Image that reads The 2021 Walter Swan Poetry Prize and the Walter Swan Trust logo on a blue and white background.

2021 Walter Swan Poetry Prize

Now in its sixth year, the Walter Swan Poetry Prize is open to all writers of poetry aged 18 and over. Last year’s winning poets were praised for their powerful imagery, disciplined use of form and language, emotional subject matter and for demonstrating “the magic that poetry can do”. 

Entries for the 2021 competition are asked to respond to the theme of ‘The Return’
‘The Return’ within an entered poem can take any shape or form, be literal or metaphorical, and interpreted as imaginatively as entrants wish.  


1st Prize         £200
2nd Prize         £100
3rd Prize         £75

The 1st prize winner will also win a one-to-one feedback session with the 2021 Poet in Residence, Ian Duhig.

Extra incentives for writers aged 18-25

The poetry prize is run by Ilkley Literature Festival in partnership with The Walter Swan Trust. Established in memory of writer Walter Swan, the Trust promotes all forms of creative writing and has a particular interest in providing opportunities to young and new writers.

Entrants aged 18-25 will automatically be entered into consideration for a subcategory prize for young adult writers, as well as for the main prize (it will be possible for an eligible entrant to win both). We have also made it easier for younger writers to enter the competition by reducing the entry fees for those aged 25 and under £3.00 per poem.

18-25 years subcategory prizes
1st Prize £100
2nd Prize £75
3rd Prize £50

The winning poems will be announced in a special online event on National Poetry Day, Thursday 7 October 2021. All six winning poets – in both overall and 18-25 years competitions – will be invited to read their entries within the event.

Essential Info for All Entrants

  • Entries must respond to the prompt ‘The Return’.
  • Poems should be not more than 30 lines (excluding the title).
  • Entries received from anyone aged 18-25 will automatically be entered for consideration in the 18-25 years subcategory as well as the main Walter Swan Poetry Prize.
  • The prizes are judged separately, and it is possible for an entrant aged 18-25 years to win or be placed in both prizes.
  • Closing date for receipt of entries: 31 July 2021, 11.30pm


The entry fee is £6 per poem for writers aged over 25 years or £3.00 per poem for writers aged 18-25 years. You can send as many entries as you like.

Fees are payable online or if submitting your entry by post, please include a cheque made out to ‘Ilkley Literature Festival Ltd‘.


The competition is open to anyone aged 18 years and over.  Non-UK Residents are welcome to enter the competition. Please note there is a separate poetry competition for young people aged 12-18. 

Entries must be entirely the work of the entrant and must never have been published, self-published, published on any website or online forum, broadcast nor won or been placed in any other competition (as at October 2021).  

Entries submitted posthumously will not be eligible.

Online Entries

To submit your entry online please click the link below and follow the on-screen instructions.

Click here to submit your entry online.

Entries by Post

Please do not put your name or address on the poem itself. Write your name, address, telephone number and email address on the entry form accompanying it.

Click here to download the postal entry form.

  • Entries must be in English, typed, single sided.
  • Poems must be single spaced.
  • Entries must have a title and must show no name, address or other identifying marks.
  • Entries will not be returned, please keep a copy.
  • No corrections can be made after receipt of your entry, or any fees refunded.
  • Please ensure that you use the correct postage.

Send postal entries marked clearly ‘Walter Swan Poetry Competition’ to:

Ilkley Literature Festival
9 The Grove
West Yorkshire
LS29 9LW


Prize winners will be notified by Friday 17 September 2021. The list of prize winners will be displayed on the website from 7 October 2021. The winning poems will be announced in a special online event on National Poetry Day, Thursday 7 October 2021. All six winning poets – in both overall and 18-25 years competitions – will be invited to read their entries within the event.


Worldwide copyright of each entry remains with the author, but by entering the competition the entrant agrees that Ilkley Literature Festival reserves the right to publish the winning poems (including those of the runners up) and/or performances of the poems on the festival’s digital platforms, in an anthology or used for publicity purposes at any stage in the future. Entrants agree to waive their rights in relation to such publication to the extent that they can do so. 


Walter Swan Poetry Prize Judge: Ilkley Literature Festival’s 2021 Poet in Residence – Ian Duhig
18-25 Years Judge: Ilkley Literature Festival’s 2021 Apprentice Poet in Residence – Rheima Robinson

The judges’ decision is final and no individual correspondence can be entered into.
Judges are unable to comment on individual entries.
Judging will be fair and unbiased. Experienced readers will assist the named judges in selecting the shortlists.
The organisers reserve the right to change the panel of judges without notice and not to award prizes if, in the opinion of the judges, such action is justified.

Please Note

Entry implies acceptance of all the above rules.
Failure to comply with the entry requirements will result in disqualification.

Any Questions?

If you have any further questions, please contact and we will be happy to help.

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