Saturday 29 June 2024


The standard Lady Justice sculpture is of a lady holding scales. She's usually blindfolded too. But when judging poetry, impartiality is not as easy as that.

When I'm commenting about poems I try to be aware of some of my prejudices -

  • I fall for poems about unwanted childlessness and dying children.
  • I like new metaphors (though I take marks off for ones I've heard before).
  • I admire technical mastery (e.g. a sestina that works!).
  • I like poems that seem to be about one thing until the last line makes me realise the poem's really about something else.
  • I'm suspicious of "simple but strong" poems.
  • I distrust poems that look too much like confessions or therapy.
  • Poems like "The Two-Headed Calf" by Laura Gilpin trouble me too. It's prose until the killer final line. Should a single line be sufficient to win a prize? If it's memorable enough, perhaps it should.

I try to compensate for these idiosyncrasies. But what about the ones I'm unaware of?

I wonder how competition judges feel about this? At least at workshops when commenting on pieces I can admit my prejudices and shortcomings, and withhold evaluation if I choose. Judges in their normal 9-5 Creative Writing jobs might be unable to say that they don't understand Jorie Graham at all. What if a good Grahamesque poem is entered by someone unaware of the inevitable outcome?

In the end of course, people entering a poetry competition just have to accept the judges' inevitable baises without knowing what they are. It's the only way - Simon Armitage isn't going to refund the entry fee if a L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poem is submitted.

Monday 24 June 2024

Jigsaw puzzles

Yesterday I attended the UK jigsaw championships as a spectator. It's moved to a big, plush venue. I've already written a story involving the event, so I thought I'd better do some research - not only to improve my writing, but to study the participants' techniques. I might enter next year.

There were various categories. The "Elite" zone reminded me of the chess tournaments I used to attend. The "Fun" zone was more relaxed with small groups around tables, like at Christmas.

As part of the 5 day festival of events there was a church full of completed jigsaws for sale - mostly 1000-piece ones.

Sunday 9 June 2024

Submissions and perseverance

On Facebook recently, Judy Birkbeck wrote "Yay! Another of my short stories has been shortlisted by the Bournemouth Writing Prize. Made my day. ... It's encouraged me to keep going. I've submitted this story 61 times! Perseverance is key."

I can't match 61, though a few of my pieces are approaching 20 rejections. I think some of my best stories have been repeatedly rejected. I send them out to the best places first, so they're going to be rejected often even if they're reasonable. And they might be bad - I may be attached to them for non-literary reasons.

I've 2 poems out that have been rejected 14 and 17 times. I'll keep trying, because sometimes perseverance works. Sam Gardiner, who won the National Poetry Competition long ago, told me that the poem had previously been rejected by many magazines.

Earlier this month I got £50 for a 250-word piece that's been rejected 15 times (mostly in a longer form). It was a competition where the pieces were read out and judged by the audience on the night, with Zoom participation.

I recently had a short story accepted at the 17th attempt. I've a story (neurodivergent female 1st-person PoV) that's been rejected 19 times. I'm about to send it out again. I'm giving up on another piece of prose that's been rejected 12 times - it's dawned on me that it's not very good though I can see why I like it.

Monday 3 June 2024

IIse Pedler at CB1

On June 3rd, Ilse Pedlar was the main act, reading from her Seren book, her prize-winning pamphlet, a competition anthology, her phone, and sheets of paper. She concentrated on her main themes (vet, step-mother) at first, before reading some newer Lake District pieces. Her books seemed to sell well.

There were 17 open-mic readers too, so no lack of variety.