It’s October, time for the Essex Poetry Festival again. The festival always boasts an original, varied, inspiring, and exciting programme inclusive of many kinds of poetry, and also material inhabiting the intriguing mixed-media edges of poetry.
Sadly, year after year the audience consists of just a few die-hards hiding in the shadows of the Cramphorn. Why? Well poetry is hardly the most popular of cultural interests, that’s true.
BUT if all the people involved in poetry in this area (and I know quite a few of them) came to the festival’s ‘Big Day’ the Cramphorn wouldn’t be sufficient to hold them, so again – why this lack of support?
Many reasons, but it‘s useful to look at what happens with the associated Essex Open Poetry Competition. Lots of people enter that.
I will have to say that the following refers to my experience of literary poetry competitions generally – I’ve never had any involvement with the Essex competition as such.
The bitter truth is that probably most people who enter literary poetry competitions don’t know what literary poetry is, haven’t read much or any literary poetry, and furthermore – don’t think this relevant to their chances of winning!
‘No-hopers’ usually fall into two camps:
(a) Those who write rhyming verse with tick-tock rhythms. Rhyming /scanning doesn’t bar you from winning, but unless these devices are used in a VERY original and effective way, your entry will be dismissed very quickly.
(b) Those who think ‘free-verse’ means (admittedly as the name suggests) that ‘anything goes’. Nothing could be farther from the truth, there are far more ‘rules’ and disciplines involved in constructing free-verse than in writing traditional verse: as someone who does both I can with some objectivity state that free-verse is more difficult. Attempts at free-verse which don’t follow the disciplines are equally speedily dismissed.
I can hear the wailing now – who makes these ‘rules’? Who cares? What for?
The literary editors, academics, and published poets who judge competitions set these standards, so YOU should care unless you want to keep wasting your entry fee, and what for? – well, FOR poetry.
The disciplines are there to ensure that poetry attains its highest potential: to provide a medium by which people can express the uniqueness of their thoughts and experience, rather than the common ground which is the stuff of ordinary language.
How do you get to know these disciplines? Well, primarily by learning from established poets, and how better to do that than to attend a live event, eg the Essex Poetry Festival, where poets discuss as well as read out their work?
Yes – in order to write good poetry, it’s best to listen to some – a no-brainer really.
For more information about the Essex Poetry Festival, visit www.essex-poetry-festival.co.uk