Betjeman Poetry Prize 2017

16 October 2017

Founded in 2006, on the centenary of former poet laureate Sir John Betjeman’s birth, the Betjeman Poetry Prize is a charity in the education sector working with partners across the British Isles to promote literacy, foster creativity and provide a platform for new voices from the next generation.

The Rothschild Foundation proudly supports the writing competition which invites entries from 10 -13 year olds across the British Isles, who must write on the theme of ‘place’. Connection to place is central to John Betjeman’s work and the Prize’s theme aims to encourage young people to look closely at their environment and to question where they come from and who they are.

The six 2017 finalists all read their poems at an event beside the John Betjeman statue at St Pancras Station on 28th September:

Betjeman Poetry Prize Finalists and Judges 2017
Betjeman Poetry Prize Finalists and Judges 2017
  • ‘Lament for Syria’ by Amineh Abou Kerech (13)
  • The River’ by Daisy Foley (12)
  • ‘The School Playground’ by Jemima Webster (12)
  • ‘Six Haikus from Mangalore’ by Shanelle Furtado (10)
  • ‘ADdBrAin’ by Sammy Loehnis (11)
  • ‘She Stands’ by Niamh McCarthy (12)

Amineh Abou Gerecht was announced as the winner with her poem ‘Lament for Syria’ which can be read below.

Betjeman Poetry Prize Finalists 2017 reading at St Pancras Station
Betjeman Poetry Prize Finalists 2017

Lament for Syria

Syrian doves croon above my head

their call cries in my eyes.

I’m trying to design a country

that will go with my poetry

and not get in the way when I’m thinking,

where soldiers don’t walk over my face.

I’m trying to design a country

which will be worthy of me if I’m ever a poet

and make allowances if I burst into tears.

I’m trying to design a City

of Love, Peace, Concord and Virtue,

free of mess, war, wreckage and misery.



Oh Syria, my love

I hear your moaning

in the cries of the doves.

I hear your screaming cry.

I left your land and merciful soil

And your fragrance of jasmine

My wing is broken like your wing.



I am from Syria

From a land where people pick up a discarded piece of bread

So that it does not get trampled on

From a place where a mother teaches her son not to step on an ant at the end of the day.

From a place where a teenager hides his cigarette from his old brother out of respect.

From a place where old ladies would water jasmine trees at dawn.

From the neighbours’ coffee in the morning

From: after you, aunt; as you wish, uncle; with pleasure, sister…

From a place which endured, which waited, which is still waiting for relief.




I will not write poetry for anyone else.



Can anyone teach me

how to make a homeland?

Heartfelt thanks if you can,

heartiest thanks,

from the house-sparrows,

the apple-trees of Syria,

and yours very sincerely.

Betjeman Poetry Prize Winner 2017
Betjeman Poetry Prize Winner 2017

Congratulations, Amineh!