About the Competition

National finals

Judging criteria

Competition structure

County contests

19-21 March 2015


Homerton College, Cambridge




Emily Dunstan from Graveney School in Central London is the new Poetry By Heart Champion for 2015. Reciting three poems in front of a highly appreciative audience at Homerton College, University of Cambridge, Emily triumphed at the end of a search for a champion that began six months ago with hundreds of students taking part in school competitions up and down the country. Her winning poems were…

‘Ode To A Nightingale’ by John Keats

‘The Fish’ by Elizabeth Bishop

‘The Death Bed’ by Siegfried Sassoon

Havering Sixth Form College’s Josephine Obeng took second place, while King Edward VI School (Lichfield) student Oliver Sullivan came third. Over the weekend, 43 students recited three poems each to a crowded auditorium in which you could hear a pin drop! They were also taken on a walking tour of Cambridge, had a formal dinner at Homerton College with the principal Geoff Ward, had their pick of creative writing workshops, a university admissions talk and guided relaxation sessions and several were recorded for BBC Radio Four’s Poetry Please request show.

The judging panel in charge of making that tricky final decision was made up of some of the country’s top contemporary poets and academics. As well as Sir Andrew Motion and Jean Sprackland, this included Daljit Nagra, Patience Agbabi, Jo Shapcott, Tim Dee and Catherine Robson.

Sir Andrew Motion: “Emily has truly taken these poems to her heart and shared them with us today in a way that is both beautiful and moving.”


In her concluding remarks at the end of a highly successful event Co-founder of Poetry By Heart, Julie Blake said: ‘The 43 finalists came from every part of England and every kind of school. They were drawn together by a love of poetry discovered by committing their own choices to memory.  Those poems will stay with them for life, changing as they grow.’

We asked some of our young people their opinions on Poetry By Heart, their advice for future competitors and the way they consider poetry. We’ll leave you with their thoughts…


On the weekend…

Pavel Poloskin, Bromsgrove Senior School – (favourite part of PBH) “Getting to the finals and having the chance to recite even though English is not my native language.”

Adam Vale, Parkside Community College – (favourite part of PBH) “The chance to experience an amazing dinner in the great hall, meeting people with shared interests and dreams.”

Eleanor Davison, Whitley Bay High School – “Enjoying it is the most important part, to be in the regional finals from all the students is an achievement in itself.”


Advice for other students…

Freya Mallard, Chesham Grammar School – “Know your first line, because if you do, everything else fits in.”

Lily Blundell, King Edward VI School Stratford – “Choose a poem that feels like it was written for you.”

Oliver Sullivan, King Edward VI School Lichfield – “Drink plenty of water, but don’t drown!”

Esther Dina, All Saints Catholic High School – “Breathe and trust that you know your poems.”


The way they interact with poetry…

Caitlin Carr, Teesdale School – “This weekend has made me want to learn more poetry by heart. Thinking about how to perform a poem brings meaning to them.”

Sebi Ogunremi, Bancroft’s School – “Poetry By Heart made me think about the way sentences are structured and the way poets use imagery to get across their feelings.”

Emily Dunstan, Graveney School – “Poetry By Heart has increased my understanding of how the voice is important.”

Student performances in all rounds of the competition must be judged and scored using these criteria.  Please note that these have changed slightly from the criteria used in 2013.

Voice and articulation 1-6 points

This category is to evaluate the auditory nature of the recitation.  Consider the student’s volume, pace, rhythm, intonation and pronunciation.  In a strong performance, all words are pronounced appropriately in the student’s natural accent and the volume, rhythm and intonation greatly enhance the recitation.  Pacing is appropriate to the poem.

Evidence of understanding 1-6 points

This category is to evaluate whether the student exhibits an understanding of the poem is his or her recitation.  A strong performance relies on a powerful internalisation of the poem rather than distracting dramatic gestures.  In a strong performance, the meaning of the poem is powerfully and clearly conveyed to the audience.  The student displays an interpretation that deepens and enlivens the poem.  Meaning, messages, allusions, irony, tones of voice and other nuances are captured by the performance.  A low score is awarded if the interpretation obscures the meaning of the poem or makes use of affected character voices and accents, inappropriate tone and inflection, singing, distracting and excessive gestures, or unnecessary emoting.

Level of difficulty 1-6 points

This category is to evaluate the comparative difficulty of the poem, which is the result of several factors.  A poem with difficult content conveys complex, sophisticated ideas, that the student will be challenged to grasp and express.  A poem with difficult language will have complexity of diction and syntax, metre and rhyme scheme, and shifts in tone or mood.  Poem length is also considered in difficulty but bear in mind that longer poems are not necessarily more difficult than shorter ones.  Judges may also consider the diversity of a student’s recitations with this score; a student is less likely to score well in this category when judges note that a student’s style of interpretation remains the same regardless of poem choice or challenge.

Overall performance 1-8 points

This category is to evaluate the overall success of the performance, the degree to which the recitation has become more than the sum of its parts.  Has the student captivated the audience with the language of the poem?  Did the student bring the audience to a better understanding of the poem?  Did the contestant’s physical presence enhance the recitation, engaging the audience through appropriate body language, confidence and eye contact?  Does the student understand and show mastery of the art of recitation?  The judges will use this score to measure how impressed they were by the recitation, and whether the recitation has honoured the poem.   A low score will be awarded for recitations that are poorly presented, ineffective in conveying the meaning of the poem, or conveyed in a manner inappropriate to the poem.

Accuracy 1-4 marks

A separate judge will mark missed or incorrect words during the recitation. Students will score a full 4 marks for a word-perfect recitation; 3 for a small number of errors which do not significantly affect meaning and/or flow; 2 for a recitation where the errors do affect meaning and/or flow; 1 for a recitation where occasional use is made of the prompter; 0 for a recitation which requires considerable prompting.




The 2015 search for a new Poetry By Heart national champion starts Saturday 28th June 2014. Schools/colleges must register to participate (even if they took part last year) via the registration link on the home page of this website, by email info@poetrybyheart.org.uk or by phone 0117 905 5338.


School/college contests


School/college contests can take place any time during the Autumn term. As long as at least three students in Years 10-13 compete to become Poetry By Heart school/college champion, it counts as a contest. We welcome all sizes and shapes of event, from a lunchtime play-off to a grand gala evening with parents, governors and local media involved. It’s as big or small as suits your school! In this round, students must recite two poems, one published before 1914, and one published in or after 1914. These must be selected from the Poetry By Heart timeline on this website.


County contests


Each Poetry By Heart school/college champion is entitled to a place in their county contest. School/college organisers need to confirm which student will be entering this next round, and with which poems, by 9th January 2015.  In this round, students will be asked to recite three poems: one published before 1914 AND one published in or after 1914 AND one taken from our special 2014 showcase collection of World War I poems. The pre and post 1914 poems may be the same as recited in the school/college contest, or different, but they must be selected from the Poetry By Heart timeline on this website. The World War I poem must be selected from the Poetry by Heart World War I collection.


Regional semi-finals and national finals


The winner of each county contest (or the runner-up if the winner can’t progress to the next round for any reason) will be invited to compete at the Winners’ Weekend at Homerton College, Cambridge, Thursday 19th March to Saturday 21st March 2015. The event will progress through a series of regional semi-finals, in which the Poetry By Heart county champions battle for a place in the grand final on Saturday afternoon.  Students are accompanied throughout the expenses-paid weekend by a teacher from their school, and everyone gets to enjoy an additional programme of activities in Cambridge, including meeting the poet judges. On Saturday afternoon, the 2015 Poetry By Heart national champion will be crowned!



All county contests took place between Friday 16th January 2015 and Friday 13th February 2015.