Competition 2023

We are delighted to publish the three winning winning poems  from our 2023 competition judged by Philip Gross.

First Prize: Laura Theis (poem and video below)

Joint Second: Sara-Jane Arbury (poem and video below)

Joint Second: Steve Pottinger (poem and video below)

Also, many congratulations to the five poets whose poems Philip Gross has singled out for commendation (in alphabetical order):

Ken Evans

Naoise Gale

Vlad Pasca

Thea Smiley

Christian Ward

The Winners

Laura Theis (1st Prize)

in my mother tongue the name for grand piano is wing

in my mother tongue
words can be feathered

which turns them into
old jokes or proverbs

owning a bird
in my mother tongue

is sign of great madness:
you can accuse someone

with an outrageous opinion
of cheeping and chirping

if you want to convey
that you are flabbergasted or awed

in my mother tongue
you might say: my dear swan

which is what I think
when I first hear you play

as your fingers move over
the keys I wonder

what gets lost
in translation

between music
and birdsong

whether both soar above
our need to shift between words

then I remember
in my mother tongue

the name for grand piano
is wing


What judge Philip Gross said about the poem:

‘in my mother tongue the name for grand piano is wing’

Among several differently compelling poems, this one came through as a winner for its bold but subtle simplicity. Its small stanzas shorn of punctuation read like an agreement to walk naked in the hinterland simultaneously between spoken languages, between words and music, between the speaker’s past and present, between the familiar and the strange. This is a poem that both loves and relishes language, and points beyond it, letting the visible silence of its white space speak.

Writing in her second language, Laura Theis received a Distinction from Oxford University’s MSt in Creative Writing. Her work appears in venues such as Poetry, Mslexia, Magma, Rattle, and Strange Horizons, and anthologies by Candlestick Press, Broken Sleep Books, Pan Macmillan, and Aesthetica, amongst many others. Her Elgin-Award-nominated debut ‘how to extricate yourself’, an Oxford Poetry Library Book-of-the-Month, won the Brian Dempsey Memorial Prize. She was the recipient of the Society of Authors’ Arthur Welton Award, the AM Heath Prize, EAL Oxford Brookes Poetry Prize, Mogford Prize, Hammond House International Literary Award, and a Forward Prize nomination. 

A runner-up for the Mairtin Crawford Award, she was shortlisted for the Women Poets’ Prize, the Bridport Prize, the Margaret Reid Poetry Prize, the Hippocrates Prize, the Alpine Fellowship, and a finalist for numerous other literary awards including the National Poetry Competition and the BBC Short Story Award. Her forthcoming book  ‘A Spotter’s Guide for Invisible Things’ has won the 2022 Live Canon Collection Prize.

She lives in Oxford with her partner (a neuroscientist) and her dog (a lunatic).

Sara-Jane Arbury (Joint 2nd Prize)


Gobbet of God’s phlegm made flesh,
O oktō, O pous, globular mind-boggle

sucker-punching the concept of curious.
You’re crawling stone, you’re passing cloud,

you’re spiky coral reef. You’re a gobstopper.
Ocean’s soft vowel, locomoting with jet

propulsion, trailing streamers of arms.
Or are you the nearest myth to a gorgon?

You fondle rocks like endless lovers, press
bulbous mass down the ossified mouths

of holes. Taste what you touch.
O, moans Hokusai’s fisherman’s wife,

with a throat full of tentacle, and you
suctioned to the sweet salt of her. O,

boneless lover, erotic comet, you’re
too overwhelming for this world.

An alien equation maybe, with your nine
brains, eight arms, three hearts, blue blood –

No? OK, then squeeze through the chink in science,
octopod. Slop into another aquarium. Writhe

amongst yourself. Write mesmerism.
Or simply unscrew the lid off intelligence,

belief-beggar, and shake this little globe.
We are snow drowning around you. Ogle us.


What judge Philip Gross said about the poem:


This is a glorious brain teaser of a poem, both witty and serious, grounded in up-to-the-minute scientific knowledge and alert to the gaps in human understanding. Mimicking its subject, it reaches in many directions at the same time, with an exuberant delight in exploring the whole register, from the uncanny to the erotic, always keeping one step ahead of the reader. This is word and image pushing itself to the limits of the intelligence on which we pride ourselves, just to find the octopus (is it watching us?) still its unknowable self, just out of reach.

Sara-Jane Arbury is a writer, poet, performer and tutor. She has collaborated with many organisations including Oxford University Press, the National Literacy Trust, Ledbury Poetry Festival and Writing West Midlands, and is a former Director of the Voices Off programme at Cheltenham Literature Festival. Sara-Jane was a finalist in the 2021 Mslexia Women’s Poetry Competition and longlisted for The Plough International Poetry Prize. Her poems appear in anthologies, most recently Tools Of The Trade: Poems For New Doctors published by The Scottish Poetry Library. Sara-Jane is Writer-in-Residence for Herefordshire’s site-specific theatre company Feral Productions.

Steve Pottinger (Joint 2nd Prize)

7.19 in the evening, and the boy outside

New Street station is singing
a lament for us all, he sings

for the puffa jacket kids clothed
and camouflaged in swagger, he sings

for the electric bike takeaway riders
who criss-cross the city, silent

and determined, their two-wheel
spinning gig economy, he sings

for the husk of a lad who totters
tram tracks like a ballerina, trailing

a sleeping bag, who is going nowhere
good in his own slow time and is lost

to us, he sings
for the young couples, still

in love, touching hands
and clasping ready meals

heading back to city apartments
to share each other’s dreams, he sings

for football fans and figures folded
in the shadow of doorways, he sings

for shift workers, their aching backs
their fallen arches, he sings

for the quiet conversation of women
on their way to clean offices, he sings

for the is this isn’t this
flirtation of friends, he sings

for our mistakes, our wrong turnings
our missed opportunities, the bright future

that slipped through our fingers, the better
world that disappeared, he sings

and his voice, pure and soft, a gift
spirals out to join satellites and stars

seeking nothing but the joy of its being
an offering to god, if god is listening

and I think, we should all be crying
here, we should all of us be crying

it is 7.19 in the evening and
the boy outside New Street station sings.


What judge Philip Gross said about the poem:

‘7.19 in the evening, and the boy outside’

Sometimes a poem seems to take a deep breath and unfurl from stanza by stanza by the sheer momentum of its vision. Without a full stop in sight, it flows rippling over its commas and finely judged line breaks, through shifts and modulations but with no loss of momentum, right up to the humbling climax of its ending. This is a state of the nation address with no pomposity, teetering on the edge of metaphysics, all the stronger for its grounding in the utterly mundane.

Steve Pottinger is a founding member of Wolverhampton arts collective Poets, Prattlers, and Pandemonialists. He’s an engaging and accomplished performer who has performed the length and breadth of the country, and his work regularly appears online in CultureMatters and the Morning Star. His sixth volume of poems, ‘thirty-one small acts of love and resistance’ published by Ignite Books, is out now. His website is at 

Judge: Philip Gross

Photo credit: Stephen Morris

Philip Gross has published 25 collections, for adults and for young people, over 40 years of publication; his latest, The Thirteenth Angel (Bloodaxe, 2022), a PBS Recommendation, is shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize. He won the T.S. Eliot in 2009, a Cholmondeley Award in 2017, and is a keen collaborator, e.g. with Lesley Saunders on A Part of the Main (Mulfran, 2018), with scientists on the young people’s collection Dark Sky Park (Otter-Barry, 2018) and with artist Valerie Coffin Price and Welsh-language poet Cyril Jones on Troeon/Turnings (Seren, 2021).












The 2023 Poets & Players competition is now closed. Thanks to everyone who entered. Good luck








We are pleased to announce the 11th poetry competition run by Poets & Players, one of Manchester’s leading organisers of poetry and music events.

Our judge for 2023 is Philip Gross

Philip Gross

Photo credit: Stephen Morris

Philip Gross has published 25 collections, for adults and for young people, over 40 years of publication; his latest, The Thirteenth Angel (Bloodaxe, 2022), a PBS
Recommendation, is shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize. He won the T.S. Eliot in 2009, a Cholmondeley Award in 2017, and is a keen collaborator, e.g. with Lesley Saunders on A Part of the Main (Mulfran, 2018), with scientists on the young people’s collection Dark Sky Park (Otter-Barry, 2018) and with artist Valerie Coffin Price and Welsh-language poet Cyril Jones on Troeon/Turnings (Seren, 2021).





Philip Gross 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 15 March 2023

Winners will be informed by Wednesday 26 April 2023 and will be invited to read alongside Philip Gross at the prize giving ceremony scheduled for Saturday afternoon 20 May 2023 (2.30-4.00pm) at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester. If you have not been notified by Wednesday 26 April 2023, 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 can be on any subject, in any style or form, but must be the author’s own original work (no translations). 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 Entry Form/s.
  • Please note that all competition entries must reach us by Wednesday 15 March 2023, up to 12 midnight on this date (GMT);  Entries arriving after this date will not be considered.


ALL entries must be accompanied by a completed Entry Form (see the link below):

entry form 2023

All email entries will be acknowledged.

Please email the completed Competition Entry Form and poems to

  • 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 email (poems and Entry 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. Poems must be in English. 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 Entry Form/s.
  • 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. Payment must be paid by PayPal.
  • IMPORTANT please include the PayPal reference number on the Entry Form.                       
        • Single poem £4 Pay Now Button with Credit Cards
        • Three poems £10 Pay Now Button with Credit Cards  
                                                                                                                                        CHECKLIST: Completed Entry Form including PayPal reference; poems on separate sheets (with no identifying information).                                                                          COPYRIGHT Entrants retain copyright of their poems, however, we will publish the winning poems on our website. We would also hope to receive permission to make a video recording of the winners’ readings for use on social media.                                                                                                                                                                                                         What previous judges have said about the Poets & Players Competition
  • I’ve long admired Poets & Players. Theirs were the first live readings I attended as a teenager, and I’ll never forget the thrill of it. It was such a pleasure to be asked to judge this competition, which was brilliantly organised, and drew in such a range of exciting poems, stacked with images that stuck in my mind, lines that I couldn’t shake. The formal diversity of the entries was wonderful, and shows that contemporary poetry is in excellent hands.                                                                                                  (Seán Hewitt, 2021)
  • 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. (Pascale Petit, 2018)
  • 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)