The Walter Swan Poetry Prize 2020

The Walter Swan Poetry Prize is a competition for writers of poetry aged 18 and over. The prize is run by Ilkley Literature Festival in partnership with The Walter Swan Trust. Now in its fifth year, the prize was established in memory of writer Walter Swan.  

In previous years, prize winners have been praised for their unique voices, precise use of language, powers of observation and use of fresh imagery, and qualities such as lyricism and musicality. 

“some artful, observational poems where the writers seemed to be painting with words” – Colette Bryce, Judge and Ilkley Literature Festival’s 2019 Poet in Residence


How to Enter

The Walter Swan Competition is now closed.

Prize winners will be notified in September 2020.



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

The winning poets will be invited to read their poems at the festival in October 2020*.

The winner will also win a one-to-one feedback session with Professor John Whale, Director of the University of Leeds Poetry Centre, courtesy of ILF’s partnership with the University of Leeds Cultural Institute.

*subject to ongoing public health advice and economic variables related to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

**feedback session may be conducted digitally.

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.

For the first time in 2019, the Walter Swan Poetry Prize provided extra incentives for poets aged 18-25 years to enter the competition. Following last year’s success, we’re going to continue making it easier for young writers to enter the competition by reducing the entry feeds for those aged 25 and under to just £3.00 per poem.

Secondly, for no additional fee, entrants aged 18-25 will automatically be entered into consideration for a brand-new subcategory prize for young adult writers, as well as for the main prize (it will be possible for an eligible entrant to win both!).

The subcategory will be judged by Rachel Bower, Leverhulme Research Fellow at the University of Leeds, and author of the poetry collection Moon Milk (2018).

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

The winning poets in the 18-25 years subcategory will also be invited to read at the festival in October 2020.

Niccola Swan, chair of the Walter Swan Trust, said,

“We are really delighted to be sponsoring the Ilkley Literature Festival Poetry Prize again. The theme of ‘A Kindness’ links particularly well to Walter and his own interests and writing. He used to run a Facebook page called Kindness – the Golden Chain, and his own poems were often on this theme. One of his best-known poems is called ‘May You’ and it features these lines: 

‘May your world be one of kindnesses both given and received 
With no expectation, ever, of reward 
May the world be the better for your having shared in it 
May your memory live on for loving and being loved’ 

We wish much luck to all the poets who will be writing on this very important theme and look forward to reading the winning poems.” 


Essential Info for All Entrants

  • Entries must respond to the prompt ‘A Kindness’.
  • Poems should be not more than 30 lines (excluding the title)
  • 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.
  • No corrections can be made after receipt of your entry, or any fees returned.
  • 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 2020, 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 only. Due to the Coronavirus, we are not able to accept any other method of payment. We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.

How to Enter

The Walter Swan Competition is now closed.


Terms and Conditions


The competition is open to anyone, including non-UK applicants (Ilkley Literature Festival is unable to offer any financial assistance for winners to attend the prizegiving), 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 2020).  

Entries submitted posthumously will not be eligible.


Worldwide copyright of each entry remains with the author, but by entering the competition the entrant agrees that Ilkley Literature Festival will have the unrestricted right to publish the winning poems and stories, (including those of the runners up), on ILF’s website or as ‘posters’, postcards and/or celebratory pamphlets for display and distribution, and the entrant waives his/her rights in relation to such publication to the extent that he/she is able to do so. 


Walter Swan Poetry Prize Judge: Professor John Whale, Director of the University of Leeds Poetry Centre and co-editor of Stand Magazine.
18-25 Years Judge: Rachel Bower, Bradford-born poet and fiction writer and current University of Leeds Leverhulme Early Career Research fellow. Rachel’s first poetry collection Moon Milk was published in 2018 and her short fiction has recently been awarded both the 2020 Writers & Artists Short Story Competition and The London Magazine Short Story Prize 2019/2020.

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.


Prize winners will be notified in September 2020.
The list of prize winners will be displayed on the website after the October festival.

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.