I wasn't sure what to post this week and then I just read this post at Niamh's about breaking all the damned rules (OK, they call them 'tips from last year's judges' – see here) that the (UK/London-based) Poetry Society have put up for their poetry competition this year. Can I just say one word..? And can that word be wankers (though actually I quite like some poems by Neil Rollinson, one of aforementioned judges...haven't read any Daljit Nagra...seems like a nice bloke...but Ruth Padel, I mean, after the recent Oxford mash-up...is she really in the tip-giving category...?). They actually use the phrase 'lower the tone of your entry' in amongst these tips which leaves me almost wordless. I did say 'almost'. And who am I anyway...so obscure.
But it's totally not about the personalities involved here... it's more about the rules/tips/hints mentality that has infected poetry over recent years and would smother it with good intentions, I think, if it could. I even know and like some poetry folk who send out lists of rules and tips (you know who you are...) but I really don't like that side of them and I wish they wouldn't do it. I mean if someone wants to send an entry to the National Poetry Competition on multi-coloured paper, handwritten in crayon and scented all over with eau de KFC what the hell does it matter to anyone else? Doesn't the entry money help keep the place running? Doesn't the unexpected approach keep things interesting and not totally predictable? Are judges so bland and dull that everything must be presented perfectly for them (and if possible using only those nice, long words, please)? Do they really think that the kind of person who sends in an entry on green paper with pink spots is going to change and blandify their life just because they're told to by (gasp) a successful poet? This person may not be successful (dreadful, I know) but do you know what they just might be? How about a free spirit or an eccentric genius or perhaps even just a daft loser on some very heavy medication...and what the hell does it matter anyway because whichever they are they're almost certainly not going to be a person who follows rule (or tip) lists (and I'll tell you that for nothing... telling them what to do will probably make them more extreme in their weirdness if anything...). And don't the judges wonder what it says about them that they even think that a list of hints can do anything to change this (might it show a poor understanding of the human psyche, for example)? Might someone write a poem about that?
For me the endless rule-making and hint-proffering leads to this world (please stand and salute - that or die lonely and unpublished): Poets and wannabe poets, you will go to workshops! Only there can you see the true path. Yes, generals. (sorry about italics, judge people). You will care far too much about the academic viewpoint! Ordinary readers are not important. I repeat, ordinary readers are NOT important! Yes, generals. You will be obssessed with competitions, literary magazines and all-round toadying to famous poets in the hope that some of it might rub off and you might enter the inner scrotum...sorry sanctum and become...(intake of breath)...a workshop facilitator yourself! (sigh). Yes, generals. You will obey poetry rules at all times! Otherwise you only have yourself to blame for your sad and meaningless existence. Yes, generals. You will never mention the Beat Poets and any other layabouts who broke rules and still managed to scrape by (they are forgotten/evil/work of the devil)! Yes, generals. Women poets especially beware – you're only really allowed in to Poetry World on a special pass and privileges can be removed at any time! (In high voices) Yes, generals.
I could go on with this for weeks...but really, it's the holidays and I have books to read and housework to ignore. Also I am aware that this is the kind of thing that gets blogs a bad name (and I'm usually so well-behaved!). I don't have a poem about poetry competitions in particular...but I do have this one about sending poems to poetry magazines and it covers some of the same ground we're dancing on here. It's from a few years ago (and I don't always feel like this but I do now and then). So bitter.
We enjoyed these but…
Could you make them more obscure Metaphors more, funny bits fewer?
And could you make them long and boring? Our aim in life is to get folk snoring
Perhaps you could take out all that's real Honesty, directness, popular appeal
Could you rewrite them in language poetic? Get out that dictionary, don't be pathetic
You should read our stuff and see what we like Something more like that, that's what to write
You see we want everyone writing the same The poetry business, a funny old game
Originally from the north of England, I live in Angus, Scotland where I walk a lot, think a lot, listen to lots of music, sometimes write poems, sometimes read poems out to other people, sometimes write songs, read all kinds of odd things, watch a bit...oh and I look after my family too.
I sometimes organise poetry and music events - details are usually here (though nothing coming up in the near future). This year I went travelling with my family - photos and notes are here. Now we're back I have moved to a new regular blog - it is here.
More about the song
You can buy my book (published 2008) from my website if you fancy it (go to 'book' page) or from www.amazon.co.uk if you prefer the comfort of the multinational corporation. My book is printed on recycled paper and card. I have 12 different poetry postcards available too.