The competition was judged blind, so I was a little surprised to find out that I’d given first and second place to the same poet for the astonishingly raw poems Milk and Scar. The author unexpectedly turned out to be one Lorraine McGuigan, who at the prize giving ceremony gave me a copy of her book Wings of The Same Bird. The winner of IP Picks 2009 Best Poetry Award. The book is fast becoming one of my favourites. The two highly commended places went to Maree Silver for her haunting landscape poem Corner Country and Meryl Tobin for the poem Athens.
When I was initially asked to judge the poetry competition, I undertook to give feedback on every single poem. I know this sounds mad. After all, the competition guidelines specified that the judge’s decision was final and no correspondence would be entered into. And perhaps I was voluntarily opening my judging decision up for scrutiny, but I didn’t much care. My rational was that writing competitions are useless to the 97% of people who don’t get a place. You enter the writing and have no idea how, or if, you went wrong. Perhaps you were in the top four, and there were simply three poems the judge considered ‘better’ than yours, or maybe most of your poem was fantastic but the last line was so cringingly cliché that it ruined the whole experience.
Of course, once I started writing a one sentence comment on each poem, one thing led to another and I ended up writing each poet a report of several paragraphs in order to properly explain myself and provide feedback which will hopefully go on to be some kind of use.
Judging the competition taught me so much about what never believed I knew about poetry.
Some of the images from these poems still visit me in my sleep.
Now that is poetry.
Thanks to SWA for the use of the photograph, thanks to my daughter Maya Lou for behaving with suitable decorum throughout the judging speech and 'ceremony' .