You can learn a lot reading judges reports. Here's salient points from Don Paterson who judged the Bridport poetry prize 2007.
He starts talking about culling down to a long list. He mentions in other competitions coming across terrible typing, and typos, having pot pourri fall out from the envelope (could have worse things fall out of an envelope - suggestions please!), cats drawn in the margin (could have worse things drawn in the margin), copperplate fonts (could be ...etc) written in crayon or blood (apparently entries from prisoners are usually hand written, but very neatly) death threats, acrostic or otherwise.
He start looking for poems with a point or a story, an interesting one. Sometimes that can be forgotten. So you saw a daffodil. It was pretty. So what? What does that do for me?
He also looked for real structural armature. Not sure I really know what that means but he says lots were lines with nice images strung together. I saw a daffodil, the first of the year. It was yellow as butter, yellow as my Granny's pinny. It bent as the wind blew.
Then he says too many afforded me no surprise - which is the reader's only test that the writer has themselves been surprised or excited or moved in the actual making of the poem, and not just in the idea or event that inspired it.. That one is worth pondering. The daffodil bending was really exciting. But was the poem? Was the making of the poem, the crafting?
Then on to tricky judgements. Technical craft. Literal context - the reader has to be able to work out where/when the poem is. Dramatis Personae - and who exactly. Watch your pronouns here. Chronological sequence - that would be the when, then.
So often, though, the reader is forced to expend all the energy fighting their way toward literal sense and temporal sequence that they should be spending on the deeper, elusive truth the poem is - hopefully - trying to communicate. Too often we fudge what the poem is about, forgetting that the reader has understand this before they can get on with the business of what the poem means. Strongly agree with this. I get bored with poems if I can't work out roughly what it's about quickly. I don't mind digging for detail but I don't want to have to excavate down to Troy.
Click on the title link to read the full report.
The winning poets are a mixed bunch. Check out their bios.
Time is running out to get your poems in to Strokestown International Poetry Competition.