2020 Competition Winners

2020 Tower Poetry Competition

The 20th Christopher Tower poetry competition opened on 1 October 2019 to poems on the theme of 'Trees'. Seven talented young poets were rewarded for their creative accomplishments by the judges, each taking a different approach to the theme.

Judges A.E. Stallings and Rebecca Watts were impressed by the diversity and scope of the entries:

‘Trees have always been an important poetic subject (a fine anthology could be made from tree poems alone), but in these days of climate anxiety, they have taken on new import. The highly diverse array of poems selected for prizes and commendation here each brought something in poetry’s purview—original language, quirky imagination, precision of observation, formal control, playing with proportion or scope, eerie narrative—to bear on our collective or individual concerns. It was a pleasure to read these poems and to feel optimistic at the very least about our bright poetic future.’ (A.E. Stallings)

‘I was pleased to read a number of poems by young writers who are clearly excited by language, and by the compelling stories that can be communicated through it. The poems that stood out for me were those that risked an unusual angle – a slantwise take on the theme. Each of the winning and commended poems strikes out on its own: the poet adopts a bold tone, or a distinctive style or form, and in committing to it manages to get free of any expectations about what a poem “should” sound like.’ (Rebecca Watts)

The Winners

Tower Poetry logoFirst Prize: Nadia Lines from The Broxbourne School, Hertfordshire, with the poem Woodland For Sale.

'This poem won me over on first read for its delightful imaginative range, its bold, off-kilter imagery, and its accomplished rhythms and enjambments. The poet took a risk in adopting a playful tone, and committed to that risk, and saw their approach through to the end of the poem. I wanted to read it again and again, to enjoy the poet’s enjoyment of language, and felt excited about the prospect of reading other poems by this poet.’ (Rebecca Watts)


Fiyinfoluwa Timothy OladipoSecond Prize: Fiyinfoluwa Timothy Oladipo from Varndean College, East Sussex, with the poem Sonnet to Palm Sunday.

‘This poem has a cracking opening, and I loved its authoritative, conversational tone. As well as offering an interesting take on the theme, it shows an impressive command of language, rhythm and form – gently pushing at the sonnet’s confines, as though there is more to say. Part of its sophistication, in fact, is in what the poem leaves unsaid; I felt confident that the poet knew exactly what they were doing.’ (Rebecca Watts)


Tower Poetry logoThird Prize: Ahana Banerji from Putney High School, London, with the poem The Banyan Tree.

‘The tone of this poem is unusual – memorable – and nicely pitched in the context of the unsettling narrative that unfolds through the poem. I thought the prosey rhythms were very well handled, and there are some great images and word choices throughout. Again, a bold take on the theme, which really paid off.’ (Rebecca Watts)


Joyce ChenCommended: Joyce Chen from Westminster School, London, with the poem Eating.

‘This poem’s original approach stuck with me. I liked the way the poet plays with proportion and scale – zooming in on chopsticks and knitting needles, zooming out to human arms and ocean waves – to show me something I wouldn’t otherwise have seen or thought about.’ (Rebecca Watts)


Sabrina Coghlan-JasiewiczCommended: Sabrina Coghlan-Jasiewicz from Newstead Wood School for Girls, Kent, with the poem Burial Rites.

'I was impressed by the poem's scope, as well as by the poet's control of narrative and line. I also found several of its images striking and memorable.' (Rebecca Watts)



Zara MeadowsCommended: Zara Meadows from Belfast Royal Academy, Northern Ireland, with the poem Treehugger, Summer 2005.

‘I enjoyed this poem’s unpretentious, unique approach to the theme, and the way it plays formal neatness against off-kilter syntax. Amid a sustained merging of sense memories there are several striking concrete images here that for me ring true.’ (Rebecca Watts)


Toby MorrisonCommended: Toby Morrison from Oakham School, Rutland, with the poem A Tree.

‘I enjoyed this poem’s quiet confidence – its willingness to observe something quotidian, and to spin music from that observation. I was also impressed by the poet’s engagement with the white space of the page, and the lovely, swinging rhythm in the poem’s central section.’ (Rebecca Watts)


Reflections from Peter McDonald, Christopher Tower Student and Judge

'It’s twenty years now since we launched the first of our Christopher Tower Prize competitions for poetry. That’s a long time, and I’ve been involved throughout – the only thing I wasn’t in on was the Prizes’ conception.  It did fall to me, though, to launch and run the very first competition: to plant that particular tree, if you like; and after then, year by year, to watch it grow. In terms of British poetry and young people, Tower is part of the landscape now, as though it had always been there.  I still don’t know quite how that was done – at the start, it was a close-run thing – but I’m certainly glad that we are where we are.

It’s hard not to feel vicarious pride, every year, in the achievements of the 16-18 year-olds who do well in the competition (though of course all we’re really doing is recognising their talent, since the work done is all their own, and not ours!) This year is no exception in that regard; but what is different – alas – is that I and my fellow judges don’t get to meet and congratulate the poets in person.  We do wish that had been possible – but, as everyone knows all too well, this is one wish among very many these days that simply has to go unfulfilled.  Better times will come, and these pleasures will keep.

We did, at least, manage to defy the mounting difficulties of recent months and carry this year’s competition through to its conclusion.  As a result, we can present the world with seven splendid new poems – varied in their angles and techniques, but all marked by real verbal alertness and invention: with keen eyes, sharp ears, and human hearts.  Beyond these winners, there were many more fine entries, which gave all three judges both enjoyment and food for thought.  As usual, I feel distinct gratitude to every single entrant, and to the teachers who (as we should remember) so often provide the encouragement and inspiration for young people to find their voices.

Getting to this point was indeed challenging in the circumstances of 2020; and it’s no surprise that the challenges fell to and were met by more hard-working people than just the judges.  The Tower Poetry administrator, Emma-Jane Hampsheir-Gill, in truth made it possible for all this to happen: for the entries to come in and be logged, for the judges to see things at the right time, for the virtual ‘meetings’ to take place successfully, and for the wider world to be kept informed about what was going on.  She deserves a prize of her own – a small tree to plant, perhaps.

Anyhow, it’s a pleasure to be showing these poems to the world – and it would be nice to think that Tower Poetry played some part in bringing them into existence, even if we can claim no credit for the quality of the things themselves.  But I shouldn’t be calling poems ‘things’, for a good poem is more than just an object: it develops with re-reading, it allows different moods to be seen at different times, it starts thoughts and chains of thoughts that take a long time to finish, and it seems to grow with time. To have seven more good poems in the world is to make the world that tiny bit richer.  So, to the poets, the truest address is the simplest one – thank you.'