Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Preparing to be changed: Some thoughts on judging Poetry Space Competition 2013

The fourth annual International Poetry Space Competition is opening for entries on Thursday November 1st. Ahead of this I asked our judge, poet Martyn Crucefix tell us a little about what he is hoping for from the competition entries.

To enter go to Poetry Space Competition

Preparing to be changed: some thoughts on judging the Poetry Space competition 2013

In the 2003 comedy film Bruce Almighty, Jim Carey plays God and, along with more obviously useful powers, he has to respond to the prayers of the world. But people are always praying; he rapidly approaches a kind of madness as voices swim around him, clamouring for attention. He takes to reading the prayers in the form of e-mails. He tries to answer them individually but is receiving them faster than he can respond. He sets his e-mail account to automatically answer "yes" to all, assuming this will make everybody happy. Of course, it does not.

A poetry competition judge comparing himself to a character playing God may be justly criticised – but I have in the past found the initial phases of judging rather like Jim Carey’s experience. There are so many and such a variety of voices clamouring to be heard and every one of them is heart-felt, recording significant moments in people’s lives. There is a similar sense of responsibility too – the raw nature of much of the writing is impossible to deny. I’d like to set my response mechanism to say yes to everybody, but the judge’s task has to be how to distinguish submissions as poetry.

I am interested in how a poem uses its own shape – not necessarily any regular or traditional form, but how its lines break, how the rhythms are sustained. There are always poems submitted that attempt a formal type of verse-making but this ought not to be allowed to tyrannise meaning with the demands of a rhyme scheme. It’s always good to ponder Wordsworth’s formulation – familiar though it may feel – that poetry is built from “emotion recollected in tranquillity”. Poems made in the heat of the moment (and not revised and reviewed) are seldom without their flaws. On the other hand, such recollection can sometimes create an intellectualised distance that may do harm to a good poem. But who said this art was an easy one?

Personally, I like poems that focus on small things and, in effect, make arguments for the ways in which they communicate the bigger issues that concern us all. I’m with Thomas Hardy in believing that “he used to notice such things” is one of the greatest of compliments. Edward Thomas’ poem about Spring, ‘But these things also’, likewise echoes this focus on what most people tend to overlook:

The shell of a little snail bleached
In the grass; chip of flint, and mite
Of chalk; and the small birds' dung
In splashes of purest white . . .

But having said all this, I can assure potential competition entrants that anything resembling a rule is there to be broken: any poem in any form can work its magic. It will haunt its reader for days; make me change the way I think and feel; make me see the world differently. Ultimately, a poem contributes to who the reader is becoming. That is an exciting prospect for the writer. I assure you it is an even more exciting one for the judge who settles down to read it.

Martyn Crucefix
October 2012