29 June 2008

Poetry competition judging/What I like in poems

Hello again. It's been a whole week since I've posted, and a very busy week at that. One of the major reasons I haven't been blogging, or indeed even reading blogs, is because I have been finishing judging the Junior Open (age 17 and under) section of the NZ Poetry Society International Poetry Competition, and writing the judge's report.

I've found it a really valuable experience. First of all, I enjoyed reading the poetry and was surprised at how good some of it was. I say in my report that I was expecting imagination and promise, but I wasn't expecting poetry that was just actually really good. But I think that all the winning poems are good by 'grown-up' standards.

The other thing that was really interesting was that judging the poems and writing the report made me really think about what attracts me to individual poems. I didn't come to the poems with set criteria, and neither do I when I'm selecting work for JAAM magazine, but I have noticed that there are things that make a poem work well for me, and it was really interesting to figure this out.

  • I like poems to resonate with me and connect with me, which usually means it makes me feel something. Sometimes that’s a feeling of recognition (‘Yes, I’ve felt like that’), or sometimes a feeling of understanding (‘Now I understand what that feels like’). Sometimes it might just make me laugh, or think about things in a new way.
  • I like poems to surprise me. I don’t like to know where the poem is going – like I’ve read it before.
  • I enjoy unexpected metaphors and similes.
  • I enjoy poems with interesting ideas or new ways of looking at things.
  • I like poems in which all the words seem right and necessary. Where the words flow smoothly and the poem isn’t overwritten.
  • I also like poems to sound lovely when I read them outloud. That usually means that that the rhythm 'flows' and isn't clunky - even 'free' verse has rhythm, it just isn't 'regular'. I've also grown to like subtle alliteration and assonance.
  • I like poems that end in the right place. This depends very much on the poem: sometimes ending with a twist or a bang is nice, but sometimes a quieter ending is right. (I often find that the way to fix an ending that isn’t working is to just cut it out altogether).

So now my first experience of judging a poetry competition is over, and I think it has gone rather well.


the daily screenwriter said...

Sounds like a useful exercise, this judging. Has it made you more conscious of what you strive for in your own work? Do you think it'll change how you approach it?

Helen Rickerby said...

Hmm. Possibly it will make me more aware (though in a way when I write poetry I'm kind of trying to be less aware in weird way - trying not to become a parody of my own style of writing). While I haven't thought it out so clearly, I was aware about some of the aspects I like - one of which is the surprising metaphor or simile. This is something that I don't think I do in my poetry. That said, I'd become aware that I quite liked playful alliteration and assonance, and have been using those more recently, though hopefully subtly.

I'm interested in what other poets think - do you write poems incorporating things you like it poetry? What do you like in poetry?

I guess it's the same for other writers - do you write 'things' (stories, novels, screenplays etc) that are like the 'things' that you especially enjoy? Sometimes I guess this isn't always the case.

Tim Jones said...

I like a lot of what you like: surprises, interesting ideas and new ways of looking at things, evocation of an emotional response. I used to dislike poetry that made heavy use of formal and rhetorical devices, but I am gradually coming to like work that makes more complex use of these things. My own poetry is often quite conversational - the collection I am working on (or would be if I'd written any poetry in the last year or so) is still going to have that tone, but after that, I want to try something more complex and ambitious. That implies that I must *make myself write poetry in a certain way*, which goes against the instinctual way I usually write - so progress is likely to be slow, and success uncertain. But I want to try, anyway.

Helen Rickerby said...

Tim, that's really interesting. I understand about wanting to do something different - I've felt after finishing the work for both of my books that it's time to move into a new phase and do something a bit different.

What do you mean when you talk about more complex and ambitious poems? Can you think of some examples that are kinda, sorta, though obviously not-exactly-like what you're aiming to move towards?

Tim Jones said...

Paul Celan for the difficult. Osip Malndelstam for the more ambitious.

(Hey, nothing like having good role models!)

Sean_Molloy said...

I have reasonably eclectic tastes - I like lots of subjects and lots of genres.

But the range of things I'm interested in writing are much more specific. I may enjoy action blockbusters, but that doesn't mean I can write them, for example.

So I've been spending a long time in my 'writing career' figuring out what I do and what I don't want to write.

I still really don't know - I have impressions more than anything. And my interests may not be bound by genre as much by subject matter.

But your actual question was "do you write 'things' (stories, novels, screenplays etc) that are like the 'things' that you especially enjoy?"

I guess to a significant degree I hope to. I'm inspired to write to the standard of the things I really enjoy. Whether I reach those pinnacles is yet to be determined!