Poems-on-a-Beermat Competition 2014
They're about the size of the palm of your hand, but squarer. And they're made of cardboard. And now - and NOW - they have poems printed on them. Yes, the Poems-on-a-Beermat competition came to its long-anticipated conclusion on Wednesday, September 3rd, and the beermats - and the winner - were revealed.
Though I say it myself (and, in fact, lots of other people have been saying it too, so I suspect that it's true) it was a fabulous evening. I was thrilled that seven of our ten finalists were able to make it to the event, some travelling pretty much all day to be with us. And I was doubly thrilled to know that three - THREE! - of the ten finalists were poets with a Words & Ears pedigree. Rosie Jackson, Lesley Saunders and Rick Rycroft - most of our regulars will have seen and heard them at our events. To put this in perspective, we had 392 entries into the competition, from, literally, all corners of the earth (New Zealand, the US, the Middle East, and across Europe, as well as all parts of the UK). And the standard was very high. So, I'm doubly proud as I sit writing this now, post event, posh frock in the wash... proud that the competition, devised with members of Bradford's Arts Festival committee around a table at the Swan, was such a hit, and proud that Words & Ears attracts such talented writers.
The evening kicked off with a fine reading from our adjudicator, Martin Malone, which treated us to some hard-hitting poems, newly-written for his PhD, about the First World War. Anyone who has heard Martin read will know that every word is delivered with a bang-on-target force, and his contemporary take on his subject matter was powerful indeed.
Our finalists then read out their beermat-sized poems, with carefully considered comments after each by Martin. And then, a break (excitement building...) with everyone mingling in the Swan's beergarden on the conveniently perfect-weather evening.
Then, suspense over, the winners were revealed.
Well done to everyone - you are all winners, your poems are all excellent.
And finally, we had an open mic session (because it wouldn't be Words & Ears without it) - some great contributions, from both the audience and some of the finalists, on the themes of 'light' and WWI.
When you take a look at the poems, you'll see that the styles and interpretation of the festival's theme of 'Light' are all very different. Martin did a fabulous job of judging them (and was very brave when I told him quite how many entries he had to read!), so an enormous thank you to him, and also to Roger Pyne, Rosie Macgregor and Eve Slater of the Bradford on Avon Arts Festival committee, for their help with setting up and promoting the competition, and generally enthusing about it (and also to Rosie for selling packs of beermats on the night!). And a big thank you to James Sullivan-Tailyour at the Swan for his hospitality and kindness, as always. And finally, a thank you to YOU if you were at the finals event, helping to make it such a success, or if you entered the competition, or if, simply, you're reading this. Spread the word - the beermats competition will be back again next year.
Judge's Report - Martin Malone
After I got over the shock of the sheer number of entries, I succumbed rapidly to encouragement that so many people had taken up this great wee challenge to create poems of no more than 15 lines, addressing the theme of 'Light' and bound for a beermat. Limitation and specificity can sometimes be our greatest ally in writing new stuff; indeed, can be the very inspiration behind poetry which might otherwise go unwritten. So the sheer variety of form and slanted light evident here made the experience of Judging the competition a very enjoyable one indeed.
It was fascinating to see how some poets approached the subject from surprisingly askance angles and how others archly took on the overall brief directly with a barefaced cheek that made me smile. There was some great poetry in here, some very good poetry indeed and some entertainingly barmy stuff; all of which was a pleasure to read. NOTE to contestants: so pleasurable was the process that all poems were read at least twice and some, towards the end of the judging process, got read up to six or seven times. In the first round of judging, some poems appropriately caught the light of recognition just as I was setting them aside, moving me to pick them up again to re-read and see what I thought I might have missed. Poetry can function like that: the odd turn of phrase, piece of music or image can just refract a pinprick beam of recognition and come alive for you in that moment.
If I had any advice to offer it would be this: BEWARE ADJECTIVES! They are the siren song that can lure you away from the one true light of your poem. All the best stuff here recognised the dangers of the overfull line and exhibited a crafted restraint which left space in their poems for the light to shine through. Am I staying on message here?
Which brings me to the winning poems. There are going to be some justifiably disappointed poets out there who sent in some very good poems, indeed. You'll not know just how close some of you came to being in the top 10 poems, that is one of the most frustrating things about competitions of this sort and, having experienced this feeling more often than not, I can only empathise with you. However, I'm confident that the winning efforts deserve to be there for their many merits as they appear to this judge.
The seven Commended poems all pushed the top three hard for the prize money and on another day may themselves have, in the current parlance 'medalled'.