Friday, May 25, 2007

Poetry Competitions & 13 Ways of Looking at a Novel

Poetry Competitions

Ever since a minor but giddying success last year in the Warwick Words poetry competition, I've decided that poetry competitions may be worth entering after all. In the past I've rarely bothered. The winning poems always seem to possess that bland, small-town air of the ones nobody on the panel of judges really disliked. Either that or, usually in those competitions where there's a single judge with idiosyncratic tastes, they are distinctly unpleasant in some way, the sort of thing one would never write oneself ... !

I'm mocking the poetry competition machine here, of course, but I can't mock the money on offer. The acquisition of money is always a very serious thing, especially for poets, whose usual remuneration for poems published in magazines, books and anthologies tends to be slight to the point of indignity. So I've decided to keep a rolling stock of likely 'poetry competition winners' in hand this year - rather than sending them straight out to magazine editors as I would normally do - and when each poem fails to get placed in a competition, out it will go again in the next wave of entries.

This week I'm putting together an entry for the Poetry London Competition which closes on June 1st. Jo Shapcott is the judge.

First prize £1000
Second prize £500
Third prize £200
Four commendations £75

The money on offer is easily more than you would get in most British poetry magazines or journals, many of which don't pay at all for poetry. But winning a competition does appear to be a lottery, the winners almost randomly selected by a process we can only wonder at from our computer desks. I once judged a competition myself, back in the late nineties in the Isle of Man, as part of an Ottakars National Poetry Day tie-in. My tastes quite naturally informed my own choices of winner and runners-up, but since it was a panel of judges, I then had to persuade the others, not always successfully, that my favourites should make it into the top ten. And their own choices were often inexplicable to me too.

I shall probably enter two poems for this competition, saving a few for other competitions which close later this summer. I don't hold out much hope of being placed though, as both poems are still 'under construction' and I think their unfinished air will be apparent. But I've more or less run out of time to tinker and fidget, so into the envelope they must slip, ready or not ...

13 Ways of Looking at the Novel

One final thing I must mention before closing this blog entry: I've just got hold of Jane Smiley's comprehensive '13 Ways of Looking at the Novel' (Anchor Books, 2006), and am enjoying it vastly.

This is a genuine doorstop of a book, difficult to lose even about the most chaotic of book-strewn households, and it makes fascinating reading. Jane Smiley is not only highly astute as a critic, but her own prose is a delight: highly intelligent and stuffed with fabulous insights and titbits of information about the world of novels and novelists, yet transparent and lacking in pretension at the same time. A real masterpiece of modern criticism and analysis, something my mother would have absolutely loved to read and savour over many sleepless nights, and one which is making my own fingers itch to write.

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