Celebrating 20 Years of Tower Poetry

Since its foundation in 2000, Tower Poetry has hosted 11 poetry summer schools, run 20 annual poetry competitions for aspiring 16-18 year olds, and disbursed over £100,000 in support of young people's engagement with poetry. Over the last two decades, over 100 prizewinners and summer school participants have benefitted from Tower Poetry's programmes, many of whom have gone on to become published poets. 

Christopher Tower Student Peter McDonald reflects: 'It’s twenty years now since we launched the first of our Christopher Tower Prize competitions for poetry. That’s a long time, and I’ve been involved throughout – the only thing I wasn’t in on was the Prizes’ conception.  It did fall to me, though, to launch and run the very first competition: to plant that particular tree, if you like; and after then, year by year, to watch it grow. In terms of British poetry and young people, Tower is part of the landscape now, as though it had always been there.  I still don’t know quite how that was done – at the start, it was a close-run thing – but I’m certainly glad that we are where we are.'

Previous Competitions

Each year, the competition focuses on a different theme, and two guest poets or writers are invited to judge alongside the Tower Student, Peter McDonald. Over the past 20 years, this has included the following:

2020 - 'Trees': A.E. Stallings and Rebecca Watts

2019 - 'Underwater': Angela Leighton and Vidyan Ravinthiran

2018 - 'Secrets': John Fuller and Christopher Reid

2017 - 'Stone': Vahni Capildeo and Sarah Howe

2016 - 'Wonder': Alan Gillis and Katherine Rundell

2015 - 'Cells': Ian McMillan and Helen Mort

2014 - 'News': Olivia McCannon and Kei Miller

2013 - 'The Details': Carrie Etter and Bernard O'Donoghue

2012 - 'Voyages': Don Paterson and Christopher Reid

2011 - 'Simplicity': Frances Leviston and David Morley

2010 - 'Promises': Stephen Romer and Michael Schmidt

2009 - 'Doubt': Jane Draycott and Daljit Nagra

2008 - 'Change': Simon Armitage and Alan Jenkins

2007 - 'Flight': Jo Shapcott and Francine Stock

2006 - 'A Building': Mark Ford and Carol Rumens

2005 - 'Gravity': Gillian Clarke and Philip Pullman

2004 - 'Early Morning': Frank Ormsby and Jon Stallworthy

2003 - 'Passport': Lavinia Greenlaw and Anthony Thwaite

2002 - 'Floods': Kathleen Jamie and Ruth Padel

2001 - 'Blue': Andrew Motion and Paul Muldoon

People and Poets

The growing number of Tower Poetry ‘alumni’ have gone on to write and work in a variety of creative disciplines, with a select few featured below:

People and Poets

Helen Mort

Helen Mort read Social and Political Sciences at Christ's College, Cambridge, and is now a published writer and accomplished poet. She was highly commended in the 2004 Tower Poetry competition for her poem Matins, and attended the 2006 Tower Poetry Summer school; her poems are published in the resultant anthology, Parachute Silk: Icarus Poems. Mort has also won five Foyle Young Poets awards and, in 2008, the Manchester Poetry Prize for young writers. In the same year she was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Mort was a guest judge for the 2015 Tower Poetry competition, on the theme of 'Cells'. She is currently a Lecturer in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Caroline Bird

Caroline Bird read English at Oxford University, where she was president of the Oxford Poetry Society. She was highly commended for her poem, The Softness of the Morning, in the 2004 Tower Poetry competition. Bird was a Foyles Young Poet of the Year in 1999 and 2000, and a winner of the Peterloo Poetry Competition for three consecutive years (2002-4). She has published five collections of poetry, with a sixth due in February 2020. She currently leads poetry workshops in primary and secondary schools, in addition to teaching at the Arvon Foundation. She is also a writer-in-residence at the charity First Story.

Charlotte Runcie

Charlotte Runcie read English at Cambridge, and is now a published author and journalist; her first book is entitled Salt on Your Tongue. She was the winner of the 2007 Tower Poetry Competition with her poem Flying Fish, and is also a former Foyle Young Poet of the Year. Runcie currently works as a radio critic for the Daily Telegraph, and writes monthly for Prospect Magazine.

Sophie Mackintosh

Sophie Mackintosh was highly commended for her poem, On illumination and reasons to Fly, in the 2007 Tower Poetry Competition. Her poetry is published in the 2007 Tower Poetry Summer School Anthology, Jitterwhirring. In 2016 she was the winner of The White Review short story prize, and Virago's shotr story prize. She is now a fiction writer; her debut novel, The Water Cure, was published in 2018, and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. She is currently writing her second novel.

Isabel Galleymore

Isabel Galleymore attended the 2006 Tower Poetry Summer School; her poems are published in the resulting anthology, Search Engine. She has also published poems in Poetry London and The Rialto. In 2019, Galleymore was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for her debut anthology, Significant Other. She is currently a lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Birmingham.

Penny Boxall

Penny Boxall studied English Literature with Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. She attended the 2006 Tower Poetry Summer school, and her poems are published in the resultant anthology, Parachute Silk: Icarus Poems. In 2016 she was the winner of the Edwin Morgan Poetry Award, and the Elmet Prize; in 2018 she won the Mslexia/PBS Women's Poetry Competition.

Andrew Wynn Owen

Andrew Wynn Owen is an Examination Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford, currently researching for a DPhil on epic poetry of the Romantic era. He received an Eric Gregory Award in 2015 and Oxford’s Newdigate Prize in 2014 as well as being longlisted in the 2011 Tower Poetry competition. Andrew was a tutor on the 2016 Tower Poetry Summer School, and co-edited the 2018 Tower Poetry Summer School anthology.

Sarah Fletcher

Sarah Fletcher won the 2012 Tower Poetry Competition with her poem Papa's Epilogue, and also won second prize the following year with her poem Kraut Girl. Several of her poems from the 2014 Tower Poetry Summer School are published in the anthology, Something to be Said. Her poetry has also been published in The Rialto and The London Magazine. She is a previous winner of the Foyle's Young Poet of the year competition, and was also a winner of the New Poets Prize 2016-7. Fletcher has recently published a collection of pems, Typhoid August.

Anna Lewis

Anna Lewis won the 2002 Tower Poetry Competition with her poem Into the Distance; her poetry is also published in the 2003 Tower Poetry Summer School Anthology, Parachute Silk: Icarus Poems. She is a winner of the G.S. Fraser Prize (2013) and the Robin Reeves Prize (2008). In 2012, she published her debut poetry collection, Other Harbours. Lewis currently writes short fiction, winning the 2010 Orange/Harper's Bazaar short story competition, and works for Writing East Midlands.

Chloe Stopa-Hunt

Chloe Stopa-Hunt was a Foyle Young Poet of the Year in 2003 and 2004. She read English at New College, Oxford, and won the English Poem on a Sacred Subject Prize 2010. Her poems have appeared in various magazines, including Magma and Oxford Poetry, and she has reviewed for Asymptote, Poetry Matters, and The Oxonian Review. Four of her poems also appear in The Twelve – the anthology of poems written during the 2010 Tower Poetry Summer School.