Keats-Shelley Prize

Poems on the theme of Liberty: a celebration of Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound

The Keats-Shelley Prize is an annual competition for poems and essays on Romantic themes. Inaugurated in 1998, the Prize encourages all adult writers (over 18) to respond creatively to the work of the Romantics.

Writers aged 16-18 are invited to enter the Young Romantics Prize.

In 1818, Percy Bysshe Shelley began work on his first and most famous hymn to Liberty – ‘Prometheus Unbound’, based on the myth of the chained Titan Prometheus, who had stolen fire from the Gods of Olympus to give to mankind.

“The nations thronged around, and cried aloud,

As with one voice, ‘Truth, Liberty, and love!’”

It was the forerunner to his ‘Ode to Liberty’ written two years later.

So what do we want from Liberty in 2018?

You are invited to write your own poem on Liberty; or an essay, which can be on any aspect of the work or lives of the Romantics and their circles.

Cash prizes of £3,000!

The Prize Chair is Liz Lochhead, the former Makar of Scotland and Winner of the Queen’s Medal for Poetry.

The Judges’ Panel for Poets will consist of Matthew Sweeney and Jo Shapcott; and for Essayists of Professor Simon Bainbridge and Professor Sharon Ruston. For more information about our Prize Chair and the Judging Panel, click here.

The deadline for entries is 15th January 2018. Winners will be announced at an Awards ceremony in London, April 2018. Shortlisted entrants will be notified in person in March and their names posted on the website, and they will be warmly invited to attend. The winning poems and essays will be published.

Inspire us with your writing!

Prize Winners

The winners of 2018’s Keats Shelley Prize were announced by this year’s Prize Chair Liz Lochhead at the annual Keats-Shelley Awards Ceremony held on 23rd May at the Society of Antiquaries at Burlington House in central London. This year’s theme of ‘Liberty’ was chosen to mark the bicentenary of PB Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound (1820), the four-act lyrical drama, in which the heroic Prometheus strikes a blow for human freedom against the power of the gods.

The Awards Ceremony was was introduced by readings from the Young Romantics by actors Jonny Taylor and Polly Edsell, both of whom recently starred in ‘Rebel Angel’ by Angus Graham-Campbell, the critically acclaimed play about John Keats’ time as a medical student. Graham-Campbell compiled the readings, Fanfare to Liberty, from words by William Blake, Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, John Keats and Dorothy Wordsworth and more.

2018’s Keats-Shelley and Young Romantics Prizes attracted a record number of entries from around the world. With winners from the USA, Ireland and England, this year’s theme of ‘liberty’ clearly inspired global creativity, especially in the Young Romantics 16-18 category where 2018 entries were up 50% over last year.

The panel of judges include the celebrated poets Matthew Sweeney and Jo Shapcott, and Professors Simon Bainbridge and Sharon Ruston. For further information about our Judges: click here.

For a full report on the Awards Ceremony, click here.

Read about 2018’s Young Romantics Prize here.

Poetry First Prize Winner

Laurinda Lind, Conscientious Objector

Poetry Second Prize Winner

Laurence O’Dwyer, Avenida Libertador

Essay Prize Winner

Tara Lee, Philosophic numbers smooth

Essay Second Prize Winner

Clare Jones, Bat, Bat, Come Under my Hat


Poets were asked to write on the theme of LIBERTY, to celebrate the bi-centenary of PB Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound. Essays may be on any aspect of the lives of the Romantics and their Circles.

In alphabetical order:

Poetry Shortlist

Theo Akiyama, John Salter, 7 cloud_downloadRead Poem

Sharon Black, Fourteen cloud_downloadRead Poem

Jane Boxall, Instamatic New England cloud_downloadRead Poem

Mark Fiddes, Apache Versace cloud_downloadRead Poem

Mark Fiddes, Self Portrait with Violator cloud_downloadRead Poem

Jack Houston, Captain Barnacles cloud_downloadRead Poem

Laurinda Lind, Conscientious Objector cloud_downloadRead Poem

Laurence O’Dwyer, Avenida Libertador cloud_downloadRead Poem

Pascale Petit, On Finding My First Ocellated Lizard cloud_downloadRead Poem

Cheryl Pearson, I Dream Sometimes cloud_downloadRead Poem

Victor Tapner, The Reforms of William Wilberforce cloud_downloadRead Poem

Sarah Wimbush, Carroty Kate cloud_downloadRead Poem

Essay Shortlist

Adam Colman, 'Percy Shelley and Habits' cloud_downloadRead Essay

Clare Jones, 'Bat, Bat, Come Under my Hat' cloud_downloadRead Essay

Tara Lee, 'Philosophic numbers smooth' cloud_downloadRead Essay


  • Chair of Judges

    Liz Lochhead

    An acclaimed poet, playwright and broadcaster, Liz Lochhead is regarded as one of Britain’s finest living writers. ‘Liz Lochhead has made a unique contribution to Scottish poetry,’ Carol Ann Duffy has written. ‘From the start, she spoke in her own feisty, female voice, mixing old Scots with new Scots – as aware of Burns as of Morgan – and she did this with a galvanizing spirit and vitality that helped to change the landscape of British poetry’.

    Between 2011 and 2016, Liz was the Makar, Scotland’s National Poet Laureate. It was her second such honour: in 2005, she was made Glasgow’s Poet Laureate. In 2015, Liz was awarded the prestigious Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry.

    Born in Motherwell in 1947, she served her literary apprenticeship in Philip Hobsbaum’s writers’ group alongside James Kelman, Alasdair Grey, Jeff Torrington and Tom Leonard. The poems Lochhead wrote during this time would be collected in 1972’s Memo for Spring. Later collections include True Confessions and New Clichés (Polygon, 1985), Bagpipe Muzak (Penguin, 1991), The Colour of Black & White (Polygon, 2003) and A Choosing (Polygon, 2011). Her selected poems, A Choosing, were published in 2011.

    Her plays include: Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off (1989); Dracula (1989); Cuba (1997), a play for young people commissioned by the Royal National Theatre; and Perfect Days (1998). She has also translated Molière’s Tartuffe (1985) and adapted The Misanthrope as Misery Guts (2002).

    Liz’s engagement with the Romantic period runs through her work. ‘I grew up being taught Burns and the border ballads – but then John Keats grew up on those ballads as well,’ she told the Guardian. As well as memorising Robert Burns’ ballads as a child, Liz also learned John Keats’ Old Meg She was a Gypsy by heart. She entitled her 1984 collection, Dreaming Frankenstein, which echoed the subject of her first play, Blood and Ice – a dramatic recasting of how Mary Shelley’s life intersected with her most famous work. You can hear Liz read a selection of Robert Burns at the BBC here.

  • Poetry Judges

    Mathew Sweeney

    The Keats-Shelley Memorial Association was deeply saddened by the death of Matthew Sweeney, the acclaimed Irish poet and since 1999 a Poetry Judge for the Keats-Shelley Prize. Read our own appreciation: here.

    Matthew was born in County Donegal. His work has appeared in the New Yorker and the London Review of Books among others. His collections include: A Dream of Maps (1981), Blue Shoes (1989), Cacti (1992), The Bridal Suite (1997), A Smell of Fish (2000), Selected Poems (2002), Black Moon (2007), The Night Post: A New Selection (2010), and Inquisition Lane (Bloodaxe Books 2015). He is the winner of many poetry awards including the Cholmondley Award, the Arts Council Award and in 2014 the Piggott Poetry Prize. He has worked as Poet in Residence at the University of East Anglia and the South Bank and elsewhere.

  • Professor Jo Shapcott

    Professor Jo Shapcott, FRSL joined us as Poet Judge in 2017. She has won numerous awards including the National Poetry Competition (twice), the Commonwealth Poetry Prize, the Forward Poetry Prize, the Cholmondeley Award, and the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry (2011). She teaches on the MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London.

    Her books include Poems 1988-1998 (2000, reprinted 2006) consisting of poetry from her three earlier collections: Electroplating the Baby (1988), which won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize for Best First Collection, Phrase Book (1992), and My Life Asleep (1998), which won the Forward Poetry Prize (Best Collection). Together with Matthew Sweeney, she edited Emergency Kit: Poems for Strange Times (1996), an international anthology of contemporary poetry in English. Her book Tender Taxes, “her version of Rilke” was published in 2002. Her most recent collection, Of Mutability, was published in 2010 and won the Costa Book Award.

  • Essay Judges

    Professor Sharon Ruston

    Professor Sharon Ruston is a long-standing Judge of the Prize essays. She is Professor of English Literature at the University of Lancaster, having previously taught at Bangor, Keele and Salford.

    Her research specialism concerns the relations between the literature, science and medicine of the Romantic period, 1780-1820. Her first book, Shelley and Vitality (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), explored the medical and scientific contexts which inform Shelley’s concept of vitality in his major poetry. Since then, she has worked on Mary Wollstonecraft’s interest in natural history, William Godwin’s interest in mesmerism, and Humphry Davy’s writings on the sublime. These form chapters of her most recent book, Creating Romanticism: Case Studies in the Literature, Science, and Medicine of the 1790s (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).

    Professor Ruston is currently co-editing the Collected Letters of Sir Humphry Davy and his Circle.

    Visit Sharon’s profile page at the University of Lancaster here.

  • Professor Simon Bainbridge

    Professor Simon Bainbridge is a long-standing Judge of the Prize essays. He teaches and writes at the University of Lancaster.

    His main research interest is in the relationship between the writing of the Romantic period and its historical context. He is the author of Napoleon and English Romanticism (Cambridge University Press, 1995) and British Poetry and the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (Oxford University Press, 2003) and the editor of Romanticism: A Sourcebook. He has published in journals such as Romanticism, Romanticism on the Net and The Byron Journal and has written essays and entries for An Oxford Companion to The Romantic Age: British Culture 1776-1832, Romanticism: An Oxford Guide, The Blackwell Companion to European Romanticism, and The Oxford Handbook to English Literature and Theology. Among other current projects he is working on the literature and culture of mountaineering in the Romantic period.

    Visit Simon’s profile page at the University of Lancaster here.