I recall that one year, when the results of the National Poetry Competition were announced, a disappointed reader asked why none of the three winning poems rhymed. After all, isn’t that what poems are supposed to do? The nursery rhymes we learn in childhood, the songs we sing, the advertising jingles which are forced on us – all depend heavily upon the echoing power of words.
I could have told him the likely reason: the great majority of poems submitted for competitions are rhymeless and so will probably include the winners. There has been a great loosening-up of verse forms in the last ninety years. And that is good – witness this year’s prizewinner of our own competition, written in ordinary, if heightened, conversational English. On the other hand, the runners-up are two flawless rhymed poems, and good sonnets, villanelles and traditional lyrics are always welcome in the Interpreter’s House.
The Bedford Open Poetry Competition has been going since 1997. It’s run partly in order to raise money, of course, but I also think it’s good that readers should be exposed to a choice of poetry by someone other than me. I don’t decide who wins or who doesn’t. The competition organiser in Ampthill gets the names, the judge gets the (unsigned) poems and I get (unsigned) copies. Sometimes, but not every year, I glance over the huge pile and pick out a few I like. There are only one or two poets whose work I instantly recognise and I am often surprised when a poet I know reveals an unsuspected side.
And, yes, I have occasionally disagreed with the judge. But this year, Simon Curtis has made a splendid selection, proof that English poetry is flourishing outside the tight circle of ‘big names’.
Thank you for all your Christmas cards, I hope you survived the snow, and a happy New Year.