Friday, November 13, 2009
JUDGE’S REPORT SPILT INK 2009 OOTA POETRY COMPETITION
Photos: Mags Webster, 3rd; Kevin Gillam, 2nd; Flora Smith, 1st; Bruce Russell, tutor and Gala Night compere @ X-Wray Cafe, Fremantle, 12 November 2009
Thank you for allowing me the privilege of reading these five dozen or so entries. It sounds glib and clichéd to tell you they were all of a high standard, but it is true.
When Josephine Clarke handed me the entries, she said, “I don’t envy you your task.”
I replied, “Well, I’ve judged a couple of dozen such competitions so I can do it easily.”
I tell you this as a joke at my own expense. It was anything but easy. The high standard of entries made even the first cull difficult. I normally start by reading all competition entries quickly and putting those aside which simply don’t measure up as poetry. Clichéd language, clichéd thought, ponderous rhythms and obvious anvil rhymes are normally the weaknesses which first show up. No such troubles here.
I did puzzle over how this high standard was achieved, and came to this conclusion: because of the closeness of the OOTA group, you have all learnt to edit your poems vigorously. It proves that old dictum which I quote frequently: All good writing is rewriting. I am certain your workshop leaders have had a very positive influence on you all and for this they too should be applauded.
The main problems which knocked out the early casualties were not craft problems, per se, but art weaknesses. Many of these poems were well written descriptions, with nothing else to them. Some started with lively promise and lapsed into unimaginative writing; some said it well, once, and then repeated it again, in different words, to create a longer poem. All good writing is rewriting, as I quoted before, but rewriting the same idea in the same text is tautology!
The number of poems which where still in the race after my first and second reading remained at 22. Far too many. I went away asking myself what is a better poem than a good poem?! These were good poems and I had to exorcise a dozen of them. So, I reverted to a list of objective questions, a list I have found effective in my teaching practice over many years:
* Are the images effective?
* Is the diction fresh?
* Are there sound devices?
* Does the poem make use of rhythm?
* Does the poem contain some type of tension?
* What is the essential unity of the poem?
Passing the poems through this list of questions, I whittled it down to twelve. And there I stuck.
By this stage I had read each of these poems many times. Those that grew in statue with repeated readings rose to the top of the list, but I must say that any one of the top three could have been the over all winner. When it came to that decision, it was my personal gut feeling that ruled the day.
So, here are the Commended Poems:
A Fat, Lying Thief – Janice Withers
Dinner after the Synagogue – Rose van Son
Snake – Jo Clarke
Light and Dark – Annamaria Weldon
Old Spoon – Dick Alderson
Gliss – Kevin Gillam
Highly Commended went to:
Orange – Molly Hall
Laboratory Class – Cecily Scutt
Midnight House – Flora Smith
Third place goes to – Prognosis – Mags Webster
Second Place to – What the living do – Kevin Gillam
And the overall Winner is – Fifth Generation – Flora Smith
Congratulations to the winners and to the place getters, and ALL who entered. If you didn’t crack a mention in the winners’ circle, it doesn’t mean your poem is of no value. It simply means that this judge’s criteria put others before it. Another judge, or another editor, may have a different opinion.
Thank you to all involved in Spilt Ink. Judging this competition has been a challenging but a satisfying experience for me.
Dr Andrew Burke
(MA, PhD in Writing)