This year, I’ve been asked to judge The Red Shed Open Poetry Competition (deadline for entires 25th April). It’s made me think about what I might be looking for when the poems are handed over to me. Of course, the judging is anonymous, but it would be great to think that this post might prompt a few of you to enter. John Irving Clarke at Currock Press does a phenomenal job of promoting live literature in Wakefield and entering the competition is a great way of supporting the work he does.
Click here for the rules and entry form.
So, what am I looking for?
I’m a keen reader of poetry, especially contemporary poetry. Often, I read a line that stops me in my tracks and I write it in my notebook (okay, I steal). Sometimes I read poems and find them hard going, or I try to keep up with a number of poetry magazines and become overwhelmed, but the point is, I read, and I do this, at least in part, in order to write.
So, I’m looking for a poem that’s informed, on some level, by the reading of contemporary poetry. However, I don’t want to sound prescriptive about what sort of poem this should be. I want you to keep in mind the idea of me as a reader, rather than a judge. I take the view that we’re in this together! When I’m looking at my own work, I ask myself the usual questions: has the poem got pace/ drive/ energy, is it revealing something new in every line (can I push it to reveal two new things in each line?), is the title doing sufficient work, do the line endings feel right when I read the poem out loud? Often, the answer is no, but what I’m trying to share here is my experience of the process, in all its ups and downs. If you know Ezra Pound’s A Few Don’ts you’ll know where I’m coming from.
By the time I get to read the entries, I know there will be poems which will make me think, ‘I wish I’d written that’, closely followed by, ‘How did the writer create that effect?’. No doubt I will have to reject a number of very strong poems in order to select the winners, and on some level, my choices will be subjective. When judging competitions, poets will say they want a poem to surprise them, or they want a poem that’s not trying too hard. All well and good, but I think it’s important to stress the fact that it’s a privilege to be able to read the entries. I’m fully aware of the thought and care that will have gone into each and every one of them. A winning poem can make you feel as though your work had been validated, but it’s worth remembering that not all good poems will be winners. However, all the entries will have had a great deal of time and effort invested in them. That’s what I mean when I say reading them will be a privilege.