careers of many of today’s leading poets, with previous winners including Helen Dunmore, Ruth Padel, Carol Ann Duffy, Jo Shapcott and Tony Harrison. The competition continues to expand in popularity and reach – in 2020 just shy of 7,500 entrants submitted over 18,000 poems, from a total of 95 countries and all UK postcodes.

There’s a first prize of £5,000, a second prize of £2,000, a third prize of £1,000 and commendations of £200 each. Between now and the deadline of 31 October 2021, The Poetry Society will also be releasing free writing resources and digital content from some of the UK’s top poets to help people get inspired.

Running alongside the National Poetry Competition is the Peggy Poole Award, a mentoring scheme that helps emerging writers in the North West of England develop their craft. The award is made in memory of poet and broadcaster Peggy Poole. A winner of the Peggy Poole Award will be selected from poems submitted to the National Poetry Competition from the North West.

To accompany the competition, The Poetry Society has commissioned artist Whooli Chen to create a fantastical artwork which imagines an alluring wonderscape of creatures and magical objects – an intriguing and inspiring call to poetry.

Find out more and enter the National Poetry Competition