No Go Areas?

Then there were ‘angst poems’. I am not a fan of these. I write them myself from time to time. They’re for personal therapy and they help keep me sane, but they are not competition winners, never mind publishable.                                                     

Pat Winslow is a marvellous poet – rich in spirit, varied, interesting, humane. I have been engaged today with this remark in her judge’s report for BACK ROOM POETS. I’m not sure what an angst poem would look like, in the abstract, though I am sure the definition is going to fit some of the pieces which turn up in the Torbay submissions pile.

But would being an angst poem – or any other kind of poem – actually disqualify a piece ?

Isn’t it the treatment of – the approach to – the ‘take’ on the poem’s subject which determines its success?  I remember a poet in the Bath Poetry Cafe asking Rialto editor Michael Mackmin what kinds of poems he was looking for. His answer, very sensibly, was to list some of the subjects where he felt he had already seen enough.  Like swimming pools, he said. Rialto had just accepted ‘A LEISURE CENTRE IS ALSO A TEMPLE OF LEARNING’ which is now, as readers of this blog know,  on the A Level syllabus.


I would like to believe that there is no subject, no kind of poem which I would not put on my forthcoming Torbay shortlist, if I could. But collating the Twelve Cafe Judges’ opinions of the poems in our 2015 Short Poem Competition, I did learn how much harder it was to write a compelling competition poem on some subjects than on others. Sitting in judgment on poems is not the best way to keep on enjoying  what they have to give. Subjects can stale on a twelfth or twentieth reading which still seemed interesting on the third or fourth. We did conclude that the two or three poems which pivoted on the the size of their subjects’ private parts had set themselves an exceptionally daunting task. But, cruelly, it was also hard for even a very good  bereavement poem to compete against the many others in the pile. The judges’ expectations seemed to be higher for poems where the subjects were too familiar to surprise.

I hope these thoughts are useful to poets planning their submissions to Torbay. All this remembered, I still hope that no poem will slip through my net on grounds of subject, or because it seems to me to be of a certain kind, rather than because it fails to make something special out of the kind of poem that it is.