100 Years of championing poetry

Celebrating one hundred years of the one of the most beautiful written forms, the Poetry Society is at the very heart of today’s literary culture.

The Poetry Society celebrates a successful 100 years of championing poetry with its centenary in 2009. With 3290 members that span continents, two publications, six competitions, monthly events and outreach programmes, the Poetry Society is very much at the heart of today’s literary culture. Poetry is one of the hardest art forms to master; language must be succinct and economic, but most importantly connect the reader to the experience of the poem.

Poetry is no longer confined to classic verse, and the Poetry Society has embraced the digital age, by offering Podcasts, clips on YouTube and even a group on Facebook. They publish Poetry News and Poetry Review, and even run a programme with 100 Poets in 100 Schools. The Poetry Society has embraced the different forms of expression that exist within the genre from slam to spontaneous verse. Poet Laureate Andrew Motion has said: “The Poetry Society is the heart and hands of poetry in the UK — a centre which pours out energy to all parts of the poetry-body, and a dextrous set of operations which arrange and organise poetry’s various manifestations. It has a long and distinguished history, and has never been so vital, or so vitalising, as it is now.”

Britain’s top single poem competition since 1978, the National Poetry Competition is judged anonymously by a new set of judges each year. The top prize is £5,000, second prize £1,000, and third prize £500 and 10 commendations of £50. Now in its 32nd year, the Poetry Society’s National Poetry Competition is one of the leading poetry prizes.

This prize has been won by some of Britain’s top poets including: Tony Harrison (1980), Carol Ann Duffy (1983), Jo Shapcott (1985 and 1991), Ruth Padel (1996) and Colette Bryce (2003). This year’s winner, Christopher James, offers his contribution to the modern canon with Farewell to the Earth, second place was awarded to Charles Evans with Libretto and third place went to Clive McWilliam with Holding On. There were a further seven commendations and the panel judges included Jack Mapanje, Frieda Hughes and Brian Patten.

Christopher James was born in Scotland in 1975 and now lives in Suffolk with his wife, young family, a banjo and a mortgage. As well as winning the National Poetry Competition in 2008, he has also won the Ledbury poetry prizes (2003 and 2006), the Bridport (2002), and is also the recipient of an Eric Gregory from the Society of Authors. Poems have appeared in The Rialto, Smiths Knoll, London Magazine, Iota, Magma and other periodicals.

Upon winning the award, James commented:“ If there is an unspoken Grand Slam circuit for poetry prizes, then the National Poetry Competition is definitely Wimbledon. It’s the one everyone dreams of winning. I’ve entered most years, and usually at the last minute when you think, well, you have to be in it to win it. This year I was in it and I won it! What makes it special is not just the calibre of the judges and the distinguished alumni; it’s the kudos it carries in the poetry world. There may not be the roar of the crowd in your ear, but you know that somewhere out there, whether it is with delight, appreciation, envy or disdain, the poem will be read.”

The 2009 National Poetry Competition will be open for entries from 14 April 2009. The judges are Forward Prize winner, Daljit Nagra, National Poetry Competition winner, Ruth Padel and esteemed poet, Neil Rollinson. Visit the Poetry Society’s website for further information and membership opportunities. www.poetrysociety.org.uk.

First Prize of £5,000 went to Christopher James for the following poem:


Farewell To The Earth

We buried him with a potato in each hand
on New Year’s Day when the ground was hard as luck,
wearing just cotton, his dancing shoes plus
a half bottle of pear cider to stave off the thirst.

In his breast pocket we left a taxi number
and a packet of sunflower seeds; at his feet was
the cricket bat he used to notch up a century
against the Fenstanton eleven.

We dropped in his trowel and a shower of rosettes
then let the lid fall on his willow casket.

The sky was hard as enamel; there was
a callus of frost on the face of the fields.

Dust to dust; but this was no ordinary muck.

The burial plot was by his allotment, where
the water butt brimmed with algae and the shed door
swung and slammed as we shook back the soil.

During the service, my mother asked
the funeral director to leave; take away some hair
and the resemblance was too close; and yet
my father never looked so smart.

I kept expecting him to walk in, his brow
steaming with rain, soil under his fingernails
smelling of hot ashes and compost;
looking for fresh tea in the pot.