This year, the 13th Christopher Tower Poetry Prize competition attracted hundreds of entries from budding young poets from all across the UK. The theme was ‘The Details’ which generated a wide range of creative responses. The competition was launched last November at the Marlborough School, Woodstock. The 614 entrants (all born between 1994 and 1997) represented 313 schools, many schools entering the competition for the first time in 2013.
At a lunchtime reception in Christ Church, Oxford on Thursday 18 April, eighteen year-old Azfa Ali, Oxford Spires Academy, was awarded the £3,000 first prize for her poem ‘Origins’. The judges were the poets Bernard O’Donoghue, Carrie Etter and Peter McDonald. First Story, who strive to support and inspire creativity, literacy and talent in challenging UK secondary schools and their communities and have worked with Oxford Spires Academy, said: ‘Azfa is an incredibly talented young woman and there is no doubt she – and her peers at OSA – will go on to yet more success in all walks of life'.
The winner of the second (£1,000) prize is Sarah Fletcher (last year’s winner), from The American School in London with ‘Kraut Girl’ and the third prizewinner (£500) is Erin Tunney (De Lisle Catholic Science College, Loughborough, Leicestershire) with ‘The Devil’.
The other short-listed winners, who each received £250 were: Kathryn Cussons (St Paul’s Girls’ School, London) Investigation Details: Echo and Narcissus, Luke van den Barselaar (Colyton Grammar School, Devon) Research, who was longlisted in 2012, and Eva Wallace (Strathearn School, Belfast) Swimming in Loch Suili (The Lake of Shadows).
Carrie Etter said (when the competition was launched): "I expect 'The Details" to be a wonderfully fruitful topic. After all, one of the great pleasures of poetry lies in the perfectly precise or unexpected detail. I look forward to such encounters among the submissions" and said after the judging: “We’re pleased with the quality and range of our finalists and hope these awards will encourage them—and everyone who made the long list—to continue writing poetry.”
Now in its thirteenth year, the Christopher Tower poetry competition is one of the most prestigious poetry competitions in the UK, with a reputation for discovering fresh and exciting poetry talent. Previous prizewinners such as Caroline Bird, Helen Mort, Richard O’Brien, Charlotte Runcie, Anna Lewis and Annie Katchinska are now gaining further acclaim in other competitions or within the publishing/ writing world. The competition is just one of the initiatives developed by Tower Poetry at Christ Church to encourage the writing and reading of poetry by young adults. Other projects include summer schools, poetry readings, conferences, an ongoing publication programme and website, which is used as an educational resource in schools.
View photos of the event
Note to editors:
The Christopher Tower Poetry Prizes were launched following a bequest to Christ Church, Oxford, which provides for the promotion of the art of writing poetry in English. The prizes aim to encourage the writing of poetry amongst young people in the 16-18 year-old age group by establishing an annual set of prizes on a given theme.
• Bernard O’Donoghue is a noted contemporary Irish poet and academic. Born in Cullen, County Cork, Ireland in 1945, he moved to Manchester, England when he was 16, where he attended St Bede's College. He has lived in Oxford, England since 1965. O'Donoghue is currently fellow and tutor in Old English and Medieval English, Linguistics and the History of the English Language at Wadham College, Oxford University. He was previously Reader at Magdalen College, Oxford, and was a colleague of John Fuller and David Norbrook. He supports Manchester City Football Club. In 2006, Penguin Books published O'Donoghue's new translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. O'Donoghue has a wide range of specialities. He has written on courtly love, Thomas Hoccleve and Seamus Heaney. His published poetry collections include Poaching Rights (1987), The Absent Signifier (1990), The Weakness (1991), Gunpowder (1995, which won the Whitbread Prize for Poetry), and Here Nor There (1999), Poaching Rights (1999) and Outliving (2003).
• Originally from Normal, Illinois, Carrie Etter obtained her MFA in creative writing and PhD in English from the University of California, Irvine. Since 2001 she has lived in England, where she is Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor) of Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. Her poems have appeared in The Iowa Review, The New Republic, Poetry Review, Stand, TLS, and numerous other journals and anthologies. She has published two collections, The Tethers (Seren, 2009), winner of the London New Poetry Award 2010 for the best first collection published in the UK and Ireland in the preceding year, and Divining for Starters (Shearsman, 2011); she also edited Infinite Difference: Other Poetries by UK Women Poets (Shearsman, 2010). She reviews contemporary poetry for The Guardian and has blogged since 2005 at carrieetter.blogspot.com.
• Peter McDonald was born in Belfast in 1962 and is the Christopher Tower Student and Tutor in Poetry in the English Language at Christ Church, Oxford. He is working on a major three-volume edition of The Complete Poems of W.B. Yeats for the Longman Annotated English Poets series and a volume of translations from ancient Greek. More generally, Peter McDonald has been a prolific writer on modern and contemporary poetry, and his criticism appears regularly in The Guardian, The Times Literary Supplement, Poetry Review and PN Review. His latest book of poetry, Torchlight and his sixth collection, Collected Poems, have both been published by Carcanet in the last couple of years. ‘But if Poetry Ireland Review were to revisit today the feature it once carried on “Ireland’s most neglected poet”, the answer might well be Peter McDonald. Gathering his five slim volumes to date, this Collected Poems amply demonstrates why.’ The Irish Times 16/2/13
• First Story is a charity that aims to support and inspire creativity, literacy and talent in challenging UK secondary schools and their communities. It was launched in 2008 by former teacher Katie Waldegrave and the writer William Fiennes who met when Fiennes was working as Writer-in-Residence at the fee-paying American School in London. Together, they started First Story in the hope of bringing such an opportunity to state schools around the country. First Story arranges and pays for acclaimed writers to run creative-writing workshops in schools in which more than 50% of pupils are considered deprived according to the Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index and/or GCSE results fall in the lowest third of the national distribution. Each writer-in-residence leads weekly, after-school workshops for a group of students. First Story publishes the students’ writing in a professionally produced anthology for each school, and the schools host book-launch events at which the students read their stories to their peers, friends, families and teachers.