The Edwin Morgan Poetry Award (EMPA) sits at the core of The Edwin Morgan Trust’s work. The award was conceived by Edwin Morgan with the aim of supporting young Scottish poets to reach new heights. Morgan demonstrated this mission during his lifetime by mentoring and supporting emerging Scottish poets. He generously left one million pounds in his will to continue this mission by establishing the Edwin Morgan Poetry Award as his legacy.
The EMPA was inaugurated in 2014 and is held every two years. It has supported the work of over twenty young poets with a prize of £20,000 to the winning poet, £2,500 for runners up and £1,000 for shortlisted poets.
Previous winners and shortlisted poets include: Niall Campbell, Claire Askew, Tom Chivers, Harry Josephine Giles, Stewart Sanderson, Molly Vogel, Penny Boxall, Miriam Nash, Sophie Collins, Roseanne Watt, Daisy Lafarge, Tom Docherty, Nadine Aisha Jassat, Peter Ratter, Alycia Pirmohamed, Colin Bramwell, Michael Grieve, Kirsten Kerr, David Linklater and Paul Malgrati.
In response to a changed global environment and an urgent need to support new and under-represented* voices, The Edwin Morgan Trust has spent some months reflecting on the format of the Edwin Morgan Poetry Award. While we understand that the age specification of poets under 30 remains a barrier for many people who, due to structural inequality, have not had the opportunity to cultivate a writing practice in their teens and twenties, this condition is stipulated in Edwin Morgan’s will.
Acknowledging the challenge this continues to present, we have worked to reformat the EMPA to address other barriers to entry to actively reach communities that have been historically under-represented in the EMPA prize.
In 2022 we have made five core changes to the EMPA format:
- Defining ‘Scottish’ as being born in Scotland, raised in Scotland or being an ongoing resident of Scotland.
We have eliminated the criteria of having a Scottish parent and the need to have been continuously resident in Scotland for the past three years.
- Creating an award that rewards outstanding promise by supporting the development of a collection of poems through financial support. New submission guidelines will ask for 10 poems. Entries will be accepted via a digital portal rather than as hard copy.
We have eliminated the need to submit between 25 and 50 poems as we felt this output was neither realistic nor inclusive due to the known barriers. We have also eliminated the requirement for a hard-copy-in-triplicate submission for accessibility, cost and environmental reasons.
- Assembling a group of ‘Nominators’ (organisations and individuals) who will nominate young poets who they feel are promising and deserving of the EMPA.
While the ‘open stream’ remains, we have approached a range of people to be on a ‘Nomination Committee’. These people are embedded in their communities and are asked to nominate young poets of promise who may not otherwise consider entering the EMPA, particularly from groups who have been previously under-represented in our shortlists.
- Establishing an ‘open stream’ for applications, which will be reviewed by two ‘Peer Reviewers’, ensuring that all voices have a chance to be heard.
Alongside introducing a ‘Nomination Committee’, we want to maintain an open call format. Applications via the open call will be reviewed by two ‘Peer Reviewers’ (previous EMPA shortlisted poets) who will select up to 6 submissions to be reviewed by all panel members in the final judging. We believe this to be a fairer, more inclusive process, steered by those with an immediate understanding of emerging poets and representation.
- Dividing the prize pool between a maximum of four poets.
EMPA panel members will decide if they would like to award the £20,000 prize to one, two, three or four poets. This actively resists the notion of one ‘winner’ and acknowledges that often there are a number of deserving entrants. Capping at £5,000 also ensures that the prize remains large enough to be a ‘game changer’ for a young poet.
Through these changes we hope to see the EMPA grow to be a more inclusive, core enabler of new, emerging and exciting voices in Scottish poetry.
You can find out about the 2022 EMPA Nomination Committee and Peer Reviewers here. The open call for entries can be found here, the deadline for submissions on March 31, 2022. The Edwin Morgan Trust will fund an online masterclass with tips to help entrants compile their selection of poems. Sign up to the info session here.
The Edwin Morgan Trust has also revisited its missions and aims; you can view these here.
*This could include people who experience racism, those who are disabled and/or neurodivergent, folk who are trans, non-binary and/or queer, and people from working class/lower socio-economic backgrounds as well as people who experience other under-represented and oppressed identities.