Tower Poetry – supporting young poets

 A guest post from Kathryn Grant at:

Tower Poetry

The story of Tower Poetry started in 2000 when Christopher Tower, an Old Member of Christ Church, University of Oxford, left a large legacy to enhance the study of his two passions, poetry in the English language and Greek mythology. The gift was split into four funds – one of which was to be used for an annual prize competition for a poem in English, open to all students in the sixth form or equivalent in schools in the UK – to foster the creative potential of young writers.

Since then the Christopher Tower Poetry Prize has been awarded every year with total prize money available of just under £6000 – with £3000 as the first prize, which is pretty good if you’re 16 (the competition is open to all UK students aged 16-18 and runs this year from 9 November 2012 to 1 March 2013). Entries range from 400 pa to over 1200 and the competition is judged each year by Dr Peter McDonald, who is the Christopher Tower Student and Tutor in Poetry in the English Language at Christ Church, with two external judges (different each year). We’ve had Philip Pullman, Simon Armitage, Jane Draycott and Andrew Motion for instance. This year’s judges are Bernard O’Donoghue and Carrie Etter, and the topic chosen for the competition (which changes every year too) is ‘The Details’.

The winners are published in a booklet to coincide with the prize-giving event (the pamphlet’s more of a collectors’ item than a commercial activity!) but we also publish the results of the Tower Poetry Summer Schools, eight of which have been held to date, when the winners of the competition and applicants from UK universities (aged from 18-23) come to Christ Church to be tutored and encouraged in their poetry writing for around 3 days by two eminent tutors – the list of titles is included below.

Since 2000, over 100 reviews have been published on our website (www.towerpoetry.org.uk), in addition to selected poetry, and other activities have included a full programme of events at The Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festivals from 2008 to 2012, poetry readings at the Cheltenham Literary Festival in 2004, and in Woodstock during 2011 and 2012, a celebration of the W H Auden Centenary in 2007 at Christ Church, and sponsorship of Poetry Pamphlets from the Clutag Press.

Some of the earliest ‘Tower’ Poets, who have been associated with Tower Poetry since 2002, are now becoming well-known, for instance, Caroline Bird, Anna Lewis, Helen Mort, Richard O’Brien, and Charlotte Runcie. We will be marking the 15th year of Tower Poetry in 2015 with new projects, including turning the reviews into an e-book for free download, an increase in prize money and further web developments.

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