Oxford's Twin Cities competition

The winners of the Oxford’s Twin Cities Poetry Competition have been announced!

Organized by Oxford City Council and Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre, and in association with the Oxford Poetry Library and Les Midis de la Poésie, the competition was open to anyone who lives in Oxfordshire or in one of Oxford's twin cities. There were three age categories: 11 years old and under; 12-16 year olds; and over 16 years. The theme for the competition was ‘Oxford’s twin cities’. We would like to thank you everyone who entered - the judges were delighted to read so many fascinating poems about the topic.

Very many congratulations to all our winners and runners-up! You can also find a shortlist of poets below.

Join us online on Tuesday 27 June to celebrate the poems from the winners and runners-up and to hear from the judges. The event takes place from 5.30-6.30pm UK time via Zoom and you can register for free.

Winners and runners-up

Under 11 - Oxfordshire


Dear Pen Pal
by Nathaniel MacCoss-Smith

Tell me more about your school
Has it got a big field like mine?
I love to play games on it with my friends
We run and laugh and joke,
Even when it’s muddy from the rain
It overlooks fields and a reservoir in the distance
What do you like to eat at lunch?
I like when we have pizza
With hot bubbly cheese on top
What is your favourite subject?
Mine is art, especially painting
Lots of greens and blues
Watercolours or acrylics
Do you ride a bus to school or bike?
I usually walk as it isn’t very far
Please write back soon
And tell me more about what’s it’s like in your twin city
One day, I hope to visit and see for myself


What is 'Twin Cities'?
by Zoe Tsitouridis

What is 'Twin Cities'?
It's when two cities are best buddies;
They are Grenoble, Leiden, Bonn, Wroclaw;
Perm, Leon and Oxford.
They help stop painful wars,
or I'd rather be on Mars;
They show us lives on the other side of Europe,
or I'd have to cross the English Channel to find out.
A girl in Oxford says 'hi!'
another girl in Padua says 'ciao!';
A boy has croissant for breakfast in Grenoble,
another boy had apple pie for tea in Leiden;
Beethoven's note flows through River Rhine,
Alice's tale flows through River Thames;
Roman wall defended city León,
Norman mound defended castle Oxford.
So what is 'Twin Cities'?
how about you tell me now!

Under 11 - Twin Cities


Leiden, Leiden
by Alexander Holm (Leiden)

Leiden, Leiden
It has the moats,
Rivers, canals
And many boats.
People in Leiden
Are very tall
And they can all go
To the mall.
People in Leiden
Like to eat fish,
This is a very
Tasty dish.
People in Leiden
Are very smart
The city is famous
For its art.
People in Leiden
Have got the keys
So they can live
And sleep at ease.
Leiden, Leiden,
It has many towers
And many
Very pretty flowers!


by Matthew Perel (Leiden)

Too many canals,
Too many sweets,
Too many yummy foods to eat,
Too many bikes,
And it’s too hot.
I bike to school
And my legs hurt!

12-16 - Twin Cities


Some cities are connected
by Nina Rives (Grenoble)

Some cities are connected
Like Bonn, Grenoble and Leiden
The Friendship is surrounded
By the poem they have written

This relation is priceless
But even if they're far away
They are next to in some way
And I want it to be endless

Come and join us in this game
We would like to see you write
Beautifully with your heart
Making a friendly poem


Leiden is so old yet pretty
by Gabrielle Dialo (Leiden)

Leiden is so old yet pretty
Tulips and flowers fill the city
Meaningful, with respect for all
A city that stands grand and tall.
Winter brings some chilly weather,
In summer we all play together,
Energy pulses through the street
Where art and history often meet.
On October third, we honor the past
Good souls sacrificed, a memory to last
A fair to celebrate our city's pride
A tradition that will never die.
Leiden, cozy, happy, and free
A city for all, for you and for me
Leiden is a wonderful place
A city full of beauty and grace.

Over 16 - Oxfordshire


by Isabella Mead

He’s all the things he is expected to be,
this gnome in Oxford’s Covered Market,
from the jaunty tilt of his Phrygian cap
to the crinkled eyes and guileless smile.
He has outsized hands, and is a bit lopsided,
leaning into the face of the sunflower he carries.
Don’t be fooled into thinking this is all he is,
the chubby cheeks, the riff on kitsch;
he is solid bronze and will not break.
The detailed markings in bas-relief
catch the sunlight in a hundred directions,
from the joyously looping incisions for petals,
to the long beard, a rippling course of striations
bursting outwards, as if his face
were another flower. Do not belittle
the bushy eyebrows or vacuous grin. He can see
three hundred brothers in another city,
the little people that populate Wrocław
with seemingly innocuous daily tasks,
cycling or bathing or fixing electrics.
He knows how and why they came to be.
He knows what it took to bring him here.
He knows how he came by his thick sturdy boots,
what is inside the parcel he hides at his foot.

Zyczliwek, ‘Wellwisher’, a bronze gnome, was gifted to Oxford from Wrocław in 2019 as a sign of friendship. There are over 400 bronze gnomes in Wrocław, a reference to the ‘Orange Alternative,’ a 1980s protest movement that used humour to oppose the communist regime, in which people painted gnomes over political propaganda.


by Eleanor Williamson

We liked to joke that we were twins
Because we so obviously were not,
Although our cities were.
First came penpal letters, artistically handwritten.
Then hand-braided friendship bracelets.
Later, ferry tickets for a reciprocal exchange visit.
I packed a suitcase of expectation
And your country did not disappoint.
You showed me Beethoven's birthplace with its green
Shutters and red geranium window boxes.
Historic castles, barges on the Rhine.
At a pavement café we savoured the best schnitzel in town,
Talked philosophy over slender glasses of Pilsner.
Arms linked, we strolled through the Münsterplatz
Feeling stylish.
I took my good camera and returned home
With memories to rival any guidebook.
And what did I show you?
Dreaming spires, ancient gargoyles.
Sacred lawns and sequestered university quadrangles.
The architecture was unmatched, you said,
But in that polite direct way of yours: "Stones don't talk."
You wanted the candid autobiography of the place.
Instead your sketchbook sought out rough sleepers
On city centre pavements.
Pigeons eating chips off a bus station floor.
Drunken lovers arguing in a curry house doorway.
Graffiti on the Kings Arms lavatory walls.
Instead your journal recorded flapping windblown laundry.
The milk float’s whine in the small hours.
Crisp and salad cream sandwiches.
Eating Mr Whippy ice cream in a cagoule in the rain.
You accented the overlooked and uncurated;
The unedited backdrop to everyday life.
The prosaic you made remarkable.
I was welcomed to your country,
Reacquainted with my own.
You had the gift of seeing and you taught me how to look.
You gave me
A world view.

‘Weltanshauung’ is a German expression meaning ‘world view’.


The Cause
by Alice Stainer

Who will deny that Oxford, by her ineffable charm, keeps ever calling us near to the true goal of all of us, to the ideal, to perfection...home of lost causes, and forsaken beliefs...Matthew Arnold

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. Universal Declaration of Human Rights

What would I miss of home if, through fire or famine or clash of factions, that day were to come when I had to go?

The way the light kisses the stone and the stone responds, releasing latent luminosity.

How old red brick converses with trees – with lilac and horse chestnut spires – finding commonality of whisper.

The confluence of rivers, where waters throng then disperse to irrigate elsewhere.

Bells that chime a book of hours, books that voice the causes lost, hidebound and chained.

A wrangle of quads chiding, ‘Keep off the grass’.

And despite it all, the cherishing of the city in the hands of the hills.

For now, these foundations are unshaken. But as your world tilts

take my hand and we’ll wander to where our rivers meet, a mutual influx at fullest flood.

I’ll extend my walls around you and urge you to walk on my pristine lawns, free of charge.

I’ll turn the library key, tiptoe you between the shelves and creak open the books – and you’ll read, pensively, then write your own.

The trees will be discreet, will cloister you beneath vaulting green –

but the bells! The bells will sing the changes of your own clamorous peal.

And I’ll watch as the first rays fall on your greying angles, marvel as your light struggles free – tentative at first, then quickening

until it dazzles.

Over 16 - Twin Cities


Grenoble and Oxford in the twilight
by Françoise Miquel (Grenoble)

Now vanish
the sun's last rays of crystalline jasper.
Home to both an ancient university
and a hi tech science hub,
The city lights are sparkling in the night.
Home to many museums and galleries,
The cobbled streets shimmer
in a myriad of diamonds
like streamers dropped from the rooftops.

The Isère River, the Thames and the Cherwell
suddenly put on fine necklaces,
show off their evening cloak of emerald glints
after the wake of rowing and punting.

Under the silver moon,
the streetlamps on the bridges
spread out their light
as OGA and AGO do
with artists, choirs, visits, bilingual duos
and botanical gardens forging links.

The snowy mountains surrounding Grenoble
like Oxford's spires,
are playing with the sky
and adorning themselves
with the gold of the stars.

A barge with a loud blast of its hooter
turns out, switches off the day
and its dreams of azure,
meets along the wharf
a black velvet trimmed limo
setting the town ablaze
with fickle, inconstant rapture.
Allegory of the regular cultural exchanges
full of friendship and warmth.

Deep night appears,
raises dreams,
especially in 'The City of dreaming spires'!,
peeps out through brightly coloured curtains.

The towns are thrilled with delight.
Grenoble and Oxford shiver
'as like as two peas'
with lights of nightlife paradise.


It’s snowing in Leiden
by Natalia Perel (Leiden)

It’s snowing in Leiden.
After a snowless winter
                - suddenly -
It’s snowing
in spring.

I watch as snowflakes fall
and melt -
our life.

Water beads on tree branches,
I lie and watch
as a bird flew by
and two parrots -
in Leiden!?! - parrots.

on daffodils and crocuses
sakuras and hyacinths,
bicycles with umbrellas,
fragile roof tiles ...
melting away, turning into drops of water –
each one a tiny reminder of our fleeting existence-
our life.


The following poets were shortlisted in the competition - the judges very much enjoyed reading their poems.

Nathaniel MacCoss-Smith (Oxfordshire)
Fedor Kharitonov (Leiden)
Chloe Gilholy (Oxfordshire)
Avril Alexander (Oxfordshire)
Roy Peach (Oxfordshire)
Stuart Skyte (Oxfordshire)
Jean-Baptiste Cognée (Grenoble)
Pascal Gilles (Grenoble)
Marianna Morè (Padua)
Vera Burdick (Leiden)


A prize will be awarded in each age category with a winner and runner-up selected from Oxfordshire and a winner and runner-up selected from poets who submit from Oxford’s twin cities. The judges will also select a shortlist of poems.

The prizes include a selection of poetry books, including Gothic Tales, edited by Benjamin Hulme-Cross (Oxford University Press), And We Rise: The Civil Rights Movement in Poems edited by Erica Martin (Penguin Young Readers / Viking Books for Young Readers), Respect the Mic: Celebrating 20 Years of Poetry from a Chicagoland High School, edited by Peter Kahn, Hanif Abdurraqib, Dan “Sully” Sullivan and Franny Choi (Penguin Young Readers / Penguin Workshop), and poetry pamphlets from the award-winning poetry press ignitionpress, based at Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre.

As part of their prize, the winner of each over-16 category will also receive a one-hour online session of feedback about their poetry. The meeting, with Dr Niall Munro, Director of the Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre and ignitionpress, will focus on up to five poems by the winning poet, and will include comments on the work, suggestions for improvement, and advice on publication. You can find out more about ignitionpress on the Poetry Centre website.

Our judges

The judges for the competition were Dr Niall Munro, Senior Lecturer in American Literature & Director of the Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre, Phoebe Nicholson, poet and founder of the Oxford Poetry Library, and Mélanie Godin, Director of Les Midis de la Poésie in Brussels.

The competition was co-ordinated by Angela Charlton, International Links Officer, Culture Team, Oxford City Council.

About Oxford’s Twin Cities

You'll see the signs naming our twin cities every time you enter the city - but what does it mean, and why do we do it?

Twin city links give people the chance to engage with other cultures and ways of life, and make these experiences more accessible through established contacts and networks in the linked cities. 

They also bring benefit to cities through knowledge-sharing activities, where people can learn from how problems are tackled in other countries, exchange ideas and understand different viewpoints.

Oxford has 7 twin cities: Leiden in The Netherlands; Bonn in Germany; Grenoble in France; León in Nicaragua, Wrocław in Poland, Ramallah in Palestine and Padua in Italy. You can read about each of our twin cities on the City Council’s International Links page.

Frequently asked questions

Terms and conditions