To Sift or Not To Sift

An excellently published poet received my recent mailshot recommending everyone send their competition submissions to Torbay.  She responded that she believed that the Torbay Competition might be one that has a sift.  She and her poet friends, she writes, never enter competitions with a sift.

I don’t want to criticise the practice of having sifts.  Some competitions attract so many poems that presumably  no judge would be willing or able in the allocated time to read them all. But the trust between competitors and judges in poetry competitions is quite largely based on the competitor believing they know who the judge is, where to find them on the poetic ‘map’, and perhaps also on already being familiar with what they write.  (Though knowing a judge’s own writing shouldn’t lead a competitor to believe that this is the kind of poem to submit. A good judge is much more likely to be asking to be challenged and surprised than looking for a personal mirror in the submissions pile.)

It is also important that the judge is going to feel publicly answerable for their judgments of the poems as poems and therefore inhibited from indulging  any moral, political, religious or philosophical agenda of their own as they read their way through the pile.

The Torbay Competition does not have a sift. 

Its organisers are totally committed to the idea that competitors are entitled to know that the named judge  is the actual person who will judge their work. This year, I am hugely fortunate: that one person is me.  I will follow the principles I am exploring and developing in this blog.  And no poem will ‘go down’ before I have tried my best, through several readings,  on several different days, to discover what it is offering and to give it every bit of credit that is due.