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Poetry Writers' Yearbook article


Poetry Writers’ Yearbook own competition 2007

By kind permission of A  & C Black, we are delighted to reprint the editor Gordon Kerr's article from the 2008 edition of the Poetry Writers' Yearbook about judging this and other competitions. It gives a useful insight into what is involved.

Win some, lose some…

Gordon Kerr has just had his first experience of judging a poetry competition and passes on some tips to prospective poetry competition entrants.

Having just completed the judging of the first A & C BlackClick for A & C Black Publishers Publishers References listing Poetry Writers’ Yearbook Poetry competition, I feel eminently qualified to dispense advice to poetry competition entrants.

But that’s the only competition you’ve ever judged, I hear you say! And, of course, you are absolutely right. I was a poetry competition virgin until a thick brick (more of a breeze block, actually) of a parcel containing hundreds of entries to our competition was delivered by a grudging and slightly breathless postman a few weeks ago. ‘There’s quite a lot’, I had been told. I had, of course, failed to spot the relief in the voice at the other end of the line when I agreed to judge the competition. A fatal mistake, not to be repeated!

Seriously, however, it was a fascinating exercise and I do not make light of people’s enthusiasm, firstly for the writing of poetry in the face of the impossibility of ever getting published and secondly, of course, for entering the competition set up by the publisher of this book of which I have the honour and pleasure of being editor. The quality was, on the whole, far better than I had expected and there were about a dozen top-notch poems that could have graced any anthology or magazine. However, it would be remiss of me not to take this opportunity to make a few practical points about the business of submitting poetry for competitions.

  • Read the rules. Or, rather, read the rules and ahere to them. Most competitions will stipulate a line length and/or a style. No point entering your 3,000 line epic about herring fishing off the Faero Islands for a competition restricted to thirty line poems about Siamese cats (note to competition organisers – never set anything to do with cats; your postman will take a contract out on you!)
  • Stick to the subject. Don’t just find a poem of yours that you rather like and amend it to deal with the subject – that will rarely work. Think carefully about the subject and bring your own thoughts, images and language to it. The poem will be a much better piece of work and you will stand a better chance of doing well in the competition. If a subject is not something that gets your creative juices flowing, forget it and move on to another. The work will not be good.
  • Read previous winners’ work (if available). There is no point entering a competition if you are not aware of the calibre of work that is being sought and which does well. Repeatedly in this book, writers exhort poets to read the work of other poets, to understand the world into which you are trying to place your work. And too many of us are not reading poetry being published in books, in magazines and on the Internet. This was very evident from many of the poems entered for our competition. A number of entrants had obviously not read any poetry since their schooldays, if then.
  • Submit according to the rules. Faced with a pile of 500 poems to be judged before breakfast, a poetry judge is likely to be happy to consign any that breach the rules to the wastepaper basket. This is especially true where the rules stipulate that your work is presented in such a way that the judge can judge the poem anonymously.
  • Beware of scams. There are unscrupulous people out there who are in it for the money and there is quite a bit of money to be made from gullible poets desperate to see their work in print (See Johnathon Clifford on Anthologisers on page ???). There is nothing wrong with people charging for entry to competitions – it is necessary to cover administration and prizes and so on – but I would recommend that you check the quality of the work in previous competitions and make sure that firstly, you are not being ripped off and secondly, that you are happy for your work to be seen in that context. However, there are certainly enough good, honest poetry competitions for you to submit in the knowledge that it is all above board.


Gordon Kerr is a freelance writer, editor and poet.

Poetry Writers' Yearbook own 2008 competition and last year's winning poem

Poetry Writers' Yearbook article about ePoetry and eZines.