I have the wonderful privilege of judging the Open Poetry Competition for the Torbay Poetry Festival 2016. The closing date is 24th August. Sometime soon, poems will start to arrive in Bath, having first been processed in Torbay so that I will know nothing about their authors or places of origin.
On the afternoon of Saturday 29th October, I will have to stand up before the large audience of poets and poetry lovers in the Livermead Hotel and justify the decisions I have made. Around us on the walls will be beautifully presented A3 posters of the shortlisted poems. Most of the audience will have read most of the display poems very carefully and have well-informed opinions who the three top prizewinners should be.
There are a lot of posts on Sue Boyle Poetry from the time, last year, when I was doing the admin and oversight for the 12 experienced poets from the Bath Poetry Cafe who chose the shortlist for the Cafe Short Poem Competition. ( The final four winners were selected by brilliant Picador poet Rachel Boast.) The ‘diary’ of how our shortlist emerged from the total entry is packed with useful general pointers and good advice for anyone entering a poetry competition. The critiques which some of the shortlisted poets allowed me to post about their work might also help any Torbay competitor feel they can go a long way towards reading this particular judge’s mind. I will improve access to all those posts over the next few days.
I thought it would be useful, from the start, to share my thoughts about what I am looking for in the poems which are (blissfully!) about to come my way.
It is not for a judge to sit down to read with preconceptions and preferences. Every submitted poem has to be given an equal chance to make its case and to prove itself on its own terms, whatever the poem and the poet has decided those terms should be. Lawrence Sail was the judge for the Fire River Poets Competition in 2014 and I shall be using a sentence from his judge’s report as my touchstone and starting point.
“There is, of course, no formula: what works, works.” LAWRENCE SAIL
Week by week, as the poems come in, I will be trying to let the shortlisted poems make their way ” brilliantly, concentratedly” into my head, coming about their own business as Ted Hughes’ thought-fox makes its way into his silent room.These pages will provide a diary of my thoughts as the shortlist declares itself. Not of course my thoughts about the individual submissions, but a record of ideas I gather by studying other judges’ reports, or by reading how some of our best writers define poetic excellence.
On 29th October, I don’t just want to hand the prize-money to the three poets whose poems I liked best. I want to have chosen the winners in such a way that the most of the audience, and most of the other competitors can feel that justice has been done.