Bloom Poetry Competition 2021 Winners

We hosted the inaugural Bloom Poetry Competition as part of Bloom 2021: Exeter's Online Festival Of Mental Health Awareness. Submissions were invited on the theme of 'nature and the environment'. Poems could touch on themes of mental health and wellbeing, but there was no requirement to do so.

We were bowled over by the quality of entries to the festival, and our judging panel had a difficult job whittling over 350 entries down to the shortlist below. You can read the winning poems and shortlisted entries below.

Bloom Poetry Competition


  • 'Cherie' by Paul Warnes

Highly Commended:

  • 'Tree In the Woods' by Toby Brooks
  • 'Outlines' by Tia Meraki
  • 'General Sherman' by Will Mortimore
  • 'Rhubarb Fields' by Joséphine Sourgnes

Bloom Junior Poetry Competition (Under 18s)


  • 'Help Me Moon' by Safiya Tiotto-Smith

Highly Commended:

  • 'Flowers' by Malilka John
  • 'Four Seasons In One Head' by Kitra Oldham
  • 'Treacle beaded fingertips' by Kizzy Rollings

Bloom Poetry Competition: Overall Winner

By Paul Warnes

An Autumn storm stripped you.
“Is tree dying?” my daughter asked.
You were both very young.

For seventeen years I have watched over you-
watched your shadow in the streetlight
edge further abroad,
your branches stretch and brush
the walls of another home.

When you were small I cut the stake
that tethered you,
stripped away the creeping ivy
that strangled you,
tended the lacerations
that scarred you,
Raked the leaves that you shed like tears
when the cold came.

And in return, each Spring birthday,
I swam in cherry blossom scent.

I’ve watched you both grow and change
but now she’s gone- uprooted.

Bloom Poetry Competition: Highly Commended

A Tree In The Woods
By Toby Brooks

I saw a tree today
Under the white sky.

It leant on another,
With its roots exposed.

It still grew though and
Started to meander upwards.

Years and years
It must have been there.

When did it fall?

How did it fall?

A gust of wind,
Not an earthquake.

A push from above,
Not a shake from below.

Now helped by another,
Helped, not held.

Not standing tall
But standing.

Countless trees around it,
Rooted; straight and strong.

Branches and leaves
Melting on the floor.

Covering the roots.
Vast but down below.

Vast but unseen.
Vast and strong.

When did mine fall?
How did mine fall?

A gust of wind.
Unaimed, uncontrolled.

A push from above,
Not a shake from below.

Not the first push
And not the last.

By Tia Meraki 

I find myself peering into the bathroom mirror
checking that I haven’t disappeared
into shower mist, or the wall space around
gone the way of the Indian cheetah and the Sumatran rhino in 2019
of hugs and social gatherings in 2020
knowing, or hoping, that the flesh and bones of us will embrace again
knowing that the cheetahs and the rhinos are gone past hoping
knowing that all else is uncertainty, weighted with potential
alternate futures in layers of steam against glass
whole ecosystems blurring around the edges
fingertips tracing maps to hold onto my place in it all
to hold onto the place of it all in me
still here, still I, still us, still
drinking in the rain and the sunlight
and the darkness where we plant our seeds
pausing to take stock, a physical inventory of self
mole still nestled over eyebrow
birthmark shadow under armpit
windmill scar woven into smile
strands of age-white merging into sun bleached waves
a charcoal grey line etched across eyelids
as if outlines might keep me here a little longer
stop the ink of me bleeding into blank space
stop me fading into smoke and dust and flames.

General Sherman
By Will Mortimore

Before I die I’d like to see
General Sherman, not the man, the tree
Who lives in California where
The trees compete with light and air,
Few more so than the General, who
Is forty times the height of you,
And weighs more than a kiloton,
But still, in counting, numbers one,
Just like you and just like me,
Just like an ant or bird or bee
Or worm or beetle, shrub or twig,
Tiny microbe or Guinea pig.

We are all ones, not more or less,
But, and here I must confess
When picturing myself and he:
Normal man and mighty tree,
I cannot help but to create
A hierarchy of the great
And awesome works of nature that
Imbue our cosmic habitat
With diaphragm-contracting wonder,
And surely all these things are under
That woody, giant, massive freak
Perched atop the pyramid peak,
Who helps us lower levels see
We aren’t so glorious as he.

Not that we’re inconsequential,
It’s just that we’re not wholly central,
Which helps me, anyway, to know,
I’m not the star of the whole show,
And aches which feel, to me, acute,
Are just a sapling, or a shoot.

Before I die I’d like to see
General Sherman, not the man, the tree.

Rhubarb Fields
By Joséphine Sourgnes

Last week, life turned on a dime and everything fell apart
Fell like a trapdoor or a guillotine
One second I was there
And the next, I rocketed away
Getting smaller and smaller
Waving to myself from the window
Leaving me by the wayside
My plans not just shattered but shredded
Charred into a fine shower of ash blown back into my face
There was nothing but blackness then
A sunless gloom obscuring my inner and outer horizon
I can speak now, or try to
But I had no language then, no metaphor
The whole world went dark and that was all there was

At some point, a voice spoke
As from across a long tunnel, or from the white mouth of a well
A man asked how I was and I gave the usual answer
He asked once, he asked twice,
Like the questions were theatre knocks or fairy books words
Repeat it and the spell is lifted, the play is over
He asked a third time and I broke into sobs
Going once, going twice, gone
He listened to me cry and sniffle through the phone
Ashamed but too tired to stop

For hours, he was there, filling the silence
When I couldn’t string a sentence together
Busy as I was, nursing the burst seams of my hopes
The gaping wound doing all the talking
He said perhaps all wasn’t lost
He couldn’t promise easy, or even safe
But there might yet be a place for me somewhere
In the country, between rhubarb fields and under telephone poles
Like he knew I needed the details to root it in my mind
To anchor myself back to the world
A world where things grow and cables hum with messages
Human voices reaching for each other

Today I went for a jog and ran right through a rainbow
A second before the sky darkened and the rain hit heavy as a fog
Misting the road ahead
I was soaked, my black running clothes stuck to my body
Clinging like a diver’s suit
Like the sleek, oily skin of a seal
A creature made to sustain the cold of deep, dark blue waters
Alone on the muddy path, I was nearly swimming home
Through the downpour, through a disappointment as sour as grief
My nostrils slowly filling with the scent of the rich, wet soil
Dissipating the carrion smell that had been chocking me
Returning life to the wasteland

Soon, my rain-reddened limbs tingled numbly under the scalding shower
My mind, miles away, floating with this image, this odd certainty
Angels above grey fields,
Strange watchful birds bending the telephone lines
Their unaverted eyes bearing solemn witness
Meaning not to break my fall but to soften it
Their voices drowned in the thunder
Chanting words of survival
I thought of the kind man, of the rainbow arching into the storm
I thought maybe, I could make it through
I stepped out of the shower and tiptoed back to myself.

Bloom Junior Poetry Competition Winner

Help Me Moon

Help me moon, listen close:
People are starting to overdose
On greed and hate and immoral things,
The kind of sins the night-time brings.

How do you do it? Keep the peace,
When the sky hides all of evil’s caprice.
I’ve tried to rule and punish their crimes,
But sunburn only works sometimes.

Help me moon, I need power;
When was the last time you listened to a sunflower?
No one listens, yet everyone bathes,
In the golden glow of my angry face.


Listen sun, listen close:
You’re shouting in beams of light too verbose.
The clouds are your words, and the sky is your page,
Stop burning and yelling and taking centre stage.

You asked how I do it – ignoring the sorrow,
I take on my shift knowing there’s a tomorrow.
Day shift, night shift – We work to get paid
For the same damned cause of earning more days.

We’re doing our bit; We keep them alive.
Can’t you see? Without you they would die.
A world without sun could never exist,
You’ve got control; they lose theirs through fists.

How did you get to be so wise?
Why didn’t they make you the king of the skies?

Because you are you, and I am me:
You rule the land, I rule the sea.

But how do you do it? Your craters held high,
When everyone sleeps and ignores your sky.

I govern the night, watch shadows unfold,
Because a star once told me silver is rarer than gold.

You’ve helped me moon, of this I am sure,
You’ve cooled my temper and warmed my core.

You deserve to feel strong; it’s how you keep me,
Circling and circling without insanity.


So you’ve helped me,

You’ve helped me too,

Thank you, sun,

And thank you, moon.


- By Safiya Tiotto-Smith

Bloom Junior Poetry Competition: Highly Commended

By Malilka John

I’m so envious of flowers
they’re beautiful
shades of purple and yellow and pink and green
they have a purpose
to get ripped from their roots
cut from their stems
tied together
and feel nothing 

the lavender on my window is pretty
she wasn’t always
she was wilting, dying
but i gave her water
and she bloomed
beautiful shades of purple
with small yellow centers
branching out of her vase
she was beautiful 

now she’s wilting again
she has everything she needs
water, sun, air
but she’s dying 

one day i will smile in my mirror
while happy music plays in the background
light shining through the window
onto my face

one day i will feel at home in my body
loving the way it feels when i walk
loving how wind feels through my hair
confident, happy 


Four Seasons In One Head
By Kitra Oldham

She sits and watches the world change.
Constant rotation,
As the seasons get rearranged,
The deterioration of her planet and her nation,
The summer now burning,
The spring flowers permanent vacation,
Winter below freezing as the planet is turning,
Autumn leaves once vibrant,
Now brown and dead.

All these things trapped in her head,
Some distant future she foretold,
She tries to think about something else instead,
But she fears what’s about to explode.

'Treacle Beaded fingertips...'
By Kizzy Rollings

Treacle beaded fingertips lace
honey puddle dreams
finger stick of butter sunshine
sprouting golden orbs as
stormy whirlpools quake. Rupture
sticky plum blood tears
velvet sleeves and dew
rubies bird limbed lacewing giant.