Judges report, Grey Hen Poetry Competition 2018

We feel that entrants should know that because of unforeseen circumstances I did the initial sift, choosing 50 poems for Carole to judge later. I tried to choose the best representatives of each style and theme, so that my personal taste would not influence what I gave her. Generally, the standard was good, and all entrants are to be congratulated. There were an awful lot of poems on dementia and loss, however. Inevitably poems on these subjects had to be particularly memorable to get into the final 50. A different, interesting subject or title often caught my attention more. My final choice included a number of poems that really impressed me and have stayed in my mind.


When Carole and I met for our joint session there was a surprising unanimity in our choice of short list. Neither of us favoured any single style or approach; we looked for originality of thought as well as technical skill.


Several entrants had submitted poems written in traditional forms: in particular, sestinas, sonnets and villanelles. We would like to congratulate them on their mastery of their chosen form. Free verse was handled well by others. It can so easily slip into ‘chopped up prose’. Both our short lists included examples of formal and informal verse.


We found the poems on grief or the dementia of a loved one moving, but again felt they had to be particularly good as there were so many. We suggest that being older has benefits and would have liked more poems accentuating the positive: for example, the pleasure given by grand-children. The final choice of just three winners was difficult, though we had chosen the same ten or a dozen contenders. So we agreed on one poem we thought should be Highly Commended, and wanted to give a special commendation to the remainder of the shortlisted poems.


Our short lists could have been longer. A lot of poems had potential. As so often happens, they were let down by weak endings, or padding, or predictable language and imagery. Sometimes the title or first verse did not do the poem justice. A poem needs to ‘hook’ the reader like a novel. Don’t underestimate the impact of a really cracking opening or intriguing title.


So, thank you all for submitting. You’ve proved once again that you don’t have to be young to write interesting poetry.

Pauline Kirk and Carole Bromley