Sir John Betjeman was Poet Laureate from 1972 till his death in 1984. When his Collected Poems (John Murray) came out in 1958 they made publishing history and have since sold over two and a quarter million copies. Apart from his poetry he wrote and edited The Shell County Guides for over thirty years, wrote the Collins Guide to English Parish Churches and also wrote a further forty topographical and architectural books. Betjeman’s architectural interests were far ranging – from the early stone dwellings on St Kilda to the brick galleries of Jim Stirling. Among the buildings he fought to save from destruction were St Pancras and Liverpool Street stations. He encouraged people to look at unregarded buildings, to notice their ‘indeterminate beauty’. Betjeman made over 500 television programmes of which 26 were films for Shell in the ‘Discovering Britain’ series. Betjeman’s celebration of ‘place’ has inspired the theme of the John Betjeman Poetry Competition. We do not know what will capture each young person’s imagination. It may not be the churches, cliff tops, suburban streets and tea shops of Betjeman’s poetry. It may be the urban view from their window, the walk to school through the park, the local river, the library, their friend’s bedroom or simply the space inside the back of the bus. We cannot prescribe what children see but we can encourage them to look.
“Childhood is measured out by sounds and smells and sights, before the dark hour of reason grows” John Betjeman, Summoned by Bells, 1960
Established by the family of the former Poet Laureate, the John Betjeman Poetry Competition seeks to foster a love of poetry in young people. It is our aim to support literacy and creativity, encouraging children aged 10-13 to explore the world they see around them through rhythm and language. This year’s competition is now open. The closing date for entries is 31st July.
Each child is invited to send in (by post or online) one poem on the theme of ‘place’. You can choose anywhere that is important to you – from your bedroom to somewhere you visited on holiday, from your favourite park to your favourite building. The subject of your poem could be a city or a garden or a beach or a street. We are asking you to capture in words what that place means to you.
Winners of the poetry competition are invited to read their poems aloud to an audience of judges, entrants, teachers and parents as well as sponsors and press, at a prize giving held on National Poetry Day, Thursday 4th October, on the upper concourse of St Pancras International, next to the bronze statue of Sir John Betjeman by Martin Jennings. This year the prize of £1000 will be presented by an emcee (to be announced shortly) and Grace Nichols will read some of her poems.
The winner, runner-up, and second runner-up will each win four standard class tickets from St Pancras International to Paris, Brussels or Lille donated by Eurostar. The top six entrants will win prizes of £50 book tokens donated by Foyles Bookshop. The winning school and the school that inspires the greatest number of children to enter the competition will each win a poet visit.
The presentation of the prizes will be followed by afternoon tea in the Betjeman Arms.