Winners and Commendations

This is my first experience of issuu. Like google Docs or Scribd it’s another content sharing site. Seems like everyday I discover a new digital tool. To print would have been more flexible. I still love the mobility of the page. Quibble. Am happy  just to read the winning and commended poems from the Larking and East Riding Poetry Competition.   At first, I wasn’t sure the access  was entirely legal. A little detective work shows the uploader was Anthony Dunn, the Bridlington Poetry Festival Coordinator. So I guess it’s ok. The Festival took place this weekend. I missed it. Was in Paris. You don’t get to use an excuse like that every day. It’s always good to read winning poems; like reading the Man Booker. Aspirational. Albeit  puzzling – sometimes. This is Anthony Dunn’s site. 

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 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 and previous winners here

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’.

on subjectivity and poetry comps

When poetry competitions print the winning entries it can help to see what judges consider ‘best’ examples of practice. It’s also useful to read about the judging exerience; how they approached the process of sifting through hundreds of entries, created the long list, short list and finally decided the winners. This link offers both from the YorkMix Poetry Competition.

The winners of the Poetry Business 2012 Book and Pamphlet Competition have also been announced this week. No poems to read but comments from judge Simon Armitage again help to see something of what judges are looking for.

Of all the arts, poetry suffers from dependency on personal opinion.  I’ve been re-reading Saussure for my phd and reflecting on its application to poetry. In a ‘Course in General Linguistics’, Saussure challenged realism (the world can be known) with linguistic relativism (the world can only be known through the structures of language). Semiotics , the science of signs, was key to Structuralist belief in the possibility of uncovering  multiple ‘truths’ of social reality. Structuralism revealed language as a system of signifiers (the word) and signified (the idea the word conveys) with connections between them cultural and arbitrary rather than innate or fixed. Single meaning is replaced with multiple possibilities for example roses have become associated with cultural images of love, passion, beauty, valentines, romance, gardening etc. None of these describe the flower but are all part of the agreed consensus of meaning around the signifier Rose.

Where a poem emerges from the process of editing an idea, paring down the words to create maximum impact, the intention of the poet can be lost through this system of arbitrary meanings. Barthes in The Author is Dead describes how the writer has no control over the reader’s interpretation. When you let go of a poem, it really is a case of handing it over to the reader to make of it what they will. Poetry competitions demonstrate the power of differential reading so it’s useful to have insights into the processes the judges go through.

Poetry Comps and a MOOC

Jackie Kay is judging the Larkin and East Riding Poetry Prize, to be awarded at the Bridlington Poetry Festival 14-16 June at Sewerby Hall in Bridlington Competition closing date 15th April, £3 entry fee per poem. Further details here

Peter and Ann Sampson are judging the Mclellan poetry competition awarded through the Isle of Arran Theatre and Arts Trust as part of the annual McLellan Festival. Closing date 30th June.  £5 per poem and £4 each for three or more poems. Further details here

The free online course on Modern & Contemporary American Poetry offered by the University of Pennsylvania is running for a second time in September 2013. Starting with Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, the course follows American poetry to the present day.  Further details at