privilege and responsibility

Earlier this month, a weighty parcel of three hundred poems thunked onto the doormat. These were the entries into this year’s Welshpool poetry competition, which yours truly had been asked to judge. So for the past couple of weeks I’ve been reading and re-reading poems, sifting them into piles, and reading them again.

I don’t know how other poets feel about being asked to judge a competition, but I find it both a privilege – you get to immerse yourself in work from hundreds of poets, their different styles and voices – and a huge responsibility. Which poems win? And why? What makes this poem better than that one? How do you justify it? And so on.

It’s subjective, of course. The poems I choose might not be the same as the ones Carol Ann Duffy would pick, or the ones Jonny Fluffypunk would enjoy, or the poems which might strike a chord with Lemn Sissay. Or maybe they would. Whatever we’d choose, we’d have – like as not – gone through the same process, looked for skill and craft and narrative, and found ourselves going back to the poems which surprised and intrigued and stayed with us. Poems which connected. Which told us something new, or made us look at something familiar in a fresh light.

Reading all those entries reminded me what I love so much about poetry: that invitation to see the world through someone else’s eyes, hear what they have to say. Like I say, it’s a privilege. A responsibility, too. There were wonderful poems which didn’t make the cut this time, but which will undoubtedly find a home in a magazine, or an anthology, or come up trumps in another competition. For now, though, alongside congratulations to all the winners, I’d like to offer my thanks to everyone who entered. It was a joy to read your work.

A privilege, in fact.