Leeds’s Literary Legacy: the Brotherton Poetry Prize 2020/2021

The University of Leeds has a long and notable history of engagement with poetry through the Gregory Fellowships, its members of staff, and its students. The Brotherton Library’s Special Collections houses extensive poetry archives, including those of Simon Armitage, Tony Harrison, Geoffrey Hill, and Jon Silkin. Its holdings also include the archives of magazines such as Stand and the London Magazine as well as those of specialist poetry publishing houses such as Enitharmon. In recent years this engagement with poetry has been increased with the founding of the University’s Poetry Centre and the appointment of a succession of Douglas Caster Fellows in Poetry (Helen Mort, Malika Booker, Vahni Capildeo and Zaffar Kunial) as well as the appointment of Simon Armitage as Professor of Poetry. This is the dynamic context which led to the founding of the biennial Brotherton Poetry Prize in 2018 as a result of the partnership between the University’s Poetry Centre and the Brotherton Library.

The idea informing the prize was to create something which was special and distinctive – not just another single-poem competition with a large cash prize, but one which offered support to the winning poets. We wanted to give a boost and offer support to poets at a key stage of their careers – that point at which they have published poems in journals, are engaging in readings, and maybe have even produced a pamphlet, but not yet taken the bigger step of publishing a full-length collection.

There was a fantastic response with nearly 400 submissions from all over the globe. We were delighted with the high quality of poetry across the submissions and this made it difficult to select our five shortlisted poets: Dane Holt (winner), Pete Green, Maeve Henry, Majella Kelly, and Robyn Maree Pickens. We were delighted to be able to showcase their work in the first Brotherton Prize Anthology published as part of the competition’s partnership with the leading poetry publisher Carcanet.

The second Brotherton Poetry Prize for 2020/2021 was recently announced at the launch of the Carcanet anthology. We look forward to reading the next set of submissions and to meeting and working with the next group of shortlisted poets.