Saturday, 3 July 2010

World Leaders and Vertical Drinkeries

Cardiff is a world leader in a few things, or so it imagines. City of arcades, city of parks, youngest waterfront, greatest number of vertical drinkeries (bars where you stand up rather than sit down), more stag nights than anywhere outside Vilnius. It’s also host to one of the english-speaking world’s most popular poetry contests – the Cardiff International Poetry Competition. Founded way back in the 1980s and offering five thousand pounds prize money for a single 40 lines (max) poem. That’s an amazing sum for a single piece of unpublished verse.

When the competition started, initially on its own and without council help, entrants were stunned at the possibilities of instant wealth. Better odds than the lottery suggested one wannabe, although as there was no lottery back then maybe I imagined that.

The Cardiff Competition is run by the Academi. The idea is that entries are judged with the names of the poets removed. The fact that you may be Simon Armitage will cut no ice. The quality of the work is what gets you through.

The competition’s judges – a panel of three – are usually pretty well-known names. Gillian Clarke, Roger McGough, Ian Macmillan and Les Murray have all been on the team. Entrants come from everywhere. This is an international competition and stuff wings its way into the capital of Wales literally from the whole wide world.

In the days when communication could only be made by letter post things were relatively straightforward. Admittedly some entrants would send by special courier, or turn up themselves bearing their poems with faces full of hope. Fuss was minimal. Understanding of how the thing actually worked was commonplace.

But now we have email and entrants, some of them, and despite a rule which warns that no communication can be entered into, feel the urge to ask things of the organisers on a daily basis. Your competition says that entries should be unpublished. I read mine out at my brother’s wedding. Does this count? When you say that winners will be notified in the spring do you mean March or might you mean April? My poems are only two lines long. Do I still have to pay the same entry fee?

Instant communication has allowed the world’s litterateurs free reign. Emails arrive giving line by line justification for each poem. Explanations, amplifications, attached photos of the object being lovingly described in verse, detail on the circumstance of composition, bulletins on the entrant’s health, requests for free tickets to the ceremony, offers of house exchanges, free holidays, and drink.

As organisers the Academi have learned to ignore the lot.

Giles Goodland, a former Gillian Clark student has just won the 2010 contest. Watch this space for upcoming details of how to enter for 2011.

An earlier version of this posting appeared as The Insider in the Western Mail of Saturday 3rd July, 2010. #154

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