Workshop with Clare Shaw: 16 September 2017

The workshop is on Saturday 16 September at 10.30-12.30 at the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester. The fee is £20. Please email to reserve a place and for details of how to pay.

Clare Shaw

Described by the Arvon Foundation as “one of the country’s most dynamic young poets”, Clare Shaw has two collections from Bloodaxe: Straight Ahead (2006), which attracted a Forward Prize Highly Commended for Best Single Poem; and Head On (2012), which is, according to the Times Literary Supplement: “fierce … memorable and visceral”. Clare was born in Burnley in 1972, and her poetry finds its roots in place and an uncompromising voice. Often addressing political and personal conflict, it is fuelled by a strong conviction in the transformative and redemptive power of language.

Clare is Royal Literary Fellow at Huddersfield University, and a regular tutor for the Poetry School, the Wordsworth Trust, The National Writer’s Centre of Wales, and the Arvon Foundation. She is also a mental health trainer, activist and author: recent publications include “Otis Doesn’t Scratch: talking to young children about self-injury” (PCCS Books, 2015); and “Our Encounters with Self-Harm” (2013).

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Competition Results 2017

The results are now in and we would like to take this opportunity to thank Michael Symmons Roberts for his excellent contribution to the success of the competition. We would also like to thank all those who entered.

The winning poems chosen by Michael Symmons Roberts*

*All poems entered into the competition, were delivered with no identifying details to Michael Symmons Roberts, who read every poem before making his decision.

Michael Symmons Roberts with Pam Thompson (3rd place), Sharon Black (1st place) and Ian McEwen (2nd place)

1st Prize:   ‘Post Op’ by Sharon Black
2nd Prize:  ‘Poem with this cow in it’ by Ian McEwen
3rd Prize:   ‘My Life As A Bat’ by Pam Thompson

Commended poems:

‘By the Statue of John Betjeman at St Pancras’ by Rory Brennan
‘Absences’ by Sharon Black
‘Mega-Death Calculator’ by David Wilson
‘The Slow Amble’ by Pat Borthwick
‘Literacy’ by Sam Burns

Michael Symmons Roberts’ comments about the competition

Poets & Players is one of the most significant and impressive poetry organisations in the country, the quality of the readings it puts on, its presence in the city is remarkable, so I’m delighted to be part of it in judging this competition. The standard was very high, I know judges always say this, but I’ve judged quite a few of these, there’s always a first sift where you move things out of the way and you think you can quickly establish these aren’t going to win, but the first sift really didn’t do much in terms of the fact that the quality was so high I was still left with a lot that were commanding serious attention.

The Poems

First Prize: ‘Post Op’ by Sharon Black

Post Op
(for Elizabeth)

I spotted you this morning
near Columba’s Bay – before the climb
towards the slate grey loch, just past
that split in machair where beach pushes through,
past the lambs going mental as they
race us to the fence posts, player numbers
painted on their backs, past fat pellets
of goose droppings and strewn button-top shells,
those smooth white spirals no bigger than tears
with gently wound mysteries –
in a hollow to the right, a sheep,
shaggy and wise, with high Finnish cheekbones
and an aquiline nose just like yours –
standing, staring straight at me
with two lambs suckling, one on either side like wings,
tails frantic as propellers: a light aircraft
flown in from the recovery ward
to watch our pilgrimage,
blessing each of us in turn as we
made our way to the pebbled bay
at the south of the island, the Atlantic
winking like a waggish aunt,
the mad scrabble for green serpentines
of which you are the queen.
I didn’t find a big one, not like yours, but a handful
of smaller, speckled stones like eggs
that I tucked inside my clothing
and carried back across the peaty scars
and the new wood bridge
to the sill of my hotel window with its perfect
view across the Sound.

Comments from judge Michael Symmons Roberts
1st Prize: ‘Post Op’ by Sharon Black

This is a quiet, tender poem that impressed me more with each re-reading. The title and dedication suggest what TS Eliot called ‘private words addressed to you in public’ – in this case a poem as charm or prayer for recovery and healing. It is deceptively simple – an account of a walk through a landscape – but the details are telling and wonderfully, intricately drawn.

Biographical note:

Sharon Black is originally from Glasgow but now lives in the Cévennes mountains of southern France. She is widely published and in 2016 won the Silver Wyvern Prize (Poetry on the Lake), the Prole Laureate Competition, was highly commended in Wigtown Poetry Competition and shortlisted in The London Magazine Poetry Prize. Her first collection, To Know Bedrock, was published by Pindrop Press in 2011. Her second, The Art of Egg, appeared with Two Ravens Press in 2015.

Second Prize: Ian McEwen

Poem with this cow in it

You know as well as I do the poor
cow’s a pretext, not the object
of attention. Sad, to lumber
unaware the uses you’ve been
put to. She tests one foot

patiently before another:
the wobble of a zen
balloon, a gas and shit
dirigible. The udder tide
migrates – to the parlour-

from the parlour- to the parlour –
soft as polyps, timed by the trickle
of a liquid clock. The cows
produce themselves along
the slurry path. In heaviness

that calls them to the artificial
suckle of relief they go –
blotchily, calmly, all together.
If she looks like the leader
it’s the flow behind her, she

was at the back when
the turn came. At this gate she
ponderously ponders as our host
the empty, forgone envelope.
We know who the loser is,

announced in backwards order.
The cows have voted with
their feet and left their
monuments around us.

Comments from judge Michael Symmons Roberts
2nd Prize: ‘Poem with this Cow in it’ by Ian McEwen

This poem caught my attention and held it from first reading. It begins with a playful title and a sleight of hand opening, but becomes surprisingly poignant. I was very struck by its linguistic inventiveness and wit.

Biographical note:

Ian McEwen’s poems have appeared widely in magazines including Poetry Wales, Shearsman, Long Poem Magazine, Rialto and Poetry Review. The Stammering Man was a winner in the Templar pamphlet competition 2010 and his collection Intermittent beings was published by Cinnamon in 2013. ‘Father lost lost’ was highly commended by the Forward Prize judges in the single poem category 2014. He is a board member of NAWE and a former board member of Magma. Ian has four children and lives in Bedford where he promotes the Ouse Muse open mic.

Third Prize: Pam Thompson

My Life As A Bat

A wish, to
……be a bat—ricocheting in a
………..cave, all caricature,
…..daring, some might say, devil, whose
………echolocation leads me to my prey.
….fierce, fiercer in flight,
………….ghost of an old world, gorging on twilight,
….haunting houses, yours,
………….infiltrating your study to spawn
….jelly-eyed babies on your laptop. My
………….kind laugh, cry and scream—
….listen. You pad to the window.
………….may even open it. There’s a
….new smell in the bedroom, not unfamiliar.
………….Ouch! We go for veins
………….plumped by sleep. I have very small teeth.
….remember. A wish some might think
………….strange but it’s not so silly,
….truth is, it would be fun to flit
………….under your half-open blind on a hot night, land,
….victorious in bed between the two of you like a
…………..weird forgotten child with waxen wings.
….X-ray vision I won’t have as a bat but I can smell
…………..your fear, see how guilty you look when, without
….Zopiclone she wakes, to a bizarre petting-zoo.

Comments from judge Michael Symmons Roberts
3rd Prize: ‘My Life As A Bat’ by Pam Thompson

This is a smart, witty poem with a real edge and a sting in the tail. It is formally ambitious and adept, built around an abecedarian structure, but manages to maintain its fluency and energy throughout.

Biographical note:

Pam Thompson lives in Leicester. Her publications include Show Date and Time, 2006, (Smith/Doorstop) and The Japan Quiz, (2008), Redbeck Press. Pam is one of the organisers of Word!, a spoken-word night at The Y theatre in Leicester. She has a PhD in creative writing which links the science of holography and writing poetry.

Information about the Competition

A total number of 341 poets took part in the competition submitting a total of 813 poems. 291 poets (152 women and 118 men, 21 indeterminate, eg just initials) submitted a total of 665 online poems. We offered both postal and online entry options, 50  poets chose to submit  a total of 148 poems by post from all over the UK and also a couple of entries from overseas. This was an excellent and encouraging number and the overall standard was very pleasing. 

We were delighted to welcome Michael Symmons Roberts as our judge, and offer our thanks and appreciation for his enthusiasm, professionalism and attention to detail. We received entries from all over the United Kingdom, also many from The Republic of Ireland. Overseas entries included: Spain, Italy, France, Netherlands,  USA , Denmark, Austria, Canada and Australia: a truly international event. 

All entries were clearly addressed and, without exception, appropriate payments included. Thank you to all our entrants for your help in this and for your interest in our competition.

Thank you to everyone involved in the organisation, promotion and success of the fifth Poets and Players Competition. Please look out for future announcements about the 2018 competition.

Videos of the winners performing their poems will be available shortly on our Youtube Channel.

Any feedback relating to any aspect of the competition is most welcome.


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Greta Stoddart, A B Jackson and Cheryl Pearson with music from Liam Byrne and Andy Hulme 13 May 2017

Our next event will feature poets Greta Stoddart, A B Jackson, and Cheryl Pearson with music from Liam Byrne and Andy Hulme. The venue is the Whitworth Art Gallery, Oxford Rd, Manchester M15 6ER, time 2.30-4.00.

This is a free event open to all and there’s no need to book.

Greta Stoddart

Greta Stoddart was born in Oxfordshire. Her first collection At Home in the Dark (Anvil) was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection and won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize in 2002.Her second book, Salvation Jane, was shortlisted for the Costa Book Award 2008. She was also shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Individual Poem in 2012. Her third book, Alive Alive O (Bloodaxe, 2015), was shortlisted for the Roehampton Poetry Prize 2016. She lives in Devon and teaches for the Poetry School and the Arvon Foundation

A B Jackson

A.B. Jackson’s first book, ‘Fire Stations’, won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection 2003. His latest collection is ‘The Wilderness Party’ (Bloodaxe Books, 2015), a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. He has a PhD in Creative Writing from Sheffield Hallam University, and currently works at Cambridge University Library.

Cheryl Pearson

Cheryl Pearson lives and writes in Manchester. Her poems have appeared in publications including The Guardian, Envoi, Crannog, High Window, and Southword. In 2016, she won the High Sheriff’s Cheshire Prize for Literature, and won third prize in Bare Fiction Magazine’s national poetry competition. She was nominated for a 2017 Pushcart Prize. Her first full collection, “Oysterlight”, was published in March 2017 by Pindrop Press.

Liam Byrne and Andy Hulme

Saxophonist Liam Byrne studied at Leeds College of Music and the Guildhall School of Music winning several awards, including the Dave Cooper Memorial Prize for Jazz Saxophone and the ‘Spud Murphy’ Saxophone Prize. He has performed alongside leading British jazz musicians including Alan Barnes, Digby Fairweather, Bruce Adams and Dave O’Higgins. He also co-leads a band with trumpeter Jamie Brownfield which regularly performs across the country at jazz clubs and festivals. Liam has a growing reputation as a torchbearer of the jazz tenor saxophone tradition, with a warm sound and understated aproach inspired by the likes of Lester Young and Ben Webster.

Guitarist Andy Hulme can be heard in various line-ups across Liverpool, Manchester and the North West, including two bands with saxophonist Liam Byrne, and has a long association with North Wales Jazz, performing regularly at concerts and festivals with many internationally renowned musicians including US guitarists Howard Alden and Jack Wilkins, the UK’s John Etheridge and saxophonists Scott Hamilton and Art Themen.

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Prize-giving event with Michael Symmons Roberts with music from Li Lu, 22 April 2017

Please join us for our prize-giving ceremony of the fifth Poets and Players competition. The event is at the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester on 22 April 2017 at 2.30-4.00. Our judge, Michael Symmons Roberts will announce the readers who will read their poems. Michael will also read his work. Music from Li Lu. This is a free event and everyone is welcome.

Michael Symmons Roberts

Michael was born in 1963 in Preston, Lancashire, UK.

His poetry has won the Forward Prize, the Costa Poetry Prize and the Whitbread Poetry Award, and been shortlisted for the Griffin International Poetry Prize and the T.S. Eliot Prize. He has received major awards from the Arts Council and the Society of Authors. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and of the English Association.

His continuing collaboration with composer James MacMillan has led to two BBC Proms choral commissions, song cycles, music theatre works and operas for the Royal Opera House, Scottish Opera, Boston Lyric Opera and Welsh National Opera. Their WNO commission – ‘The Sacrifice’ – won the RPS Award for opera, and their Royal Opera House / Scottish Opera commission – ‘Clemency’ – was nominated for an Olivier Award.

His broadcast work includes ‘A Fearful Symmetry’ – for Radio 4 – which won the Sandford St Martin Prize, and ‘Last Words’ commissioned by Radio 4 to mark the first anniversary of 9/11.

He has published two novels, and is Professor of Poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Li Lu

Li Lu, Cellist BA WCM, PGDip RNCM. Originally from China, Li Lu describes herself as ‘a cellist with wings, an artist with a bow and an adventurer with a cello’. Classically trained, as a soloist and orchestra musician, performance highlights include appearances at the Edinburgh International Festival, the Singapore International Music Festival, the Beijing Modern Music Festival and the Kronburg International Cello Festival in Germany. Li Lu’s artistic life took a new direction when she accepted a challenge to travel across Europe in 35 days from Athens to Edinburgh, purely surviving on playing the cello. Her performances were featured in a Sky Arts documentary Art of Survival (2011), reaching a vast audience in the UK and internationally.

Li Lu’s adventure made her want to connect more with a nonclassical audience, especially to children, and it reawakened a long-held fascination with design and the visual arts. This has led her into a number of unconventional musical collaborations. In recent years, her theatrical interpretation of the Bach Cello Suites has been under long-term development. In addition to her exciting performing career, Li Lu works with Chetham’s School of Music where she enjoys teaching young music talents.

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Workshop with Steve Ely, 22 April 2017

We are hosting a workshop at the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester on Saturday 22 April 2017 at 10.30-12.30. The fee is £20. Please email to reserve a place and for details of how to pay.

Steve Ely’s books include Oswald’s Book of Hours, Englaland, Werewolf & Ted Hughes’s South Yorkshire.  He  lectures in Creative Writing at the University of Huddersfield where he is Director of the Ted Hughes Network.  Incendium Amoris, a book of poems arising from the writings, life and landscape of Richard Rolle, the ‘hermit of Hampole’ will be published by Smokestack Books in June.

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P&P commission: Helen Mort

The following poem was commissioned by Poets & Players on the theme of ‘No Boundaries’ (inspired by ACE’s initiative of the same name):


the wire pulls taut
the wire is a single thought
the wire is a line in pencil
through my name on the ringmaster’s list

neat flick-of-the-wrist….I close
my eyes………rub it out……my body
goes before me like a shout in a dark cave

down there……counted rows of seats
overhead……..a tapered roof
the colour of boiled sweets

music muted as I balance
sway……….my arms above my head
the fat announcer…….miles away

Will Bartek reach the other side
and win the right to stay? Folks,
you decide!

some of them lob……..oranges
some chuck bricks…….all of them
miss….sing songs….throw curses
in their single tongue

the wire is a note
the wire is an open throat
I drew the wire in the sand at Sopot as a child
until the sea went wild and wanted the beach back

slow clap…….I’m halfway
wobbling in the centre of the ring
a sawdust stink………glass breaks
behind the bar

Guys, no-one else has got this far!
Can Bartek make it
and become a citizen?

lights swim… blank face
steady steps….slow
pace….the circus in me
like a seam…..I’m stitched to air

the wire is a word no-one said
the wire is a hole in the head
the wire is a line of piss trickling down my leg

one side……..sunlight
one side……..strangers willing me
to fall

the questionscameras
afterwards……I say
I’ve done this
my whole life
that’s all

Helen Mort, March 2017 (from ‘Austerity Circus’)

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Matthew Welton and Luke Kennard with music from MICHAELBRAILEY, Thursday Late 6 April 2017 7.00-8.30

Our next event will be a Thursday Late featuring poets Matthew Welton and Luke Kennard with music from MICHAELBRAILEY. The venue is the Whitworth Art Gallery, Oxford Rd, Manchester M15 6ER, time 7.00-8.30.

This is a free event open to all and there’s no need to book.

Luke Kennard

lk-portrait-12Luke Kennard is a poet and novelist who lives and works in Birmingham. His first book, The Solex Brothers, won an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors in 2005. His second, The Harbour Beyond the Movie made him the youngest writer to be shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Collection in 2007. He has also published two chapbooks, Planet Shaped Horse (Nine Arches, 2011) and The Necropolis Boat (Holdfire Press, 2012) which won the Poetry Book Society’s Autumn pamphlet choice in 2012. His 5th collection of poems, Cain, was published by Penned in the Margins in 2016. His literary criticism has appeared in the TLS, Poetry London and The National. He has a PhD in English from the University of Exeter and lectures at the University of Birmingham. In 2014 he was named one of the Next Generation Poets by the Poetry Book Society in their once per-decade list. His first novel, The Transition, was published by 4th Estate in 2017

Matthew Welton

Matthew Welton was born in Nottingham, lives in Nottingham and lectures in creative writing at the University of Nottingham. His writing practice includes collaborations with musicians, visual artists and other writers. His interest in poetry has to do with explorations of the sounds of words and the possibilities of repetition. He has published three books with Carcanet: The Book of Matthew (2003), ‘We needed coffee but…’ (2009) and The Number Poems (2016). Recognition includes an Eric Gregory Award, the Jerwood-Aldeburgh Prize, second place in the Arvon Poetry Competition 2002 and a Poetry Book Society recommendation


michael brailey new1MICHAELBRAILEY is a producer, composer and vocalist from Exeter, UK, currently studying at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester with Larry Goves, under scholarship and as a recipient of the RNCM’s Grindon/Dearden Prize For Composition (2016). He is also the curator of VIRTUALLYREALITY, an event series dedicated to the championing and commissioning of new electronic and acoustic music from composers and producers alike.

His vast musical output has been recognised by organisations and individuals including the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, regarding him as Principal Composer in 2014, Seattle-based record label Hush Hush Records with the releases ‘Pericardial’ (2014) and ‘Weekend’ (2016), pioneering independent radio station KEXP, Los Angeles-based producer Kastle with the THUMP-supported 2016 single ‘The Future’, and by the London-based record label Nonclassical as a DJ and remixer.

MICHAELBRAILEY’s signature electronic sound is highly personal, mixing intimate, digitally-degraded piano lines with distorted, panoramic synths, whilst delicate ASMR-like jitters and fragile falsetto lyrics glisten on top, and smouldering bass – kicks, groans and cataclysms – move beneath. 

His concert music usually features acoustic instruments and often incorporates electronic sound or uses technology to inhibit, extend or mediate soloistic performance and ensemble interaction. It has been performed by ensembles such as the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain and The Aurora Orchestra in venues across the UK. These include the Royal Festival Hall, Tate Modern, Tate Britain, Sage Gateshead, Whitworth Art Gallery, The Royal College of Music and Birmingham Symphony Hall, as well as part of the New Music North West Festival 2015 at The Royal Northern College of Music.

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