Archive | December, 2010

Happy Spew Year

29 Dec

I really hate New Year – and I am at best indifferent to most of the hyperbole that surrounds it.  In my view the modern celebration of new year serves no purpose i.e. it is not religious celebration or the kind of bonding celebration of either family or wider community groups that makes something worth being called a tradition.  I can only see it being a chance to watch lots of people get drunk, not that I am against drinking, but considering I can do that any night of the year it’s not really worth staying up for the forced, expensive, jollity of it all.

Anyway, that’s a very long explanation as to why I don’t do a round-up of the year on my blog, ever.  I will however say that if there is one poetry collection that stood out for me this year is was Kei Miller’s A light song of light.  You can also listen to Mr Miller reading from the collection on the Scottish Poetry Library podcast.  I don’t feel I need to say very much about it as the writing, and his reading on the podcast (you must listen), speaks for itself more eloquently than I could.

I’ll be spending my Hogmanay, inside, warm, snuggling and catching up on some of the SPL podcasts I’ve missed this year.  However you decide to celebrate I hope you have a good one.


Enough With Scratch Cards: How to Enter and Win Poetry Competitions

21 Dec

Poet Russell Jones, is becoming a bit of a dab hand at getting a good result out of a poetry competition.  Here he shares his tips with us.

Enough with Scratch Cards:  How to Enter and Win Poetry Competitions

Poetry competitions are strange beasts: half soul-sapping, half ego-boosting, half not good with fractions. While some writers find the concept of competitions to be “against the purposes of art” (and I tend to agree but my moral faculty is a bit inconsistent) they can offer impressive wads of cash to penniless poets, as well as gaining them some recognition amongst The Powers That Be in the publishing world. I started entering poetry competitions three years ago and have either won or been runner up in 12, making approximately £1500 profit from prize money. This article is a guide, of sorts, to entering and (hopefully) winning poetry competitions.

Finding suitable competitions

Competitions are often advertised in libraries and in writing magazines. A quick internet search will also bring up a face-mashing number of results. In particular the Southbank centre poetry library has an extensive list of reputable competitions with links and details for each. It is therefore best to be selective, choosing those which have themes that would suit you (if there is a theme). Another sneaky little trick is to check who the judge is and to see whether the kind of poetry you write is the kind of poetry they like to read (often there will be a comment from the judge on what they’re looking for).

Cost and winnings

Entering most competitions costs money so you have to be prepared to fork it out, Moneybags. Most cost four or five pounds per poem, with a discount offer for submitting several poems to the same contest. The payouts for winning vary from thousands of pounds (Bridport Prize, Manchester Poetry Prize, Eric Gregory Award) to a basket of cheese and condiments (yes that really was the prize for one I entered…and lost). Obviously the competitions which pay out more cash will have more entries and will likely be more difficult to win, so there’s a careful balance between chance, payout and cost. Some competitions offer online entries and payment, others will require postal entries so keep your chequebook handy.

Picking the “right poem”

This is a tough one. Tough as nuts. I’ve already mentioned spying on the judge and checking the theme but there are general tips to follow. Firstly, try reading the work of past winners (often on the websites of the competition) to gain an understanding of the sorts of things which have won. Generally speaking short poems do not win; I think they’re looking for value for money per word or some similar nonsense.  Secondly – and this may seem obvious – but pick your best poems and make sure they adhere to the rules. Some competitions don’t allow “bad” language or “adult themes”, it also seems a waste of time or money to send in poems which haven’t been revised to a point where you are completely happy with them. Very experimental poetry doesn’t seem to do too well in my experience, particularly if it requires difficult formatting or special fonts. Try choosing pieces that stand out as well-written and unique, but not too alienating.

Follow the rules

They all have rules, mainly about not including your name on the poem. If you break a rule your poem won’t count and you might still be charged. Get it right. Be meticulous. Keep a record of the poems you’ve sent out and the dates they’re being judged. Many competitions don’t like receiving previously published poems and they especially dislike it if you submit the same poem to several competitions at the same time…if they find out.

Don’t reach for the bread knife too soon

Competitions get thousands of entries, it might be that you’ve written the finest poem of the 21st century but that the sub-human letter hound who first saw it put it in the “no” pile because it wasn’t their cup of Bovril. Keep trying; see it as a positive thing if you even get a mention in the results, likelihood is that the poem is good enough to win a competition out there if someone else rated it highly enough to be in the final stages.


Only enter your worst poems to the competitions I enter, I need the money, I yearn for the fame. Thanks muchly.

A chorus of poetry loveres tweeted this poem

17 Dec

As my regular readers will know I was the Tweeter in residence for the latest TraVerses evening at the Traverse Theater, which took place on Monday.  Yet again TraVerses proved itself to be a vibrant night with an eclectic mixture of acts, and there is a real feeling of the vitality that is created when people collaborate across art forms, and the audience of perhaps 50 or 60 proves that there is an interest and that poetry is very much alive in Edinburgh.

I was tweeting what was happening on stage live all night, and also creating a Twitter poem.  For the Twitter poem the audience on the night were given paper and pens, so they could add their own tweets to the poem, while others, who were not able to make it tweeted in lines.  I am afraid that I didn’t get everyone’s name, so can’t thank you all personally here, but you do have my thanks for taking part.  The first line, was taken from the first line of the first poem by  Trio Verso‘s who were the first performers.

TraVerses Twitter Poem

The wind holds you up

only as long as you can stand it.


Iorn.  Gold.  Felt.  Fat.  Breeze.  Frost.  Chill.  Ice


Running against the standing force,

but the wall will hold you so long as it stands.


Emily melting those things again,

useless lumps that bubble blue

and red, eventually becoming not very useful,

but a full poet is pretty validity.


Storm Chaser,

perusing air whipped like ice cream,

thinking wind will keep you warm

while my arms hang cold,

my kiss to vanilla.


Even the wind gets a better offer

and secretly withdraws

its sexual grip and loving attention

to your bones, everything ends.  Ever.

Twit in residence

6 Dec

As I am sitting recuperating from my latest bout of illness I thought I would take the time to update my blog with my latest project.  I blogged a while ago on the excellent TraVerses night at the Traverse Theater, a night to explore poetry, but particular poetry in collaboration.  The first TraVerses was excellent, and certainly made me feel mono-talented, however after some thought I realised that I do have more than one talent, apparently I can work social media.

So for the next TraVerses, on the 13 December (8pm – be there!) I shall be the Tweeter in Residence.  I plan to tweet about the acts as they happen, so those who are not able to attend can still follow and be part of the evening using the hash tag #TraVerses.  Those who are able to be there should also be able to tweet as they watch.   However, the really exciting bit will be the twitter poem I will be creating with both the virtual and real audience.

I will tweet the first line of the first poem that is read on the night – as yet no one knows what this will be.  I will then invite the audience to tweet responses, the audience at the Traverse will be given tweet slips to do this.  Throughout the night I will collect and edit together the responses hopefully reading out a full, collaborative, poem at the very end – which I shall also put up on this blog later.

So for all those in Edinburgh and surroundings I hope, snow wiling, to see you there, and if you don’t live in Edinburgh that is no barrier to taking part.  Follow Traverse Theater and myself on twitter for more info nearer the night.