Dunedin Burns Club and Dunedin Public Libraries are embarking on their 14th year of successful collaboration with a revamped Robert Burns poetry competition.

 For the first time the competition will offer significant cash prizes for all three categories of entry, while continuing to capitalise on the notable support of Dunedin UNESCO City of Literature, the Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies at the University of Otago, and the Otago Daily Times.

Dunedin’s City of Literature status last year facilitated links for the competition with both Edinburgh Libraries and the Scottish Poetry Society, which found considerable interest in Dunedin’s competition, and led to international media coverage for its Donald Trump-themed published prize-winner. Our prize-giving ceremony, on Robert Burns’ birthday, featured some bonnie readings via video link with some of the Scottish-based poets who were placed in the competition, while our Dunedin poets held their own alongside the best of them! 

‘Kay Mercer’s special prize-giving really connected our wonderful local poets with their Scottish counterparts,’ commented Nicky Page, Director City of Literature. ‘First prize winners were offered a complimentary ticket that night to the legendary Toitū Burns Dinner, where guests were also treated to a performance by the winners of Toitū’s fantastic Robbie Rocks music competition. It all makes for a great annual celebration!’

With the generous sponsorship of the Otago Scottish Heritage Council, the Dunedin Public Library Association (Friends of the Library), and the Edinburgh-Dunedin Sister City Society, cash prizes will this year be awarded to first place winners in the published poet, unpublished poet, and young poet categories respectively. This sets the competition on a par with major international poetry competitions, and will give the newly-named Dunedin UNESCO City of Literature Robert Burns Poetry Competition the ability to appeal to residents of other Cities of Literature around the globe. Robert Burns’ far-reaching popularity has endured for more than 250 years, and it will be interesting to see, as entries roll in, how his poetry continues to influence modern poets worldwide.

The competition invites entrants to write a poem inspired by the life and works of Robert Burns, the oft-named Bard of Ayrshire, who was born on the 25th January 1759. Dunedin’s fondness for the Bard is evident in the statue that takes pride of place in the centre of the city, and which is affectionately adorned from time to time with a statue-sized hand-knitted scarf. The ‘Edinburgh of the South’ has taken Burns to their hearts as one of their own, and we are not alone. According to the Robert Burns World Federation, there are over 250 affiliated Burns Clubs worldwide, and hundreds more unaffiliated and sub-associations dedicated to keeping the memory of Scotland’s national poet alive and thriving.

As Burns’ poetry, lifestyle and social conscience continue to forge connections with hearts and minds centuries apart, we shall continue to celebrate and draw inspiration from his works, while the sands of life shall run.

The Dunedin UNESCO City of Literature Robert Burns Poetry competition opens on 1st September. Pick up an entry form at any Dunedin Public Library or enter online.