Poetry on page or stage?

Performance poet Kate Tempest (aged 28) is the first person under 40 to win the Ted Hughes award for innovation in poetry for Brand New Ancients, ‘an hour-long spoken story with orchestral backing, in which Tempest imagines a world where we are all gods’ see Kate Tempest: the performance poet who can’t be ignored for more details.

Kate’s work arouses mixed feelings, or maybe it’s the status of winning of the award which has caused such strong reactions. The piece in the Guardian (and its comments) reflects some of this diversity. Performance poetry has never gone away but seems to be enjoying a resurgence of interest; the difference between the poem on the page and the poem on the stage can be remarkable. If Kate succeeds in engaging more people in poetic practice it can only be good. Kate is well named!

A trailer for Brand New Ancients can be seen here http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=1a8iFSXCHLw with lots of other examples of Kate’s work on the same link.


capacious enough to surprise or confound…

This year’s National Poetry Competition attracted 13,000 entries. Winning and commended poems can be read here http://www.poetrysociety.org.uk/content/competitions/npc/npc2012winners and previous winners here http://www.poetrysociety.org.uk/content/npc30/

Nick Laird was one of the judges and has written a piece in the Guardian where he describes the process of selection:

‘Many were very good; a few hundred were excellent. Of those, I picked my final 50, as did my fellow judges Vicki Feaver and Bill Herbert and, over the course of a long day, we whittled down our combined 150 to a few prize-winning poems.’

It’s impossible to say exactly what makes a prize winning poem; criteria used for ‘very good’ and ‘excellent’ are ultimately subjective. The mystery of poetry is precisely how it hits home for some and not others; resonance being a personal experience. If there were a formula for poetry the magic would be lost. But there is practical advice on hand. This includes no border art, no pictures stolen from the internet, no size 8pt font, also avoid footnotes, pay attention to the title and don’t be obvious or pretentious with epigraphs. All useful comments when judges are actively looking for excuses to say no, although it is likely anyone doing their homework would not be guilty  in the first place. To get onto the long list, a poem must ‘work’ on a personal level. It needs space for the reader to fill in from their own experiences; as Nick Laird suggests ‘capacious enough to surprise or confound’.