Dunedin UNESCO City of Literature Robert Burns Poetry Competition: The Far Foreign Land

1 September - 30 November 2019

The Robert Burns connection

Dunedin, in the South Island of New Zealand, has a familial link to Robert Burns in the form of his nephew, Dr Thomas Burns – who was one of the City’s founding fathers during Scottish settlement. A statue of Robert Burns was unveiled in 1887, and stands in the Octagon at the heart of the City Centre. Today it remains a popular focal point and meeting place for both residents and visitors.

Robert Burns, the great Scottish Bard, was born on 25 January 1759, and his legend lives on through his poetry and songs, such as Tam O’ Shanter. Regarded as a pioneer of the Romantic Movement, his works reflect his strength of opinion, his love of women and his fondness (sometimes too much) of drinking. For our annual Robert Burns Poetry Competition, we invite you to write a poem in the spirit of Robert Burns.

The University of Otago holds the Robert Burns Fellowship, a prestigious residency for contemporary New Zealand writers, which enables them to further explore and develop their craft.

The Dunedin Burns Club was formed in 1891. Alongside a number of Scottish clubs and societies in the City, the Dunedin Burns Club keeps the memory of our Scottish heritage alive and well.

The Dunedin UNESCO City of Literature Robert Burns Poetry Competition is a collaboration between the City of LIterature, Dunedin Public Libraries and The Dunedin Burns Club, with the support of the Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies and the Otago Daily Times.. Entries are judged by associates of the Robert Burns Fellowship and the winners are announced and presented with prizes on Robert Burns’ birthday, 25 January. There is a separate competition for young poets - Rap Like Robbie Poetry Competition - which runs concurrently with the Robert Burns Poetry competition for adults.

The Competition

The theme of the 2019-2020 competition is migration - a new life in a new land, far from home. 

Write a poem in English or Scots on the theme of migration. Migrants have settled in Aotearoa New Zealand from all over the world and have shaped this country's history and culture. Thus, your poem may reflect your own experience or the story of your family, or observations of the challenges of starting a new life, far from home.

You can collect a printed entry form from any Dunedin Public Library, download a pdf of the entry form, or enter online. Poems must be no longer than 500 words.

The competition opens on 1st September, and closes on 30th November (St Andrews Day).


The Robert Burns poetry competition prizes are generously sponsored by the Otago Scottish Heritage Council, Lee and Royden Somerville (Published Adult); the Dunedin Public Libraries Association (Unpublished Adult); and the Dunedin-Edinburgh Sister-City Society (Youth - Rap Like Robbie competition).

Prizewinners will be notified by the middle of December, and the winners are invited to read their poems at a special prize-giving ceremony on Robert Burns Birthday, 25th January. Winners are presented with their medals, cash prizes (for first place), and certificates. The winners are again invited to read their poems at the Dunedin Burns Club's annual Robert Burns Supper celebration later that evening. If unable to attend, arrangements can be made for prizes to be collected by, or delivered to, the recipients.

The prizes include:

Published Poet
1st Prize: William Brown and Charles Turner Medal presented by the Dunedin Burns Club; $1000 generously sponsored by Lee and Royden Somerville and the Otago Scottish Heritage Council; publication of the winning poem in the Otago Daily Times; invitation to the Dunedin annual Burns Supper celebration.
2nd Prize: Certificate
3rd Prize: Certificate 

Unpublished Poet
1st Prize: Allan Millar Medal and trophy presented by the Dunedin Burns Club; $500 generously sponsored by the Dunedin Public Libraries Association (Friends of the Library); publication of the winning poem in the Otago Daily Times; invitation to the Dunedin annual Burns Supper celebration.
2nd Prize: Certificate
3rd Prize: Certificate

Conditions of Entry

  • The 2019 Robert Burns Poetry Competition runs from Saturday 1 September 2019 – Friday 30 November 2019 inclusive.
  • Entries close Friday 30 November 2019.
  • Late entries will not be entered into the competition.
  • All entries must be typed.
  • A strict word count of 500 words max will be imposed.
  • All poems must be original to the person on the entry form and unpublished (the poem has not previously been published for payment or published as a winning entry in a previous competition).
  • Only one entry per person.
  • Entries will be judged anonymously by the selected panel.
  • The decision of the judges is final.
  • Winning entrants will be selected and informed by Friday 13 December 2019.
  • Entrants will be judged within one of two categories: Published Poet or Unpublished Poet.
  • Entrants are responsible for selecting their appropriate category.
  • First, Second and Third Prize winners will be selected from each category.
  • Winners will be publicly announced and prizes presented on Saturday 25 January 2020 between 12pm and 1pm, at the Dunedin City Library.
  • 1st Prize winners will be invited to read their poem on collection of their prize, or may choose for their poem to be read on their behalf.
  • Winning entrants will not be funded to attend the official prize-giving.
  • If unable to attend, arrangements will be made for winning prizes to be collected by, or delivered to, the winner.
  • 1st Prize winning poems will be published in the Otago Daily Times and published on the Dunedin Public Libraries website.
  • A copy of all entries will be retained by the Dunedin Public Libraries, unless an entrant requests otherwise.
  • Please submit a copy of your original poem as entries will not be returned.


Previous winners

2018 winners

2017 winners

2016 winners

© Copyright Dunedin City of Literature