For the last couple of years I’ve entered the flagship poetry competition that is run by the flagship poetry organisation in England. The stuff I wrote was, at time of entry, absolutely my best work. Since then and now, a phenomenal amount has changed, both personally and professionally. Looking at what I submitted, and holding it up against what won? I was never in with a chance.
I find it incredibly difficult to find any affinity with poems that are, in essence, descriptive passages. That’s prose: it’s not lyrical, or exciting, or indeed affecting. Poetry, for me at least, needs a reason to exist beyond simply painting a picture. There should be depth, hidden corners, surprises waiting to emerge after multiple readings. If it’s an effort to even get through a poem once? Nope.
This is a problem, and I am wondering if there’s any point in trying to solve it.
There’s also a lot of personal trauma over the entire objective versus subjective voice that seems to hold a lot of these poems together. Being angry, apparently, doesn’t make for good poems. Look at stuff at distance, holding it with gloves instead of letting the whole thing get you mucky, seems like not giving your subject matter the airing it deserves or often forcibly demands.
However, this time around it doesn’t help that the winning poem’s subject matter is something I know quite a bit about, and carry a measure of personal experience of within. This poem is not for me. However many times I read it, it will never be for me. In fact, the more times I try to read it and understand why it won, the more upset it makes me. It is a red rag, elegantly embroidered with middle class sensibilities.
This will never be the poetry I want to write.
Therefore, when entries open for this year, should I even bother for validation? I could, it occurs to me, simply take everything that won this year, perm all the best structural features from each and then create a dream framework on which I hang my words… but really, what would be the point? One of my best skills has always been mimicry, but who cares if you’re not being honest to yourself?
This is my scheduled reminder, for what it is worth, that a poem written because the subject matter made me happy is being published this year. I will be anthologised. That was work that mattered, and still does. This year, therefore, the middle finger goes up to the Cool Kids Club, and so what if they get offended. Life, as we are all now learning, is far too short for anything except allowing your soul the space needed to expand.
Make happiness matter more than critical appreciation.