Here Here - and also on the sidebar to the right - is a little orange picture, with people excitedly scrambing over an enormous open book. This is your portal to entering the UK's National Poetry Competition - in reality, an international poetry competition - possibly the most important competition for an unpublished poem in the UK.
A competition has a life beyond the words first, second, third. This year, to celebrate the life and afterlife of the poems that win, or are commended - and the journeys poets find themselves on, sometimes merely as a result of deciding to enter - we're taking some of the most interesting poets in the UK on a 'blog tour' to talk about their own poems and experiences.
'Best American Poetry' is kindly hosting us for this week; we'll be posting up at least one post a day. So read what the poets have to say, find your best poem, click the picture, enter the competition - you never know where you're going.
To begin, here's a piece that appears in the current issue of Poetry News, our members' newsletter:
The kids are back at school and the nights are drawing in – it’s that time of year again. That’s right: the “season of mist and mellow fruitfulness”, when poems from up and down the country, and around the world, make their way to the Poetry Society for the UK’s most important poem competition. The holiday season is over and it’s time to get the pick of your poems ready for their big day out.
For 34 years, the National Poetry Competition has been making a difference: both to well-known poets and to the new names the competition has brought to the fore, whether as winners, as ‘commendeds’ or ‘placed’. Every year the judges, and the staff in the office, feel a palpable excitement; last year saw over 11,000 poems submitted and the winners and commendations reflected the thrill of new discoveries.
New discoveries included last year’s third prizewinner, Zaffar Kunial for ‘Hill Speak’, who had never sent a poem anywhere before (though he had been writing for years). In 2010, Paul Adrian’s first-prize-winning poem ‘Robin in Flight’ was also his first published poem.
How do you help your poem put its best foot forward in such company? Even after he won, Paul Adrian said, “the calibre of the past winners is truly intimidating”. But your poem is not up against past winners: it’s up against the other poems sent in for this competition, and they are all judged anonymously. Paul added, “The NPC is wonderful in its democracy: open to all, professionals and amateurs alike, and judged anonymously, it focuses solely on the strength of the poetry.”
Ian Duhig has sat on both sides of the fence, as both a competition winner and (in 2001) a competition judge (with Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, Michele Roberts, and Michael Donaghy). Here’s what he says about that process:
“All the good poems somehow created space around them as you read through the pile. I think it was Eliot who said that poets aren’t really in competition because they are doing such different things, and there are so many varieties of poetry around to be enjoyed at present that his remark is even more true now. However, within their styles some have more intensity than others: they command their space and ‘stand well’, so you want to keep looking at them. When I found a poem I liked I read it aloud several times as well as rereading it mentally many more times. I suspect most judges do this, so entrants may well want to bear this in mind and do the same with their poems before sending them off.”
So read your poem aloud – to yourself, to someone else. Show it to a friend. Give it a week, check it again, look out for spelling and punctuation errors (everyone is susceptible). Once you’ve scrubbed it up nicely, you have until 31 October to give it a kiss, tuck in its scarf, and send it off for its big day out.