"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

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

New Zealand Poetry Competition - nul points

Another spectacular failure to stir the judges into some sort of recognition in the New Zealand Poetry Society competition. The winners and the commendeds are generally from NZ, with a couple from the UK. None from Ireland and, curiously, none from Australia neither.

I attach the judge's report as it is interesting, though I'm not sure how useful it is. The overall winner seems to fit into Category 10, for example, and naturally other judges have different sets of criteria.

Judge’s Report (Judge: Tim Upperton) – How do you judge a poem? Actually, judging a poem is easy. Judging 679 poems is hard. It’s easier, I think, to articulate where poems go awry, so let me talk about that first. As I read these poems, I found myself assigning many of them to certain vague categories that became more clearly defined as I went along. All examples are, of course, my own invention.
1. The undeserved praise poem. These poems praised something, often extravagantly, for just doing its job. “Oh bedside lamp, you shed light on my book, that I may read!”
2. The eighteenth century poem. “O bedside lamp, thou shedd’st light on my book, that I may read by thee!”
3. The extremely difficult form poem. Never has there been such a congregation of pantoums, villanelles, sestinas, even a mirror poem or two. These poems often seemed to breathe a sigh of relief in the last line – thank God, here’s the end and I haven’t dropped the ball. But is that enough, not to drop the ball?
4. The homily. An anecdote followed by a moral. I don’t think I’ve ever been so instructed in my life. I realise I don’t care about morality very much.
5. Rhymes that hurt my ears.
6. The quiveringly sensitive poem. In these poems, the speakers are more sensitive than I will ever be. They feel so much, so much. I realise I’m not very interested in feelings.
7. The smart-arse poem. This is a variation on no.6. The smart-arse poem knows a lot, and hints that it knows a lot more. It bristles with literary allusions. It talks down to me. It pisses me off.
8. The galloping poem. These poems just go for it, in a pounding rhythm, regardless of subject matter. Birth of a son? Te-te-TUM te-te-TUM. Grandmother’s funeral? Te-te-TUM te-te-TUM.
9. The Big Issue poem. A tricky one, this. No reason why poems shouldn’t address big issues, but they nearly always come unstuck when they do. It’s as if the issue carries the poem, and not the other way round.
10. The darkly enigmatic poem. This poem means something, but it’s not going to let you in on the secret, oh, no. It’s like an architect designed a house and disdained doors and windows.
From 679 poems to just eighteen. These poems all demonstrated an understanding of language and its resources, and particularly of sound. The best of them appear to follow a tune where it leads them; they are exploratory, tentative, questioning, open. They transform what they represent, and take me somewhere I didn’t expect to go.


  1. COmpare these interesting comments with the poems that are shortlisted for the Edwin morgan comp. This is why I've never been asked to judge a competition...

  2. Hi Peter. The main reason there are so many NZ winners is that the majority of the entries are from within NZ. Like everywhere else, we seem to have a cultural 'style', but we get different results from different judges. This year's one is more academic than some of the others we've had, and the outcome shows. We get a much more representative sample of the entries selected for the anthology, as the editor is usually a poet without university affiliations (so there's still a chance...) The haiku section was won by an Australian, not for the first time.

  3. Thanks Laurice. I meant no criticism, merely pointing out a fact. I find it much easier to get published in Ireland than in America for the very reasons you outline and doubtless NZ poets feel the same. I was merely curious at the absence of Australians!!
    (Forgive me, I didn't read the Haiku winners!!)
    Kate, I think the moral is really to write what you yourself like and hope for the best. I've read so many judges comments that if I followed them all, I'd never submit anywhere!

  4. More academic? Hardly. I'm not sure what kind of recognition you would have me stirred into. Also not sure how I was supposed to distinguish Irish and Australian entries, nor why inclusion of them among the winners would be a desirable outcome.

  5. Hi Tim and many thanks for dropping by.
    To answer your points - "more academic" - not my comment. I have no idea if the competition was judged academically or not.
    "Stirring recognition" - simply another way of saying I never made the shortlist.The main point of my blog is not to boast my achievements but to highlight my failures, thus encouraging other aspiring poets to keep trying, trying, trying despite the setbacks.
    The Irish and Aussie thing was not meant as criticism and I'm sorry you took it as such. I mentioned the Irish because I'm Irish and like to see the Irish poets doing well abroad. I mentioned the Australians because British poets seem to do well here and I was surprised Australians did not feature in NZ. One of the largest poetry comps here is Strokestown, in which this year's shortlist of 10 featured 9 from the UK and one from the USA. I argued that this was a good thing as it demonstrates the anonymity and impartiality of the judging process. Nobody said anything about desirable outcomes in the split of nationalities.

  6. Hi Peter. Sorry - I thought you meant "none from Ireland and, curiously, none from Australia" as if this were a bad thing. Entries were, of course, anonymous, so I didn't have a clue where entrants came from. Competitions are pretty cut-throat, aren't they - so many entries, and so few winners. But always worth a go, and though judging is a subjective process, the cream does rise to the top, I think.