International Institute of Modern Letters

National Schools Poetry Award

Choose a theme

Copy (Ctrl C) the code below

Writing a poem is one of the great human experiences. It's as if you are singing the whole universe into being.
- Bill Manhire

Kia ora koutou!

In 2003 Bill Manhire set up the only national poetry competition for high school students in Aotearoa. Last year we had to cancel the Award through a lack of funds. This campaign is about reviving an important literary event for young writers which each year has attracted more than 300 poets from across the country.

We're not starting from scratch. We already have the generous support of Creative New Zealand. But we still have a large shortfall. With your help we can deliver a full Award, securing the workshop which is such a vital part of the experience, and promoting poetry throughout our high schools.

The Award is about much more than a winning poem. English teachers use the award to generate excitement and activity around Creative Writing. Ten shortlisted poets are flown to Wellington for a weekend of workshops with great poets hosted by the International Institute of Modern Letters. These young writers become ambassadors for creativity when they return to their schools.

This Award has made a big impact on participants. As Tim Fraser, Hutt International Boys' School, 2013 runner-up says: 'The National School's Poetry Award was something I never thought I could place in but I did it, ever hopeful. Getting in the top ten has much improved my confidence in my own skills. I will definitely continue to create poetry and certainly this Award has been a booster towards my belief in my abilities.'

Students who have been shortlisted in previous Poetry Awards have gone on to study Creative Writing at tertiary level, won other national writing prizes for emerging writers (such as the Sunday Star-Times Short Story Award), and have been published in national magazines and literary journals including the New Zealand Listener, North & South, Sport and Turbine. The 2009 winner, Charlotte Trevella, published a poetry collection with Steele Roberts that year. Zarah Butcher McGunnigle, whose work was 'Highly commended' in 2008, published her first book of poems with Hue & Cry Press in 2014. Students' poems sometimes travel to unexpected places: the 2013 winner's poem was picked up from the website by a New Zealand fashion house for use in its 2014 lookbook.

Ruby Solly, from Western Heights High School, Rotorua, was the 2013 runner-up: 'After I came back from the poetry workshop I became very committed to school and writing as I had been given a taste of what it was like to be with other writers and to see what kind of course or occupation I could end up in as a poet. The workshop showed me various ways of both 'sparking creativity' and refining my work to make it the best that it could be. These skills helped me to achieve publication in both Minarets (literary journal) and Redraft. It is definitely a highlight of the year for me.'

Teachers, too, have recognised the significance of this Award. As Vanessa Scott, HOD English, Pakuranga College writes: 'I believe this Award has lifted the profile of poetry within the school and shown the school community how young people can excel in literature and the arts, and that these achievements are just as valid as those won on a rugby field.'

Margie McLaren, who teaches at Baradene College, is also convinced: 'The main benefit is the new confidence instilled in the students about the value of poetry in a utilitarian world which does not always attach the significance to poetry that it deserves . . . The Award is an affirmation of the many benefits of working with and celebrating language, and the special ways in which poetry can reflect human experience. The opportunity of entering for the Award has been a very positive and rewarding experience.'

We hope you can support us!

Ngā mihi nui,

Damien Wilkins
International Institute of Modern Letters