Poetry Prize 2022 – Judges’ Notes

We were once again blown away by the quality and variety of the poems in this year’s Poetry Prize. Mark Strand sums up our feelings well:

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.

But now the poems have been read and re-read and re-read, the arguments had, the heart-breaking decisions made. And we wanted to share a bit about what brought us to the winning and shortlisted poems we were so excited to share with you.

What follows is, inevitably, a personal take and nothing we say is supposed to be a “rule”: these are just our thoughts and reflections. We tried to include things that we, as poets submitting to other competitions, would find useful to know, and to cast some light on what can at times feel like an opaque process.

***

Moons and origami

There were some common themes in the poems we read. Covid was still influencing many poets. Grief and joy competed for dominance, while new beginnings started to bloom. Lovesickness remains hard to overcome.

Certain images also recurred: origami is a popular choice, as are roses, stars and grass. The moon still refuses to wane.

Using popular (stereotypical) images does not disqualify a poem. But you’re going to have to do something special with it to stand out!

If you’re writing an ode to origami, make sure you’ve considered all the connotations of folded paper. If you want to use the moon as a symbol, think carefully about what this is adding to your poem.

Vivid imagery makes a poem stand out

When reading through lots of poems, we found those which centred on a vivid and unique image had an easier job standing out. Being grounded in a concrete image can really make a poem pop and bring it to life. If a poem stays entirely at the abstract level and refuses to engage with anything real life, it can be harder to grab the reader’s attention and imagination. This can be in the form of an interesting metaphor or specific (relevant) details.

Standing out is not just about making an immediate impact. The winning poems often emerged in the later stages as those ones which dug in their claws and didn’t let us go. The vital hook, in many cases, was a wonderful image which we couldn’t get out of our heads.

Punctuation can be powerful

Punctuation can often be forgotten by poets focused on the bigger picture. But small can be mighty and we found that impactful or sloppy use of punctuation had the power to make or break poems.

Use commas, which help the reader navigate your poem, making it easier to read. And use fullstops. They can add drama. And flow. And if you’re feeling creative, experiment with colons: a beautiful image can follow. And dashes – though be a bit careful with these – to bracket off different parts of a poem.

Don’t feel the need to go big

Another thing we found was that a good poem doesn’t always need to be about the Big Themes. Often those that did strive for grandeur slipped into generalisation. We don’t want to put anyone off writing about Truth or Life or The Meaning of It All. But don’t feel like you have to. And only write BIG if you have something to say, such as bringing your own personal angle to these well-trodden topics.

Get out your red pen and be brutal with the cuts

A number of poems came across rather waffly and padded out and felt, well, like they could do with a brutal edit. Don’t be scared to make big cuts. One good place to look for edits is often at the beginning and end of a poem. It is natural to feel the need to start by setting the scene. But when your poem is so short, you don’t want to waste your first few lines describing the misty morning and the songbird’s warbling if they are not going to make a reappearance later in the poem. Jump straight into the action. Equally, resist the urge to add a last line neatly summing everything up. You’re not writing a school essay which requires the obligatory ‘In conclusion…’ to finish. Trust your reader. They don’t need to be handheld all the way through the poem.

Top tip: Set up a new file where you keep all the lines which don’t make the final version of your poem – they might just make the perfect springboard into a new piece!

Re-read, re-read, re-read

We know it’s obvious but it really is important to re-read your poem before submitting. Remember that to get through to the shortlist, a poem needs to be able to withstand many rounds of judging. It’s on these re-readings that the annoying little typo we were willing to overlook initially really starts to grate, the lack of internal coherence is exposed and a hastily chosen word finds it suddenly has nowhere to hide.

***

Here are four things you can do right away to get your poems straight back out there:

(1) Re-read your poem

(2) Re-edit. Have another look and see if there are any (small) tweaks you would now make. Is every word contributing to the overall effect of the poem? Have you thought carefully about line breaks and form?

(3) Re-submit. Find somewhere else to send your poem! Don’t delay: send it straight back out there to another competition or journal.

Then, (4) Bookmark this page ready for next year! The Briefly Write Poetry Prize 2023 will open next May/June. It will be FREE to enter again… and we’d love to read another entry from you.


Briefly Write Poetry Prize 2021 – Judges’ Notes

Three weeks ago, we released the winners of the inaugural Briefly Write Poetry Prize. If you haven’t yet read the winning and commended poems, you can do so here.

Now the dust has settled, we thought it would be a good time to share a few brief observations from the judging process. We hope this will shine a light on our decision making and provide greater insight into our aesthetic.

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines “to judge” as:

To form, give, or have as an opinion, or to decide about something or someone, especially after thinking carefully…

We can confirm that:

  1. We thought very carefully about our choices
  2. We were deciding about something (a poem) not someone (a poet) – we read all entries anonymously

The following points aim to reveal some of the factors that helped us form our opinion of the poems we read.

Judges’ Notes

As with any competition, a dozen different judges might pick a dozen different winners. Nothing we say below is supposed to be a “rule”: these are just our thoughts and reflections on reading 1,412 poems and picking our favourites.

  1. Think carefully about your idea. No matter how beautifully you craft your poem, if you’re not inspired by what you’re writing it will probably show. Give us something authentic, something you care about, something that only you could write. When we’re reading so many poems, those quirky snapshots which illuminate the poet’s own unique experience are usually the ones that shine through.
  2. Avoid the obvious. This follows on from the previous point: make your writing unique. We had hundreds of poems about heartbreak, love, dogs or poetry. These can all be interesting topics – if that’s what speaks to you, knock our socks off with a brilliant heartbreak ballad. But remember you will be competing to stand out among hundreds of very similar poems.
  3. Make every word count. This may sound like a cliché, but it’s not: when it came down to the final decisions, some brilliant poems missed out on the longlist or shortlist due to a single word that seemed hastily chosen or badly placed. You should know why you’ve chosen every word. This doesn’t need to be a ‘poetic’ justification: “it just feels right” can be a perfectly valid reason. But when a rose is described as “beautiful” or a night’s sky as “dark” in three consecutive entries, we can’t help feeling like the poets missed a chance to sparkle.
  4. Don’t over-write. This might seem contradictory to number 3, but it’s not: we want well-worked not over-worked. Often, when people try to write in a ‘poetic’ style, the result is an overly embellished poem that lacks authenticity. If you want to write like Shakespeare, that’s fine… but we still want to hear your voice. Use rhyme or don’t use rhyme – both techniques can be used creatively and to great effect – but please don’t feel like you need to use rhyme just because that’s what your Year 9 English teacher said a poem has to do.
  5. Let it breathe. We read a lot of poems that didn’t quite feel ready, work that could have been improved with a little more time and care. The Poetry Prize was open for three months and we recommend you wait a few days (or weeks or months) after writing your poem before you send it. We read generously but a sloppy, typo-laden entry will not make a good impression. Check line breaks, word choice, rhythm. Speak your poem out loud to make sure it sounds how it does in your head.
  6. Don’t forget the title. A surprising number of poems were called ‘Untitled’. It’s fine if that’s your thing, but when you only have ten lines to impress, the title can do a lot of work.
  7. Choose a good title! Several promising poems were let down by slap-dash, irrelevant or uninteresting titles. A strong title can be tantalising, tingling, informative and intriguing. Use it to tease our poetry senses: a title gives you the opportunity to set the stage, to tweak and play with the reader’s emotional state. Don’t give it all away before we’ve read the poem and don’t try to be too ‘out there’ for the sake of being ‘out there’. But do make the most of the opportunity to excite us in the first few words.
  8. Think big. As well as individual word choice, think about the larger structure. Can you use line breaks creatively or disruptively? Is the layout important to the message? If a poet does not think enough about the overall effect, a beautiful poem can become dense with too many unrelated images.
  9. Get the ending right. Poets often stress over the opening lines, but very few poems were turned down based on a poor opening alone. More often it’s the final lines that let a piece down. It’s very tempting to hammer home the key points at the end – but doing so usually results in a sense of over-writing. Trust your reader: if you’ve constructed a beautiful metaphor about a juniper bush and your first love, leave it to blossom in the reader’s imagination – don’t destroy the image by explaining that the juniper now reminds you of those idyllic days and you’re feeling sad you’ll never get to re-live them.

Briefly Write Poetry Prize 2021 – Results

Wow.

The inaugural Briefly Write Poetry Prize has been a joy to judge. We read amazing poems about love, despair and confusion; books, bridges and bones; treasure, tears and trees; grapes, onions and… oranges.

We were honoured to receive 1,412 entries and thoroughly enjoyed reading all of them. We had to make agonising decisions to draw up the longlist – we let go of some amazing poems well worthy of recognition and reward.

We are therefore immensely proud to share below our selection of winning and commended poems, along with the names of our longlisted poets. The best entries were subtly powerful and powerfully subtle.

Poems, like moments, are transitional and ephemeral; they are both self-contained houses and doors leading to the unknown. Each winning, commended or longlisted poem is a snapshot of a moment or a moment of a snapshot. Each line is an invitation to a new word or world, as well as the ending of an old one.

We hope you’ll agree with all our choices… but acknowledge you probably won’t. Personal taste is a wonderful thing. And poetry is a conversation. We would love to hear what you think – reflections on the poems, discussion of themes or styles, congratulations to the winning poets – in the comments below.

The Briefly Write Poetry Prize will return next year. We hope you’ll submit a poem or join us again to read (and listen to) the winning pieces. Once again, the size of the prize fund will be determined by how many donations we receive. We don’t make any money out of Briefly Write – all donations go directly towards website costs and paying writers!

Thank you again for your interest and support. We hope you enjoy making these poetic discoveries as much as we did.

Dream big, write briefly,

Daniel & Elinor


WINNER

Khushi Bajaj, ‘Oranges’


RUNNERS-UP

Creana Bosac, ‘Steel City’

Adeleke Deborah, ‘When You Speak’

Georgia Hilton, ‘The Lost Art of Staring into Fires’

Nadia Lines, ‘Telling my Granddad I Like Girls’

Ilias Tsagas, ‘Waterloo & City’


COMMENDED

Faiz Ahmad, ‘At the Burial’

Virginia Boudreau, ‘By the Potting Shed’

Martin Heavisides, ‘Insect Life’

Tamanda Kanjaye, ‘Paper Dolls’

CB McCall, ‘Thistles in August’

Eamonn McKeon, ‘It’s Too Late to be Asleep’

Valerie Nieman, ‘Girl at the Beach’


LONGLIST

Lynn Aprill, ‘Anthem for the Year’
Shalom Galve Aranas, ‘Flight of the Manananngal’
Gaynor Beesley, ‘An Unscheduled Stop at Dovey Junction’
Tammana Begum, ‘Where do we belong?’
Thomas Brezing, ‘Strands’
Eleni Cay, ‘Air lyrics’
Corinne Clark, ‘Tuesday, closing’
Shirley Anne Cook, ‘Needle’
Andreea Finichiu, ‘Untitled’
Patrick Green, ‘Give Us One’
Jan Harris, ‘Anish Kapoor’s Sky Mirror at Houghton Hall’
Lewis Hedges, ‘Becalm’
Rachel Jung, ‘On Digging a Hole’
Ben Keatinge, ‘Homecoming’
Miodrag Kojadinović, ‘August 1968 Afternoon Break in Eastern Serbia, in 3 haiku’
Lori Levy, ‘Under it All’
Gavin Lumsden, ‘Kinetic’
Kathryn Anna Marshall, ‘There are many more dogs in the woods these days’
Louise Mather, ‘The Shape of Blossom’
Caitlin Bianca Mathey, ‘Two Seconds, and Then You Want To Sit Down’
Cholena Maurer, ‘birthdays with my father’
Tony McAndrew, ‘Bridges’
Elisabeth Otocka, ‘The Interlude’
Jennifer Patino, ‘I Recognized Her By Her Housecoat’
Claudio Perinot, ‘Heuristics’
Stephanie Powell, ‘Dighton Street’
Audrey L. Reyes, ‘A Minute in Our City’
Arya Sharma, ‘Bare Your Bones’
Richard Simpson, ‘Stretcher Duty’
Jeff Skinner, ‘August’
Maya Stott, ‘blue’
Sally Jane Tate, ‘The Falling Man’
Steven Taylor, ‘Seven’
Liz Verlander, ‘Brumous’
Binny Yadav, ‘Wisdom Springs’
Intigam Yashar, ‘All the covert rooms’


Competition homepage: https://brieflywrite.com/poetry-prize/

Support Briefly: https://ko-fi.com/brieflywrite

‘Write 10, Win 10’ 2021

A huge thank you to everyone who submitted to our inaugural micro competition. We received 116 entries and thoroughly enjoyed reading all of them. Entries were read anonymously by a panel of four judges.

We were treated to an inspiring mix of discoveries: everything from witches, treasure hunters, weddings, gods and new books to space, presents, mirrors, moons and murderers.

After many hours of deliberation, we are delighted to reveal that the winner is Rebecca Kinnarney. Rebecca’s story stood out for its humour, clever construction and inventive take on the theme.

The following writers made the shortlist: Laura Besley, Mandira Pattnaik, William Davis, Jessica Klimesh, Ruth Callaghan do Valle, Susy Churchill, Linda Sejung Park, Rita Lazaro and Gunnar De Winter. They all managed to tell a full story in ten words, hiding layers of meaning beneath the surface.

You can read our 10 selected stories below.


WINNER (£10)

10th January. One mince pie left. It must be love.

Rebecca Kinnarney


SHORTLIST

Letters unearthed. “Dad’s dead, you said.” “Sorry, love” Mum whispered.

Laura Besley


Childhood friend. Shared bed, dreams. Got married. Discovered a stranger.

Mandira Pattnaik


we sailed amongst the unnamed latitudes trading words for home

William Davis


Fumble for glasses, lamp. Open door to crickets singing summer.

Jessica Klimesh


Explorar: Explore / Exploit – An isthmus in ink – In Brazil landlessness

Ruth Callaghan do Valle


He emptied drawers, dispatched belongings. Every space revealed her face.

Susy Churchill


In bulging bags of homemade food, I found her heart.

Linda Sejung Park


Blue Light. Human gone. Empty bowl. Cat affronted. Now alone.

Rita Lazaro


“Look,” said grandfather, “endless worlds await.” He opened the book.

Gunnar De Winter


Judges’ notes:

  • The quality was exceptionally high. From our longlist of 30, we had a hard time getting down to a shortlist of 10.
  • The winner and shortlisted entries all told a story. It didn’t matter whether this was a grand tale of adventure or a tiny snapshot of a moment; each one narrated a full story in 10 words.
  • The best stories adhered closely to the theme, but perhaps approached ‘discovery’ from a less obvious angle.
  • It was important not to waste any words. Some promising stories that made the longlist were dropped on the basis of a single word that felt forced or out of place.
  • Clever use of punctuation made some stories stand out. Breaking up the 10 words allowed them to go further.