"Seven bums and fourteen legs,
a brazen ecstasy which begs
the question some of us are asking -
is Peter Goulding multi-tasking?"

Martin Parker, Editor, Lighten Up Online

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tips from the judges

From the judges of last year's Poetry UK poetry competition:

Don't use large or unconventional fonts.
Think carefully if you intend to centralise your poem, as this might come across as unconsidered and ill thought out.
Photographs, hand drawn illustrations or clip art images tend to lower the tone of an entry.
Consider your use of italic and bold text. Poems written completely in italics or bold for no reason tend to read clumsily.
Keep the presentation of your poems as neutral and neat as possible.
For the most part it is suggested that you avoid epigraphs or footnotes explaining the poem - a poem should stand alone without these.
Abstract nouns in the title or first line of a poem can be off putting, they cannot be visualised and can make the poem difficult to grasp.
Pretentious asides or instructions that try to 'tell' the reader how the poem should be read should be avoided.
Coloured paper or other novel ways of presenting your poem will not benefit your entry. Judges much prefer to see something that is neatly and professionally presented.
When you think your poem is finished and perfectly polished, read through every line and word and think 'Do I really need you?'.
Try reading your entry aloud to yourself. This might help you pick up on any snags or rhythmic glitches. The judges may well read entries aloud to each other, so a poem that 'feels right' in the mouth will have a greater chance of success.
The judges are on the side of the poem. If the judges feel that the poet has misjudged the poem's tone or 'let in' too many lines then they will put the work aside.

I know my choice of titles for some of my poems is appalling. Some of them, like Gone, Vandalism, Bonding etc are hardly likely to lead judges to thinking 'Hmm, this could be interesting.'


  1. I just have a sudden uncontrollable urge to make an entry that breaks ALL of those rules - I think it would be rather exciting.

  2. I agree with Niamh it's a red rag to a bull syndrome!

  3. I'm only sorry I've already posted this week's task!

  4. But above all make sure you put in the ridiculously overpriced entry fee!

  5. Dear Peter: Thanks for the sage advice. Judges tend to be too judgemental. Doesn't the Bible say "Judge not they yea be judged" (KJV not from Judges). Nudge Nudge, Judge Judge! What do Judges really fancy (in a poem)? Tradition or Originality? The "rules" are meant to be broken or there would be no need of Judges. A conundrum; darned if you do, darned if you don't. Contests scare me.

  6. I think it's a pretty good list of rules. Don't let redundant lines take the wind out of the poem's sails. Let the poem speak for itself: don't tart it up presentationally.

    However, the ironic use of the photo is hilarious and spot on! I'm not a fan of poetry competitions. I think they reinforce the idea that poetry is divorced from real life, when real life is at the centre of poetry. Put it another way: that poets are people who strive to be "good at" poetry (one should hope that they do) rather than people who write poetry worth reading. We should be able to take it for granted that a good poem is technically good, just as we take it for granted that a concert pianist can play scales without having him or her play them for us.

    We enter competitions because we want success. I was very impressed years ago by Andy Warhol's book, From A to B and Back Again. In it he said (slightly overstated, perhaps, but still true in a way): "as soon as you stop wanting something, you get it. I've found that to be absolutely axiomatic."