Competition 2018

The winners of the 2018 Poets & Players Competition judged by Pascale Petit

The Judge’s report on the competition and the winning poems:

When Poets & Players asked me to judge their competition I happily agreed. It’s an organisation I have long admired, from its earliest days with the inspiring founder Linda Chase, to today’s impressive incarnation in the splendid Whitworth Gallery. Being based in the hub of Manchester, I knew there would be a high standard and was not disappointed, though the competition drew entries from all over.

Trawling through the anonymous entries was like a treasure hunt, many adventures with words had along the way, through various and enthralling worlds. Thank you to all who entered and entrusted your work into my hands. It’s hard to define what I was looking for, as I wanted to be surprised by something unexpected. But I do know that I wanted poems full of life, with a pulse and heartbeat. I also hoped for poems that demanded to be reread, yielding deeper layers. Above all, I searched for a feeling that they had had to be written, had a sense of urgency. I wasn’t so keen on work that told me what it was about, leaving nothing to my imagination. Happily, there were many candidates on my longlist that fulfilled my expectations.

The finalists include five commended poems, and three winners, though it might be useful to consider that when I get to the final eight, this is the slowest and hardest part of the judging. Each poem in the shortlist gave me a thrill as I reread it a second time, then continued to yield more pleasure as I compared and contrasted, but had to decide on the winner. One did stand out for me and rose to the top of the pile.

Competition Winners

First Prize: ‘Familiars’ by Sarah Westcott

Second Prize: ‘Fayum Portraits’  by James Friedman

Third Prize: ‘Alerion’ by Andrew Rudd

Commended Poets (in alphabetical order)

’The Cat’s Tail’ by Ken Evans

‘An early swim’ by Mark Fiddes

‘The Boy Who Kept Bees’ by Michael Greavy

“…you are no better than an animal;                                                                                                nothing but a common whore…” by Cathy Grindrod

‘Lee’ by Joanna Lowry




I will roll into cream, harden to talon and furl to the wedged tail and he will be bent, digging the earth and I will watch sinew, fine yellow hairs, and he will know he is being watched for he is also watchful

and he will straighten and lift his eyes to the hills and something pale will catch the corner of his thoughts, a handkerchief, a school shirt, and he will glance into the scratchy light and see me there, black eyes staring through his clothes, his earth-suit, and I shall go to him

moving myself down that thought so the thought becomes a presence, carries the wave of itself, like letting go a long ravelling bolt of blue or green or blowing onto a dusty book and following a single mote, its path on the breath or updraft of a limb

and when I reach the soft boy bones, the utter heart of him, he will cradle me in his ribs
then I shall lift and glide down the hollowed lane, up into the stand of darkening oak and out again, unmade

and I will go into a hare, I will come to the fleetlands when the fields are low and brown
and I will run and run as she drives and the music will make her think of me – something
on the radio waves –

and she will glance from her window and see me running parallel, haunches sprung, un-sprung and I will remember what it is to run and my eye will hold hers long enough for her to blink and slow the car and I will go

into a daw and I will have a black apron, shining grey cap and pink maw and I will go to her door one afternoon when she is at her papers and I will peck the glass door, I will come up past her fig and tap deliberately
……………………………………………………..Just like that
until she looks up and I will hop onto her palm and we shall meet like that and she will say how brave I am and remember how frail I was, the light shining between my bones and I will preen to show comfort and she will think how much I would have loved to hold a daw like that – not knowing she is the daw herself and it is love she holds in her hand, its liberties.

Note – ‘I shall go into a hare’ forms part of a testimony from Isobel Gowdie, who is said to have confessed to witchcraft in 1662.



Fayum portraits*

The dead keep on surprising us,
all dressed up in the dark
like party guests waiting for their host.

From coffin-boards and mummy-cloths,
looking out to see who’s there,
they stare at us, full-face.

Their portraits show them young again,
their finery and coiffured hair,
with eyes wide-open, olive-dark;

almost confrontational,
as if they would look us up and down,
astonished to find us in their way.

Some eyes betray a tenderness
as though recalling distant violence.
A child frowns as if puzzled by death.

They seem brimful, about to spill
confidences, what their lives tasted like,
but keep their distance as they stare

like passengers, looking out of windows
on a train halted here.
I think they are pitying us

and saddened we’re still weathered by the air,
its heat and winds they have done with.
They can’t remember what it’s like

to change, although they are wrapped up
pupae-snug and already changed.
They smell of dust and interrupted dreams.

*(Mummy portraits dating from 1st century BC, found in the Fayum basin near



———————————————–………………………………….alerion, n.
———————————————–A bird believed to have no feet. Obs.


How does she refuel in the sky?
Over the river, dipping into gleam,

a brief glitter in and out of branches,
the footless bird, all go, all fly.

These she knows well, the Parliament
of Impaired Fowl:

the headless bird,
the silent bird;
the stumpy bird without a tail;
the wingless bird, who pecks the ground;
the bird with no feathers;
the bird that sings but cannot hear its song;
the eyeless bird migrating home in darkness;
the bird that is invisible,
only articulated air.

Alerion cannot slip the stream
or cling to anything solid.

What is so beautiful and sad is this verb
that can never become a noun.

But she has learned to set her course
where the skies are empty, where she can match

her speed to the rotation of the earth, creating
an illusion of rest, of blessed sleep.






We are pleased to announce the 6th poetry competition run by Poets & Players, one of Manchester’s leading organisers of poetry and music events.



Photo credit: Derek Adams

Pascale Petit’s seventh collection, Mama Amazonica (Bloodaxe, 2017), was a Poetry Book Society Choice. Her sixth, Fauverie, was her fourth to be shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize and five poems from it won the Manchester Poetry Prize. She has had three collections selected as Books of the Year in the Times Literary Supplement, Independent and Observer and in 2015 she received a Cholmondeley Award.

What previous judges have said about the Poets & Players 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.  (Michael Symmons Roberts, 2017)

What was electrifying about this year’s entries … was not just the wide and eclectic range of subject matters … but also the range of forms and tones, the many tongues and registers that together created a resonating and distinct entry of poetry.                  (Jackie Kay, 2016)

What a fabulously organised competition… One tries to dissuade people from the idea of competitions but if you’re going to have one have it like this. (Paul Muldoon, 2015)

It was actually really fun judging the competition because you get the sense of what is happening in poetry right now … it was fascinating to take the temperature, as it were, of contemporary poetry. I’d like to thank Poets and Players organisation for running the competition, for wanting to run the competition, but also in general for the work that they do in promoting poetry in Manchester and the broader area, it’s a commendable organisation and I’m delighted to be associated with it. (Vona Groarke, 2014)

This competition was scrupulously organised, and I loved the fact that the anonymity of the entries allowed each poem to speak for itself. (Jacob Polley, 2013)


Pascale Petit will read ALL poems. All poems will be judged anonymously.

1st Prize: £600
2nd Prize: £200
3rd Prize: £100

Commended poets at the judge’s discretion.

Closing Date: Wednesday 28th February 2018

Winners will be informed by 12 April 2018 and will be invited to read alongside Pascale Petit at the prize awarding ceremony on the afternoon of Saturday 12 May 2018 at the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester. If you have not been notified by 12 April, we are afraid you have not been successful.


  • The competition is open to anyone over the age of 16, except for members of the Poets & Players committee.
  • Poems must be in English, typewritten in single space, font size 12. Please begin each poem on a new page but multiple online entries should be contained in a single document.
  • Poems can be on any subject, in any style or form, but must be the author’s own original work. They should not have appeared anywhere before, online or in print. Please do not submit poems that are currently under consideration elsewhere.
  • Maximum line length for individual poems is 40 lines (excluding title). Please do not include photographs or illustrations.
  • No changes can be made to poems once submitted and we regret that we are unable to provide feedback or make any refunds.
  • You may submit as many poems as you wish, accompanied by the appropriate payment and application form.
  • Please note that all competition entries must reach us by Wednesday 28 February 2018, (online entries may be submitted up to 12 midnight on this date (GMT); postal entries must be received in our mailbox no later than Wednesday 28 February 2018). Entries arriving after this date will not be considered.



ALL entries must be accompanied by a completed application form (see the link below):

Competition Application Form 2018

  • Please post the completed Competition Application form and poems to: Poets & Players Poetry Competition, Poetry Dene, 16 Clifton Street, Bury, Lancashire, BL9 5DY.
  • If you wish to receive confirmation of your entry please enclose a prepaid envelope.
  • Poems must be printed on separate, numbered sheets, word processed (or typed) and clearly legible (single spaced and font size 12).
  • Please do not include your name or other identifying information on the same page as the poem/s. All poems will be judged anonymously.
  • You may enter as many poems as you wish but please ensure you add all poem titles to the application form.
  • Entry fee is £4 per poem or 3 for £10. Please do not send cash. Postal entries must be paid by cheque or postal order (only email entries may use PayPal). Please make payable to ‘Poets & Players’ and send together with your poem/s and Competition Application form to the address above.


ALL entries must be accompanied by a completed application form (see the link below):

Competition Application Form 2018

Please email the completed Competition Application form and poems to      All email entries will be acknowledged.

  • Please ensure that all poems are sent as a single attachment and not in the body of the email. Please use your name as the title of the document (poems and application form can be in the same document but must be on separate pages). If you are submitting more than one poem you should include them all in the same attachment but please ensure pages are numbered and start each poem on a new page. Single spaced and font size 12. Please save documents as doc, docx or PDF.
  • You may enter as many poems as you wish but please ensure you add all poem titles to the application form.
  • Please do not include your name or other identifying information on the same page as the poem/s. All poems will be judged anonymously.
  • Entry fee is £4 per poem or 3 for £10. Email entries must be paid by PayPal. IMPORTANT please include the PayPal reference number on the application form.
      • Single poem £4 Pay Now Button with Credit Cards
      • Three poems £10 Pay Now Button with Credit Cards

CHECKLIST: Completed Application Form; poems on separate sheets (with no identifying information); cheque or postal order made payable to ‘Poets & Players’ (if submitting by post); PayPal reference (if submitting by email).


Entrants retain copyright of their poem, however, we would hope to receive permission to make a video recording of the winners reading at the awards ceremony for our website, and to publish the winning poems on our website and/or in the Whitworth Art Gallery for one year after the competition.



About Janet Rogerson

Janet Rogerson
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