Enter the Tower Poetry Competition

The 21st Christopher Tower Poetry Competition closed at noon, 1 March 2021. The winners were revealed at a virtual ceremony on Wednesday 21 April 2021 before an audience of their teachers, families, and friends.

About the Competition

The Tower Poetry Competition offers the UK’s most valuable prize for young poets, and is open to students between 16-18 years of age who are educated in the UK.

The competition is judged anonymously by two judges, who are different each year, and Peter McDonald, the current Christopher Tower Student. Each year the theme is chosen with the intention of giving entrants free rein to interpret it as widely as they like.

The competition is free to enter, and offers a top prize of £3000. Schools of prizewinners are awarded an additional £150, intended for investment in further study of poetry and literature.

Winners of the 2021 Tower Poetry Competition

The competition was judged by renowned poets Kwame Dawes and Elise Paschen.

A young lady with brown hair and blue eyes smiles at the camera.First Prize: Amy Beverley from St Leonard’s Catholic School, Durham, with the poem Dance of the Prisoner.

Amy says: 'I find writing poetry to be therapeutic, so I often find myself writing in my spare time. Of course, I saw the Tower Poetry Competition as the perfect opportunity to share my work, and to have been selected as one of the winners is both an honour and a privilege I am grateful for. This experience has granted me much confidence in my ability, as well as inspiring me to pursue my interest in poetry.'

 

A young lady with blonde hair and brown eyes looks into the camera.Second Prize: Victoria Fletcher from St Paul’s Girls’ School, London, with the poem 15 days in a cage with Charlotte Brontë.

Victoria says: 'I was delighted to find out that I was one of the top six winners of this year’s competition. My poem is very much a product of the claustrophobia of lockdown, and the escape offered by reading. Everything I write is born out of the things I read – novels and poems, yes, but also adverts, social media posts, and internet clickbait. Anything can inspire a poem – the more mundane, the better. The best poems praise the absurdity and beauty of the everyday.’

 

A young lady with dark hair and brown eyes smiles at the camera.Third Prize: Ayra Ahmad from Dyce Academy, Aberdeen, with the poem Victoria Street.

Ayra says: 'I am thrilled to be a winning poet. I had a wonderful time exploring the theme of 'The Key' and composing the poem 'Victoria Street' - I hope others find similar joy in reading it.'

 

 

 

A young lady with brown hair and brown eyes smiles at the camera.Commended: Naz Kaynakcioglu from Exeter College, Devon, with the poem Daughter.

Naz says: 'I think my best work always comes from a place that is very close to my heart and this time it was my dad's keys. Once I started out with this very vivid memory, I somewhat felt compelled to write about the different cultures I grew up in. Once I entered the competition, I was very unsure of myself. Last year's winners had some beautiful pieces and I was afraid that I did not have a place amongst them, so it really is an honour to know that I do. I am very proud of my work and I am so glad people could enjoy it like I enjoy writing.'

 

A young lady with wavy blonde hair and blue eyes looks into the camera.Commended: Skye Linforth from Sir John Deane’s Sixth Form College, Cheshire, with the poem A House With Narrow Windows.

Skye's teacher, Ms Trenbirth, says: 'I am delighted to hear of Skye's success in the Tower Poetry competition!'

 

 

 

A young lady with auburn hair wearing tinted glasses smiling.Commended: Em Power from Esher College, Surrey, with the poem Ode To All The Locks.

Em's teacher, Ms De Wachter, says: 'Em Power is such a star and this prize is so well deserved.'

 

 

 

 

Terms and Conditions:

  • Entries for the Tower Poetry Prize 2021 must be on the designated theme.
  • Entries must be written in English, and be no more than 48 lines in length.
  • Entrants must be at least 16 years of age, and under 19 years of age, on 1 March 2021.
  • Entrants must be in full or part-time education at a school, college or other educational institution in the United Kingdom. Students enrolled on higher education courses are not eligible to enter the competition.
  • Each entrant may submit only one poem.
  • Poems with joint authorship are ineligible.
  • Each poem must be the entrant’s own work: it must not incorporate poetry by others without acknowledgement and (where appropriate) citation, and it must not include substantial elements (phrases, lines, or larger blocks of composition) that have been suggested or authored by others engaged in providing specific editorial advice to the entrant.
  • Poems must not have been previously published, broadcast or submitted to another competition.
  • Names and addresses must not be included with the text of the poem, since entries are judged anonymously.
  • Track changes must be removed before submitting the poem.
  • The closing date for entries is noon on 1 March 2021. Entries entered after noon will not be considered by the judges.
  • The judges’ decision is final, and no correspondence will be entered into concerning this decision.
  • The copyright of each poem remains with the author. Authors of the winning poems will grant Christ Church permission to publish or broadcast the poems for a period of one year from 21 April 2021.
  • The competition is not open to family members or close relatives of employees of Christ Church, Oxford.

Frequently Asked Questions

Tower Poetry Competition FAQs

Do I need to be a poet to enter?

Peter McDonald:

What is “a poet” anyway?  I’m certainly not sure that I know an answer to that.  Very few people aged between 16 and 18 are “poets” in the sense of writing poetry continually, and taking what they write seriously in order to write more of it – very few people of any age are, in fact. It doesn’t matter who you are – where you’re from, what you do, what you like to listen to, watch, or have for breakfast – there’s plenty in you that can help to write a real poem. 

What we’re looking for are poems, and poems that work: you might never have written one before, and might never write another one again, but that doesn’t stop you from writing a poem now that will bowl the judges over. No entry is ever judged on how well it approximates to somebody’s idea of what the work of “a poet” should look like: think of an entry as a single piece of verbal arrangement, with a job to do and lots of resources – in the language, and in you – to draw upon.

 

Why have a set competition theme?

Peter McDonald:

At Tower Poetry, we certainly believe that thinking your way into a theme is a creative act, and one which helps, rather than hinders, the kinds of creativity that go into writing a proper poem. It also means that everyone entering comes in on broadly the same terms. Remember that a theme is not a narrow thing, and ours are designed to give you lots of scope for your own intellectual engagement. This isn’t to say that you should set out to do something really unexpected and unusual with a theme – an approach which is fine if it comes naturally, and chimes with the ways in which your poem works, but almost never successful if it’s just a policy decision taken in advance, with the poem having to follow instructions. The difference always shows.

How should I approach the competition theme?

Peter McDonald:

If the poem’s a good one, the theme will be clear, even – perhaps especially – if that relation is quite subtle. Don’t try to pass off a piece that really has no relation to the theme as some kind of super-subtle approach to it. Equally, don’t put the judges to school by making your point stridently and repeatedly in the poem. You don’t have to spell everything out: just think hard before you start writing. It's fair to say, though, that the most obvious approach can sometimes be the trickiest to pull off, and it’s worth  thinking for a while about various possibilities that the theme might open for you.

Why are entries limited to 48 lines?

Peter McDonald:

We want to see what you can do within the limit of (at most) a substantially-sized lyric poem. 48 lines offers flexibility – six eight-line stanzas, for example, or eight six-line ones; twelve quatrains, perhaps, or 16 versets of terza rima (should you be so inclined).  However, our limit does not mean that your poem should be 48 lines long, and will be penalized for failing to reach that length - our judges don’t take 48 as a magic number, or think any less of a 47-line piece. Look through past winners, and you will see that much shorter poems have often done very well.

Are there expectations about poetic form?

Peter McDonald:

None at all. The judges don’t give extra points for something just because it’s cast in a certain form unless that form really adds something, and is intrinsically a part of what the poem is saying.  But don’t think that there’s an easy alternative to “form”: in a way, every real poem has a form of its own, whether it rhymes or not, whether it’s in stanzas or not, and whether or not its rhythms and line-lengths are in any kind of pattern. Good free verse is just as demanding as something formally intricate, and leaves your style just as exposed. Think of form not as a hurdle standing in your way, but as an essential and enabling tool. 

When learning how to write, your best helper is your own reading. Look again at things you like; take them to pieces, and see how they work. Why that rhyme? Why that line-length, and here rather than there? Why that kind of ending? Why the strange expression rather than the obvious one? Do this for long enough, and you will be equipping yourself with the kinds of composing reflexes your poem will benefit from.

 

Is there anything I should avoid?

Peter McDonald:

Try not to use clichés, look out for bad grammar, avoid too-obvious or clunky rhymes, and steer well clear of archaic English ('thou', 'thee’, 'thine' etc. may make your poem sound like something written 200 years ago, but remember, good imitation is very difficult indeed; anything else can look clumsy, or worse). Try not to go too far in the other direction, either: stream-of-consciousness, like direct transcription of casual talk, is terribly hard to turn into good poetry.

Above all, please remember that the poem is judged on how well it does the thing it sets out to do, rather than on the merits of what is claims to be 'about': that means that style – careful writing, a sense of phrases and their rhythms, a feeling for sentences, a grasp of words as both simple and complicated things – is at a premium.