I’ll be the judge of that…..

The Nottingham Poetry Society Performance Competition, Saturday 22nd May 2010 2.45pm

Judging a writing competition is potentially more stressful than actually competing. Last year I was on the panel for The Charnwood MiniWords Competition, and didn’t realise what I’d let myself in for until a bulging wad of 2000 50-word stories thudded onto my desk. ‘Who the hell am I to be judging anything anyway?’ I wailed. By the time I reached the 2000th story however, I felt qualified by experience, if nothing else, to evaluate which three stories worked better than the other 1,997. I also realised I’d gained valuable insight into tight editing skills – never underestimate the value of reading for improving your own writing.

The Nottingham Poetry Society Performance Competition (Saturday 22nd May 2010), promised to be a briefer affair. Running since 2004, the event is an opportunity for performance poets to demonstrate their work and performance skills and to have the chance of winning a cash prize. Competitors sign up on the door and have a three-minute slot to perform. Those who are successful go through to Round 2 and have another three minutes in which to impress the judges – and the audience.

It was a scorching day, and with my co-judge James Walker from LeftLion Magazine delayed in Leeds, Eirreann Lorsung from Nottingham Poetry Series kindly stepped in at the last minute to join me on the panel. Eirreann, a PHD student at the University of Nottingham, undoubtedly has a more academic focus to her appraisal of poetry and literature than I do, but we agreed we were looking for confident performance skills (good delivery, the ability to connect with an audience) combined with excellent content, showing attention to style and subject with control of language and form. However, if there was ever an insight into the diversity of poetry out there, it was revealed in Round 1. Some poems were crafted using strict formal constraints such as Pantoums and Sonnets, others were free-form. Some used rhyming schemes, some didn’t, and subject matter and tone also varied considerably. The performances ranged from lively, rapid-fire poetry and memorised delivery, to a style I would equate with thespian performance (for want of a better description), and the calm academic reading style often employed by ‘page’ poets.

It was a challenge to judge the participants –  writing performed with flair and charisma is not necessarily a winner on the content front, and vice versa. I often disagree with selections in poetry competitions and I had no doubt that our decisions would provoke debate. The lesson I took away from the event is to be decisive but also instinctive: for the purpose of spoken word competitions (which are so immediate), it either succeeds on the day or it doesn’t. However, the difference between judging submissions of work sent by post and live performance is that with the latter, you are face to face with competitors. I had visions of angry poets chasing me down North Sherwood Street, (but comforted myself that I could blame it all on Eirreann if things turned ugly)!

In fact, Eirreann and I were relieved to find we were pretty much in agreement about who should continue to the next round. It was difficult as all the performances had been enjoyable and engaging, but we managed to narrow the competitors down to six – Alf Todd, Pippa Hennessey, Rowland Nelken, MulletProofPoet, Ann Hill and Neele Dellaschaft.

Round 2 was tense – six poets with six very different styles – and only three prizes! Still, a decision had to be reached. The key word for me was ‘engaging.’ This could be through good style or content, but to win, the poet needed to deliver both effectively. Also, the style of the poem, the content and the delivery needed to be in harmony with each other. All six competitors gave great readings, but we felt that three stood out from the rest.

Alf Todd impressed us by performing his poems from memory and we felt the content and performance style combined the main criteria we had defined. Neele Dellaschaft read in her second language (English) but the beautiful phrasing, language and imagery used in her writing shone through. MulletProofPoet – who has described himself as a hybrid of Paul Weller and Rodney from ‘Only Fools and Horses’ – brought humour and strong performance skills to the competition with his pop-poetry approach to Spoken Word, with more than a dash of John Cooper Clarke.

The results were:

1st: Alf Todd

2nd: Neele Dellaschaft

3rd: MulletProofPoet

Commended: Pippa Hennessey; Thanks to: Ann Hill and Rowland Nelken

We will invite all three winners to perform a poem for the next WriteLion Podcast (WriteLion7) so hopefully everyone will be able to hear them in action.

For any poets out there who are interested in joining Nottingham Poetry Society, the group meets monthly – usually on the 4th Saturday of the month at 2.45pm at the Nottingham Mechanics, 3 North Sherwood Street, Nottingham. The Society also holds an Annual Competition – the Nottingham Open Poetry Competition – which is now taking submissions.

Full details of their programme can be seen by logging on to www.nottinghampoetrysociety.co.uk or contacting Jeremy Duffield (Nottingham Poetry Society Chair.) Visitors are always welcome.

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