Wednesday, 24 March 2010

How to Come Second in a Poetry Competition

Alright - what you really want to know is 'How to WIN poetry competitions'. However, I've only actually won one or two but have come second or runner up in about ten... and you want me to know what I'm talking about don't you?

Sometimes a lower placement in a prestigious competition earns more kudos and cash than winning another one.  I won the Big Issue in the North Poetry Competition and the prize was six books, but snapped up over £300 coming second in the Feile Filiochta in 2007 plus an invite to read in Dublin.

Why enter? It raises your profile, boosts your writing CV and can get you published. OK, it costs to enter most competitions but I have actually made a profit over the years with 16 cash prizes. (If I make that sound easy, bear in mind this is out of 140 competitions entered.)

The first point to bear in mind when aiming to win competitions - and pay attention because this is REALLY important - you have to enter them. If you're not sure how to find them,  PrizeMagic is really useful (and entertaining) list of poetry competitions in UK and further afield. There's also a regular mailing list called Kudos compiled by Orbis editor, Carole Baldock.

Top ten tips for winning prizes in poetry competitions

  1. ENTER competitions - if you don't do this, none of this will work.
  2. Study previous winners of the competition you are about to enter, and competitions in general to get a feel of what judges are looking for
  3. Choose competitions which are at the right level for you and look kosher. (I've written more about choosing which ones to enter HERE.)
  4. Submit poems that say something deep about life...
  5. an unusual way or from a different angle or unexpected point of view...
  6. ...using strong characters and specific images...
  7. ...with memorable phrases – especially the first and final sentences...
  8. ...and no clichés - root them out, at the end of the day.
  9. Make sure your punctuation and spelling is PERFCET
  10. follows the rules of the competition to the letter - you will be disqualified if your poem is too long, late, or presented  in a way other than stated in the guidelines

Incidentally, I was recently runner up in Ragged Raven's annual competition - and they have chosen my poem title as the name of their excellent annual anthology (*blushes*): 'The world is made of glass'  They probably wouldn't have done this is I'd called the poem 'Shards' - which was sorely tempting - so maybe I should have added to the list something about having an interesting title.

Do any of you enter competitions of any kind?

Monday, 22 March 2010

National Double Entendre Week

Sorry to be bouncing off Moptop again, but her recent post which was (broadly) on the subject of euphemisms reminded me that it's that time of year again - when we thrust ourselves enthusiastically into the general spurting of thinly veiled obscenity that is National Double Entendre Week.

It seems to me that there's a thin line between euphemism and double entendre, and its even naughtier cousin innuendo.  I'm no expert in cunning linguistics  but I imagine Moptop's new best chum InkyFool could show us a thing or two.  But I do enjoyed getting my tongue around something risque now and then - it's one of my little foibles.  For example, I've just come back from an event at Toast in West Kirby where during my  slot my 'Road Rage' poem went down well.  I'm particularly proud of the line:  Girlie young things find it hard to be nippy / when they're stroking their Volvos and doing their lippy.

Some old favourites:

  • A man encountered a woman on a  cliff-top path too narrow for them to pass on - he couldn't decide whether to toss himself off or block her passage.
  • Then there's the story of the three volunteers late at the sperm bank: two missed the Tube and one came on the bus.
  • Oh, and didn't Chris Tarrant say, discussing the first Millionaire winner Judith Keppel on This Morning: "She was practising fastest finger first by herself in bed last night."

And sports commentators are famed for them:

  • Harry Carpenter at the Oxford-Cambridge boat race 1977 - "Ah, isn't that nice. The wife of the Cambridge President is kissing the Cox of the Oxford crew."
  • Pat Glenn, weightlifting commentator - "And this is Gregoriava from Bulgaria. I saw her snatch this morning and it was amazing!"
  • Willie Carson was telling Claire Balding how jockeys prepare for a big race when he said: "They usually have four or five dreams a night about coming from different positions." (More of these here.)

The trouble with double entendres is, once you let one go everything takes on a lewd second meaning and you start sniggering at the most innocuous of comments.

It helps if you are able to raise an eyebrow suggestively.This is harder than it looks. If you can't get it up or keep it erect you can resort to adding the phrase 'as the actress said to the bishop' to flag up your wit (or 'Phnar, phnar' if you are Uncultured).  There's even a campaign for an 'as the actress said to the bishop' button on Facebook.

So anyway - the possibilities are spread before you. It's National Double Entendre Week. Go on - slip one in, you know you want to.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Re-inventing history

My good chum Moptop has been waxing lyrical on the subject of Telling Stories (or porkies as they call them where I come from), and how stories made up for her own amusement can assume a life of their own.  It got me thinking about how maleable 'truth' can be.

We've read about governments changing history retrospectively in Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, although of course they would NEVER do that in real life (ahem).  But my mum has no such qualms.

She is the consummate re-inventor of history. The man I married who she thought was wonderful but turned out to be a bastard? 'I never liked him.'  That business with the shoes - never happened. Homes we've lived in, arguments  we've had, people we've known have been erased or altered, retro-fitted to fit her current world view.  Former friends and neighbours have been vilified or deified in the best tradition of the tabloid press.

I like to rationalise things, to look at the past as though all that happened was for the best. She  goes one step further and changes the facts to fit.

Dad tries to keep diaries, obsessively documenting dates and occurrences, but he has to be careful - mum also compulsively gets rid of anything that hasn't 'been useful' in the last 6 weeks (it's a wonder she keeps him - and God help me if I'm ever in a persistent vegetative state.)  She threw all my old school stuff out while I was travelling.  She calls it 'having a clear-out', I call it tampering with the evidence.

I've  been trying to find the name of an artist I came across once who described her performance art using a page of text and with a single photograph:
  1. B&W photo of naked woman mid-air with text describing how she trampolined naked in a darkened room for two hours, instructing a photographer to come in once and take one photograph at random
  2. B&W photo of her surrounded by inflated plastic bags with text explaining how she collected every breath in plastic bags for 12 hours
It was all very arty farty but the point of it was that none of it was  real - performance art only exists as it is documented.  It's a bit like PR, but don't start me on that.

Flimsy things truth and history.  Do you re-invent your history? do you embroider or omit parts of your past - and what, and why?  

If you like the de-motivational poster, you may like to look at my earlier post on the subject.

(More on my mum's plans for world domination HERE.)

Monday, 15 March 2010

A Problem Shard

I have a terrible confession.  I was just trolling through my Unfinished Work when I actually found *blushes* the word 'shard'. Worse.  The line went: 'He dozed a little then woke with a shudder, shards of dreams piercing his resolve.'   Aaaaaargh!
What's wrong with that?  You ask.  Well there ARE rules you know!  I feel certain Moptop will have strong opinions about this. Shard is just too 'poetic' and hence frowned on in poetic circles - but it still keeps trying to elbow its way in when you're not paying attention.

You could get away with it in the old days.  Rudyard Kipling  was probably considered very clever when he came up with: 'For heathen heart that puts her trust / In reeking tube and iron shard...'   
But it's attaching the 'shhh... you know what' word to things that aren't actual shards that really rankles with the literati and criterati: 'a single shard of moonlight' may incite 'shard-like anger'.  And the fact that they pop up  everywhere: shards of light, shards of memory, shards of love, contempt, hate, fear and , bizarrely, shards of spring - that must be what I cut my finger on in the garden.
Some CLEVER poets get around this by writing poems about real shards - glass, or fragments of rock or earthenware, bits of old tin can even: '...only he could eyeball an ancient shard of London Lite from / 100 metres in the pitch black'  (closing words of Tube Poem by Archie Thomas).   I was very clever NOT using it in my (ahem, 'award-winning', well, runner-up) poem The world is made of glass.  Because gosh, I wanted to.
Why is it so wrong?  Is it too easy or has it just been used to death, become familiar as a 'poetic' word and therefore contemptible?  Anne Rouse in The Richmond Review  agrees: "...poetic diction has a brief shelf-life; once a word has had currency, it must change itself by ironic or other means, or else risk belatedness and parody."
And so we must desist.  Scour your poetry and prose, strike them out, pick them away like the splinters they are!  Put the shard down and step away from the poem!  And go on - 'fess up.  Have you used it?  Have YOU?

p.s.  I don't normally go back to blogs once they're lit - but I have to add in this link the lovely Moptop just sent me (18 March) to the Joy of Shards website, and the article about use of 'found' objects to create a whole piece of art - and isn't that a little bit like writing, huh?  Enjoy!

Friday, 12 March 2010

Why there are SO MANY songs about librarians

Having asked in my earlier post Why are there no songs about librarians?  I decided to raise the issue on Twitter, expecting little response.  Instead it sparked a pun-fest with over 300 ideas (and counting), my favourites of which I share here for your delectation.  If you're thinking of dabbling in Twitter I can personally recommend everyone listed  here - and more!

After this I will stopping blogging about libraries for a bit!

@BardOfEarth:  Man of constant borrow.

@Tiggythepiggy: Why Do Words Suddenly Appear, Every Time You Are Near?  

@BardOfEarth:  You ain't nothin' but a Bound Log.

@Tiggythepiggy: When I Think Of You, I Touch My Shelf  

@pinkytheflorist: Lend me, break me  

@AmoebaStampede: Place Another Little Fiche on My Cart  

@barbedwyer:  She's in love with me and I feel 20p Fine

@spoiltvt: All You Read Is Love  

@Tiggythepiggy: Hey Big Lender  

@_Monocle_: Gazetteers Of A Clown  

@Tiggythepiggy: I Can See Four Aisles  

@Tiggythepiggy: Take That Book Off Your Face  

@FrankieMcGinty: All by my shelf

@remittancegirl: I cried a river overdue  

@5tubby:   Spinsters are doing it on the shelves

@drfidelius: I Am Thesaurus  

@LauraEmm:  You're Not A Loan

@Billablog: She Shelves Sanctuary  

@JulieRussell:  Blyton time

@philmscribe: I'll Never Get Overdue  

@BioTracer: Will You Still Love Me To Borrow

@JulieRussell:  50 ways to read a cover

@BertSwattermain  What Bookworms of the Broken Hearted

@SplashMan: ISBN Missing You

@sad19: You've Gotta Lend (song as an overduet)

@BertSwattermain:  A-What-Borrow-You-Got-A-Stamp-Bang-Book

@dartacus: What have you done for me late-fee?  

@HashConverter: Let's Stack Together  

@BertSwattermain:  Love Me Lender

@BertSwattermain:  Dewey Decimal Follower of Fashion

@HashConverter: Fool (If you think it's overdue)  

@SymphonyUK: Ticket to Read

@GrahamBandage: A Loan Again Naturally  

@thedrollhouse: All By My Shelf  

@GrahamYapp:  Be Good to Yourshelf

@MrWordsWorth: Where Dewey Go From Here?

Some  of my own contributions (in my alterego):

Return to  Lender

Ticket to the Limit  

Move Over Dorling (Kindersley)

and finally......big Hollywood ending, orchestra rises to a crescendo....(That's why the )The Lady Has A Stamp

Monday, 8 March 2010

Why are there no songs about librarians?

I have been renewed

Metophorically.  Reinvented more like.  I am to be a library assistant. It's a bit of a change from my last job in PR, a down-sizing, de-scaling, and yet wholly appropriate.

There'll be more about this anon, but first some interesting stuff about librarians:

After graduation from secondary school in 1918, Chairman Mao secured a job as an assistant librarian at Beijing University, a hotbed of revolutionary thought. Giacomo Casanova spent the last thirteen years of his life as the Count of Waldstein’s librarian in the Count’s château at Dux, giving him time to work on his famous memoirs.  Benjamin Franklin, credited with founding the first American Library, served as librarian for a brief period.  Golda Meir, before becoming Prime Minister of Israel, once worked as a Librarian in Milwaukee and Chicago. J. Edgar Hoover worked as a cataloger for the Library of Congress. Apparently he was very interested in information.

I'm not sure what my point is here.

There are also many fictional librarians who are also attractive and heroic: Giles, the school librarian, is also The Watcher in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Batgirl's day job is head librarian of the Gotham City Library, and Henry De Tamble the 'chrono displaced' hero of The Time Traveler's Wife.  We won't mention the librarian who has been magically turned into an orangutan in Terry Pratchett's Discworld books.  No songs though.  I'm not at all sure what my point is here.

"Make thy books thy companions. Let thy cases and shelves be thy pleasure grounds and gardens."   Judah ibn-Tibbon (12th century)"

Post script: Of course it turned out there were loads of songs about librarians - as you can see here.

Monday, 1 March 2010

The fine art of being rejected

It’s a terrible thing, rejection

I’m talking about editors rejecting your writing here, but you know me, I’m also talking about life.  You don’t want to be rejected and you certainly don’t want the same rejection as everyone else.  

If your partner chucked you with a standard letter, an uninformative shrug of the shoulders – you’d have to kill him. You couldn’t bear for him to say: 'Not for me this time, sorry.'  You’d want to scream: ‘But WHYeeee!!???’  What specifically did I do or say to make him discard me?  Was it those PJ’s or the laughing at your own jokes or not paying enough attention to depilation or your fact that I may one day turn into my mother?  (sorry mum)

Also, you'd like the fault to be redeemable - an easily rectified oversight - or at least the comfort of many, many additional plus points offered in mitigation.  Yes, you snore but by god you look beautiful in the mornings.  You want him to be already regretting his decision, oh and maybe giving you the number of someone else who might be more inclined to cope with your teeny weeny little flaws.

Oh – see what I've done? – I’ve talked about life as an analogy for writing instead of the other way round.  What I mean is don't you hate the bog-standard, form rejection? I want to know what the editor did (or didn’t) like about my piece, that I was close and next time things will be different.

I've had a dozen stories published and plenty more poems, but only because I'm thick-skinned enough to keep sending them out.  For every success there are many rejections, so I thought I'd share a few of my favourites that offered more than the standard rebuff:

  • "Thanks for sending, but this is a very familiar idea, and I'm afraid you haven't done anything with it beyond simply stating it."  

  • "No. I liked the ending, but the story seemed to drag on and on." 
  • "How does he know a lump of himself landed on the camera when he is dead?"

After a while, things started looking up...

  • "It feels unexplored, thin.  With an expanded, fuller ending, I think this story has good potential."
  • "Oooh, this was a tough one… I think in the end though we're going to pass on it, but please keep submitting!"
  • "...this one didn't do it for me (though I like the ending)."

And sometimes an encouraging rejection from a quality mag is better than an acceptance from a lesser one: "There were some words and phrases in it that we really loved, but the competition was fierce."

I tried several times to submit to Postcards from Hell but kept getting the form rejection: "We have subjected our victims to your story but they were not sufficiently traumatized. Your story has been consigned to the Lake of Fire. Thanks for trying."   So it was a bit of a triumph getting the a personal one from them:  "Truly, one of the oddest stories I've received, but I'm going to pass."

Sadly, I’m not always creepy enough, though:  "The prose here is precise and elegant, the story quietly fascinating, but in the end, it's simply not dark enough for us.  Or I'm too flippant: "It is well written, but I wish it was less farcical."  

The worst rejection?  One poetry magazine sends out the simple, brutal, disappointed: "Alas, these are not what I seek."  Which makes you feel like you've let yourself down, let them down, let everybody down.   

What's the best / worst rejections you've had?

Late addition (22/10/10) - I was just sent this link the Ten Funniest Rejection Letters - enjoy!