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.   http://www.yorkmix.com/leisure/whats-on-york-poetry-competition-winner/

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. http://www.poetrybusiness.co.uk/competition

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 Business Book and Pamphlet Competition

The 27th annual Poetry Business Book & Pamphlet Competition is now open for entries. Entrants are invited to submit a collection of 20-24 pages of poems for the chance to win a cash prize and publication by Smith/Doorstop Books. Judged by Simon Armitage, closing date is 29 November (post) or midnight 1 December (online). A £1 surcharge is applied to online entries. I’m guessing this is for printing expenses.

Entering competitions is good practice. It can be motivating to have a structure and a deadline to work to. The downside is submission often comes at a cost. There’s not much money in poetry so to some extent its understandable why charging for entry is seen as an income generator, but the £25 being charged by Poetry Business seems more of a deterrent than incentive. The explanation is as follows:

Our two expert readers and judge all need paying appropriately for what is many hours of intensive reading. In addition, the competition needs to be promoted, there are substantial administration costs, £2,000 prize money and a winners’ reading – all of which is paid for by the entry fees. (The winning collections are printed and publicised out of our usual budget.) The competition makes up an extremely important part of our income though, and allows us to continue with our less lucrative activities (such as publishing poetry!).

Fair enough but  £25 is a lot of money and risks reaffirming poetry’s reputation as exclusive rather than being for everyone.

If you have 20-24 poems plus a spare £25, the competition details are here http://www.poetrybusiness.co.uk/competition-menu/competition