Keats-Shelley Prize Judges 2018

Chair of Judges

We are thrilled to announce that Liz Lochhead will Chair the Judging Panel of 2017’s Keats-Shelley and Young Romantics Prizes.


An acclaimed poet, playwright and broadcaster, Liz is regarded as one of Scotland’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.

A Seasonal Poem by Liz Lochhead

Spoken Song : Spirit of Light

These are the shortened days
and the endless nights.
Carol Ann Duffy, from Mean Time (1993)

Gloomy December.
The doldrum days of the dead of winter.
These are the shortest days
and the endless nights.
So wish for the moon
and long for the light.

Chill winds. Relentless rain.
Dark to go to work in, darkness home again.
But, given just one fine day of sun and sharp, clean frost,
our lost, maybe long lost
Faith -- if for nothing more than the year’s turning --
comes back like the light comes back.
A promise in our bleak midwinter yearning
once in a rare and clear blue noon
if we wish for the moon.

Till then, the light’s soul and spirit
is locked in its absence
and our longing for it.

Whether you believe, with the Magi, in their miracle --
Three Kings bow down low before the Child of Light --
or whether we think them Wise Men on a fool’s errand,
their gifts useless, magnificent, precious,
who came following one star and its faltering gleaming
till they came to the place,
it was a brave as well as a cold coming.
And whether it was a refugee waif
or the Saviour that was born,
whether some shepherds on the night-shift
saw angels, or a meteor storm…

Believe in the light’s soul and spirit
that’s in its absence
and our longing for it.

Liz Lochhead, November 2017.

From Fugitive Colours (Edinburgh: Polygon, 2016). Reproduced by permission of the author.



Matthew Sweeney is an Irish poet from Donegal, who lives and works in Cork.

Matthew Sweeney 220x500

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. Since 1999 he has been Poetry Judge for the Keats-Shelley Prize.

Professor Jo Shapcott, FRSL joined us as Poet Judge last year. 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.
Jo Shapcott

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.


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. You can follow her on Twitter: @SharonRuston

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.