Day Two: Judging Torbay

Melancholy, but inevitable day….

I have been doing my first read-through to discover the imaginary line which divides the Torbay poems which might make the eventual shortlist from the poems which will not. I am being generous at this stage, of course, determined not to overlook a poem which deserves more admiration than I gave it at first glance. As a result, of the four hundred poems I have read so far, almost half are in the possible shortlist pile.

These poems are safe, for the moment, so my attention has been on the ones which are about to be left behind. I read them a second time, as promised, and begin to feel that they have something in common with each other which the ongoing poems do not share.

This has nothing to do with their range of subject matter, relationship to formal technique, linguistic register, or length.  In all these respects, they seem to inhabit exactly the same poetic space as the poems in the other pile.

It has to do with loneliness and it surprised me to find that word asking to be the one that expressed my thought.

Competition and magazine poems are sent into the world to reach an audience, even if it is in the first instance only an audience of one.  They are artefacts made of words.  Although words have other important dimensions, and can be used to create wonderful visual and aural shapes, they are primarily carriers of meaning.  It is important that a poem’s audience understands what the poem wants to say. A poem which wants to say something, but cannot make itself understood seems to me an intrinsically lonely creature, mumbling barren syllables into bewildered space.

Many of the poems in the set aside pile haven’t quite managed to communicate what they want to say.  They aren’t obscure because they are erudite, nor because their subject is unfamiliar, nor because they are conducting daring experiments with words which are seldom used. They are obscure because the poet seems  not to  have asked the bedrock question, as he or she revised and edited, ‘am I writing in such a way that my impulse to share this will be understood?

I have been wondering why…. and wondering whether we have somehow accidentally created a culture where it isn’t considered quite kindly or appropriate to require a poem to say something which its audience will be able understand.  Many of the poems in the left hand pile on my desk seem to have been composed without regard to their future audience.   Yet I also feel that almost all the poems which fail in this particular way have been written by serious  poets who have something important longing to be heard. Are there too many models of lauded poetic impenetrability leading some of them astray ?  In other parts of their lives, are they composing beautifully lucid prose?  Perhaps they think it is easier to write a poem – any poem – than it is?

“To create a little flower is the labour of ages.”
William Blake, English (1757-1827)









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