Not The National Poetry Competition

Imagine the scene.

The knock at the door. The delivery man. In his hands, an A4-sized box, the kind that contains those four-pack reams of paper you get for your inkjet printer. He smiles and hands you the box. “I’ll go and get the other eight”… Once you have closed the front door, you turn to see the nine boxes staring blankly back at you from your hall floor; in each, 2000 sheets of paper; on each sheet, a poem. And taped to the the lid of one box, the instruction: “PLEASE PICK A WINNER”.

I don’t envy the judges of the National Poetry Competition because this was the challenge they were set this year. How do you go about such an impossible task – especially if you make the assumption that at least 50% of entries will be ‘decent’?

I can only assume that they would have to look for something that is ‘different’, that ‘jumps off the page’ at you. And if that’s the case, then probably 90% of all entries are doomed before they are read…including my own!

On Thursday, the (virtual) event announcing the winners of the 2020 National Poetry Competition was held; c.309 people dialled into the meeting. Of these, about 20 knew the winners: the judges, members of the Poetry Society, the three winners and those commended. The other 289 of us were probably there more out of curiosity, to see what had beaten us. It was a session which a) led to my sympathy for the judges’ task, and b) confirmed what you needed to produce to win such a competition.

One of the commended poets counselled us to keep the faith with poems we’d written that we believed in. He said his poem – now suddenly one of the top ten in the country? – had been rejected elsewhere on numerous occasions…

And surely that both proves a point and begs a question. It proves the outcome of such competitions are subjective at best (and therefore on one level meaningless). And it begs the question, why bother entering them at all?

Of course, the real reason we do enter is that we hope next year we will be one of the 20, and not one of the 289…