Run by the Poetry Society of Great Britain, the National Poetry Competition is regarded (at least by the Poetry Society) as the most important poetry competition of them all. Which is probably true. Winning it, or even being well-placed, leads to a small but important amount of media attention. The Independent on Sunday will print the winner on March 30th. In UK poetry terms, this is as big as it gets, so it’s not surprising that not just anyone wins. As far as millions of people in Britain are concerned, they’re more likely to notice the story of the innuit who catches a migrating bird that was being tracked by the BBC.
In September 2007 I had a strong idea for a poem and devised a way of working that would mean that by the deadline for the National, I would have a poem that had soaked up hundreds of hours of my time. My belief in the work ethic is very strong. Hard work wins in the end. I worked on it several days a week for a couple of months hoping that seeing it with constantly refreshed eyes would provide new insight each time. Poem rotation has worked in the past. At some point, I decided to make it sound like a National winning poem, lots of mentions of obscure foreign places and a generally obfuscated theme. I posted it online on Oct 29th and was disappointed that the email acknowledgment sounded like the Poetry Society’s computer didn’t take too long “processing” my effort.
Thank you for your online National Poetry Competition entry. Your
entry was processed successfully, and the order details were as follows:
1 x Competition Entry
Total Payable: £5.00
Regards, The Poetry Society
I can’t help thinking that the computerised response to the poem that eventually won might have carried a little more weight for the esteemed poet who probably spent many more hours than I did.
I’m looking at my poem now and it’s crap. My aim to write a poem worthy of winning resulted in a poem that was lumpen and pedestrian. It had no ring to it. The language laboured. I know this, because I remember making the decisions that led it to be like that. Today I spent an hour on the old poem and reduced it by half retaining all the meaning and adding a lot more. Now, I’ll wait till I write some more, put them together and send them off to The Rialto or maybe somebody else online. The Rialto have had six of my poems since Dec 4th so I’m not inclined to send them any more. Other than that, it’s back to attaching copies of my poem to a migrating bird in the hope that the BBC tracks it, an innuit catches it and reads it aloud on BBC Radio 4’s Nature programme. Stranger things have happened in art.