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Advice from a poetry judge: Pascale Petit interview

power-of-poetry-logo

This year I was delighted when Pascale Petit agreed to judge The New Writer Poetry Competition. She has five collections, and her sixth, Fauverie is due out from Seren in 2014. Her eye for detail (she was editor of Poetry London for 11 years), expertise (she is a co-founding tutor of The Poetry School), and string of awards (including being shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize three times!) make her the perfect competition judge. Entering competitions can be costly, so it is important to get it right. Here are some suggestions from Pascale.

AM: What was the first competition you entered?

Pascale_Petit_credit Kaido VainomaaPP: This is so long ago that I can’t remember! But I do remember entering the South West Poetry Competition in 1993. I entered it because the judges were Peter Redgrove and Penelope Shuttle. There was the shock of the phone ringing to tell me I’d won and would get a cheque for £500, which was a lot of money then. I asked which poem they’d chosen because I’d entered several, and when they said ‘Eisriesenwelt’ (set in the Ice Giants’ Cave in Austria) I said to myself, “they’ve made a mistake”. I’d also entered a poem called ‘The Frozen Waterfall’ and thought that was better. It was instructive to reread my winning entry through the judges’ eyes after it had been severely criticised by a magazine editor. I must have stuck it in the batch just in case that editor was wrong. Five years later both poems appeared in my first collection Heart of a Deer.

AM: If a new poet wants to enter the competition market what advice would you give?

PP: Follow the rules carefully. Submit your best poems. Edit them until they are their best, proofread them with a ruler, to catch all typos, so as not to appear careless. But before you enter any competitions, read contemporary poetry widely and deeply. See what your peers are doing, what’s possible, how they use language, construct a poem. Read contemporary and classical poetry in translation as well – see what other cultures are doing with poems. Think about what you have to offer that is yours. Then check that each of your lines is, as Robert Frost said, “a fresh look and a fresh listen” at your subject. Keep a record of what you send where, a logbook helps.

AM: Do you think entering competitions is a good way of becoming recognised?

PP: It can be, though luck is most of it. It’s harder to win competitions than get published in magazines, because of the sheer volume of entries, but the advantage is that you enter anonymously, so your reputation or lack of one is irrelevant.

AM: What competitions have you judged and what did you get out of them?

PP: I’ve judged a few, including the InterBoard Poetry Community (IBPC), the Guardian workshop, the Café Writers, and this year I’m judging the Poetry London competition. When I was poetry editor at Poetry London I used to be one of the sifters for the thousands of entries to find the top 500 for the judge. Judging gives me an insight into what makes a poem stand out, though it would be hard to define what that is, and each winning poem often extends my idea of what that might be. The final shortlist of ten or twenty are the ones I live the longest with, trying to decide which gets what and why.

AM: Should an entrant swot up on the judge’s work before entering their competition?what_the_water_gave_me_cover

PP: I don’t think an entrant should enter poems that they think are closest to the judge’s tastes. I do notice a lot of people seem to do that! I see many poems that are ekphrastic or ‘confessional’, just because I’ve been labelled as those things. My tastes are broad and I’m not really looking for poems like mine. I want to be surprised.

AM: Is it best to begin by entering small local competitions or hop straight into the biggies?

PP: Probably, as there’s more chance of getting a prize, fewer entrants, fewer published poets entering. But why not try the biggies as well?

AM: Thank-you!

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Launch of Eva and George

The Young Plan: 1929cover eva

Whiteman, your King of Jazz,
dazzles you. Germany cannot pay.
We watch as banks slump,
benefactors bankrupt; you paint
body parts recumbent:
a thigh out of place, a torso
limbless, a breast of lace.

Tonight you play the banjo
and we remember our forgotteness:
Germany pivoting on its wheel
in the darkness and you crossing
through granite to pick and pick
at its city, extracting life
from crystal seams.

 

Widmung an Oskar Panizza

In this infernal abyss you paint your psychiatrist
and lunatics, bleed them on to paper: Liebeskonzil
syphilis, hellscape. Here in your red world,
the grim reaper rides the coffin, takes a slug
of spirits, drops the dead in some pitiless pit.

There’s no mercy with your marauders, your whole street
clambers through chaos and somewhere in it
you’re trapped opening and closing your sketchbook
like it’s a pair of wings desperate to leave.

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Copies now available from

Pindrop Press

“These are fine hard-bitten poems with the imaginative strength and resonance to stand alongside the work of George Grosz without    being in any way diminished by it. The realisation of Eva Peter’s voice is a triumph, and introduces Abegail Morley as one of our most impressive and rewarding poets.”   Peter Bennet

“Abegail Morley’s sequence Eva and George: Sketches in Pen and Brush, marked by both  authenticity and originality, impresses with startling imagery and the striking juxtaposition of the private and the public. Her poetic  account of George Grosz and Eva Peter’s life in the Weimar Republic is at the same time a compelling panorama of a whole era characterized by struggle, violence and radicalism.” Wolfgang Görtschacher, Poetry Salzburg Review

“Morley skilfully captures the rawness of George Grosz’s acerbic images of despots and outcasts in post WWI Germany,while tenderly evoking a portrait of the man behind the art. In lucidly-voiced poems spoken by his wife, Eva Peter, she explores the passion and compassion that drove him. In doing so, she reminds us of the casual and calculated malice we are capable of inflicting on each other in daily living, and that ‘We are those passers-by’.”

Heidi Williamson