The 2020 National Poetry Competition: judged by Neil Astley, Jonathan Edwards and Karen McCarthy Woolf

The 2020 National Poetry Competition is now open for entries! This year’s trio of expert judges are renowned as award-winning poets and editors. Poet Neil Astley, the distinguished editor of the poetry publishing house Bloodaxe Books, is well known for best-selling anthologies such as Being Human and Staying Alive. Jonathan Edwards has won the Costa Poetry Award and is the current editor of Poetry Wales. Poet Karen McCarthy Woolf has been recognised by awards including the Forward Felix Dennis and Fenton Aldeburgh prizes. She is editor of the influential Complete Works programme anthologies Ten and Ten: The New Wave showcasing British poets from diverse backgrounds.

L-R: Neil Astley (photo: Pamela Robertson-Pearce), Karen McCarthy Woolf, Jonathan Edwards

Karen McCarthy Woolf said: “We are living in extraordinary times, and now more than ever, we are facing political, cultural and social complexities that only extraordinary poems can witness. An exciting poem not only seeks to express a higher purpose, it invites the reader to embark on a journey of discovery. Sometimes that journey is unsettling, it reveals rather than explains; it pushes at the boundaries, whether formal or thematic. Above all, I like poems that make me feel as well as think – that reward attention with a whole new way of viewing and understanding the world.”

Work from poets at every stage of their writing careers is welcome, and the judges read all entries via an anonymised judging process, only discovering the identity of the winner after making their final decision. The competition has recognised previously unpublished newcomers, established names, and emerging talents.

The judges will be looking forward to reading poems that probe the full range of ideas, themes and forms. Recent winners have included Stephen Sexton, Wayne Holloway-Smith and Susannah Hart. Hart’s 2019 winning poem, ‘Reading the Safeguarding and Child Protection Policy’ drew on her work as a primary school governor, and the language of policy documents. The 2020 judges expect to discover a richly various selection of poems, offering just as many surprises.

To accompany the competition, The Poetry Society has commissioned celebrated artist Arna Miller to conjure an image that represents the magic and mystery of the creative process (above).

There’s a first prize of £5000, a second prize of £2000, a third prize of £1000 and commendations of £200 each. Between now and the deadline of 31 October 2020, 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. Full details including how to enter are online at

22 May 2020