I am judging the Battered Moons poetry competition this summer. There is just a week to go until the deadline (June 30th, UK residents only) so here I answer the question, what do I look for in a poem?
1. I have eclectic taste. I do not exclude any school or movement from my reading: confessional, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, experimental, lyric, imagist, ecopoetry, performance, radical, political etc. I have interests in all types of poetry.
2. I don’t necessarily want to read a poem written just as I would have written it. When working with students, I am very careful to make sure that we are writing the best poems in the spirit of what they want to write, rather than reproducing how I write poems.
3. Poems do many things for me. Sometimes they make me laugh, or cry. Other times I find myself intrigued, or, with the most experimental poetry, I feel myself reaching towards experiencing the poem and its challenge to language. Forcing a reader to feel uncomfortable is powerful too sometimes.
4. Poetry, at its best, approaches topics that are complex, without trying to find a simple explanation, and that’s why poetry is extremely useful in the present moment when propaganda and jingoism seem all too present.
5. Poetry needs to be ethical. I don’t mean that it can’t be edgy or close to the bone, but I want to see that ethical decisions have been made in its use of ideas.
6. Strict poetic form used well can be formidable, but free verse and more experimental or newly invented forms can be remarkable too. I look especially carefully at word choices and line breaks.
7. I am interested in seeing work by traditionally under-represented groups.
8. I listen to the music of the line when reading poetry, though that might be a more idiosyncratic rhythm than regular metre.
9. I have a soft spot for poems that capture tangible and sensual experiences effectively.
10. I like to be surprised and disarmed when I am reading poetry. That might be through clever use of language, through something incredibly well described or well-observed, or it might be through some sleight of hand that turns the poem unpredictably but in a satisfying way.