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Poetry Society UK
London, UK
One of Britain's most dynamic arts organisations, founded in 1909 to 'promote "a more general recognition and appreciation of poetry', representing British poetry both nationally and internationally. Publisher of the leading poetry magazine, Poetry Review.
Interests: Poetry, poetry readers
Recent Activity
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We've really enjoyed our week on Best American Poetry. The UK Poetry Society blog tour will be moving on to the Scottish poet Rob Mackenzie's blog, Surroundings, on Tuesday; please come with us! Here to conclude the week is the Welsh poet Stephen Knight. Stephen Knight has published one pamphlet, four books of poems – two of which were shortlisted for the T S Eliot prize – and a novel, Mr Schnitzel, which was the Arts Council of Wales Book of the Year in 2001. His collection The Prince of Wails is just out with CB Editions. Stephen Knight won the 1992 National Poetry Competition with his poem, 'The Mermaid Tank': Beneath my weight, the duckboards bow. Two buckets, slopping water, weigh me down. A cold wind howls around the cages now, While rain sweeps in -across the town- Again; and while our rheumy-eyed, Arthritic monsters fall asleep Or vegetate I kneel beside The Songstress of The Deep And wait. ... Read the rest I first entered the National Poetry Competition when I was at university – in 1981, the fourth time it ran, so I must have been 20 or 21. I say entered, though in fact I failed miserably at the first hurdle, sending my batch of poems to the Poetry Society without an entry form. My cheque was returned with polite instructions on how to proceed. Embarrassed but undeterred, I tried every year after that, picking up a couple of £100 prizes in 1984 and 1987, then winning in 1992. It was only when the Guardian article which reported on the competition described “ten years of trying” that I was conscious of my persistence. I had simply considered it something to do every year, long before the National Lottery’s cajoling You’ve got to be in it to win it slogan. (But I’ve never bought a lottery ticket – the odds are ridiculous!) I hadn’t tried out the poem on any magazine editors before entering it – in a batch of three, if I remember correctly – but it had had an airing at that year’s Hay Festival, when I was one of seven youngish writers fortunate to attend Joseph Brodsky’s masterclass. By the time he read “The Mermaid Tank”, he had already dismissed one or more of our poems. No one was immune. Through the week, he spent more time talking about works by Auden, Frost, Rilke and Milosz than he spent looking at his students’ poems – something none of us properly appreciated at the time. We would meet in various rooms above bookshops: small windows; generously upholstered armchairs with faded flower-patterns; doilies. While everyone was heads down in the shadows reading “The Mermaid Tank”, I caught Brodsky’s eye, and he gave me a wordless thumbs-up. I was elated. A few months later, when it was time to select a few poems for that year’s competition, Brodsky’s thumb gave me some confidence in one of my choices. I should have thanked him. Check the Poetry Society... Continue reading
Posted Oct 21, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
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Julia Copus is a poet and radio playwright. She won First Prize in the National Poetry Competition in 2002 with her poem 'Breaking the Rule', and has since been awarded the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem. Last year she was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry for her radio sequence, Ghost. Her three collections are all Poetry Book Society Recommendations; her third, The World's Two Smallest Humans, was published this summer by Faber & Faber. Julia writes: Here’s how it started. I began by entering a whole group of poems – four or five, maybe (this still strikes me as a sensible tactic, by the way) – and, as it happened, the poem that ended up winning was one I’d put in almost as an afterthought. Folding the pages into an envelope, I remember thinking, safety in numbers… In fact, I’d written the winning poem a year or so before, in the public library at Lion Yard in Cambridge, where I’d recently declined a place on a PGCE course at the university. It felt like a rash decision at the time, turning aside from a lifetime of probable security as a schoolteacher, but I knew my heart wasn’t in it. So the poem was finished and filed away, and by the time it occurred to me to enter the National Poetry Competition I’d moved up to Blackburn and was working part time as a TEFL teacher at the local college. I lived then in a soot-blackened weaver’s cottage at the top of a steep hill, and it was in the kitchen of this cottage that the phone rang one ordinary afternoon with the improbable news: I had won first prize. What does elation do to you? The word comes from the Latin efferre meaning “to carry out or away”, and even in Roman times it acquired the sense of “uplifted, exalted” – carried, if you like, out of oneself. Of course, I’m not suggesting that winning the NPC is responsible for all the good things that have happened to me since, but it certainly gave me the boost I needed at the time and, though I was unaware of it then, it may also have done something to raise my profile. Once won, such honours cannot be unwon. But to continue with the etymology, by the time I received that implausible phone call, another kind of dissevering had already begun. In the eyes of the British poetry public “The National” is undoubtedly a major prize. Whatever my personal response to the win (and I’ll admit that after the elation, I quickly reverted to a more familiar mode of unease), there was a sense in which another self had been “carried away” into the outside world; a sense in which it was inhabiting an independent (albeit modest) life of its own. To this day, I am surprised when students on poetry courses or audience members at readings question me about “the poem that won the... Continue reading
Posted Oct 20, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
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Paul Adrian won the UK's National Poetry Competition in 2010 with his poem 'Robin in Flight' - the first poem he had ever sent out for publication. Since then, his poems have appeared in magazines including The Moth, And Other Poems, the poetry blog Eyewear, and an anthology of young poets, Lung Jazz. He received a commission from the British Craft Council to accompany their Twenty at Twenty exhibition. Born in 1984 in Yorkshire, he still lives there. He is a support worker for autistic adults. Here Paul talks about the journey his poem has taken him on. ... A poem is often a journey in itself. You start off reading or writing without knowing where it might take you, or what it might become. Simply put, I was reluctant to expend too much energy on my poem, because I didn’t think I had a chance. No mythologizing – I wrote it recumbent on the sofa in my flat, on a pad of A4 with a HB pencil. I started with a vague idea in my head about the malleability of matter, and slowly the page became that idea. The decision to enter it into the National Poetry Competition came late on, a second thought to another poem I (mistakenly) thought better. The two went off together, after a day of the kind of circular editing where you spend hours rearranging the words only to end up with a version identical to the one you started with. They were submitted about an hour before the competition deadline, with something of a frustrated, “that’ll have to do” resignation. I didn’t look at it again until a day or two after I found out I’d won and began to practice reading it aloud. I’d never read a poem in front of anyone before, and the first time I did was (terrified) in front of a video camera for the Poetry Society. The second time was in front of an audience of poetic notables at the award ceremony. Carol Ann Duffy was stood a few feet to my left. Since then, the poem has come and gone. I’ve been asked to sign copies of it, and responded with bewilderment. A copy which I hand-wrote and illustrated made £100 in a charity auction (doubly a surprise, considering my handwriting is barely legible). I’ve been in and out and around those two stanzas more times than I can remember, know it’s strengths, it’s weaknesses, every vowel and verb by heart. We are no longer intimate, but familiar. It no longer feels like something I created. Superior interpretations by other readers have taken away any ownership I may have once claimed. Mostly, poetry readers have no idea of me until I mention Robin and then they say “Oh, that was you”. The poem is the thing. That’s what people remember. This one became something I had no idea it knew how to be. Read the other blogs in this tour on the Poetry Society website. See... Continue reading
Posted Oct 19, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
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Photo: Keith Morris Day Two of the BAP/National Poetry Competition UK Blog Tour. Here's yesterday's Introduction, if you missed it. Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch, our blogger for today, has published three collections, Rockclimbing in Silk (Seren, 2001), Not in These Shoes (Picador, 2008) and most recently Banjo (Picador, 2012). Her poems have been widely published in magazines and anthologies. 'Ponting' won second prize in the 2011 competition just before its publication in Banjo, which selected by the Telegraph as one of the UK's best new poetry books of summer 2012. ... .... Ponting In the end we turned him into a verb: to pont meaning to pose in ice and snow until frozen. On the voyage south he’d be tilting plates in the darkroom, in one hand the developing dish, in the other a basin of vomit. One minute he’d arrange us in groups for the cinematograph, then rush to the ship’s side... (read the rest) .... Samantha writes about a flurry of activity, and the reality of the writer's shed: .... Sometimes at a canter, sometimes at a gallop, I hear a strong poem coming (or what turns out to be a strong poem) months beforehand, until the sound of hooves is so loud that the poem is at my doorstep, demanding to be written. This is what happened with Ponting. I had never received a poetry prize before... ...so the telephone call from the Poetry Society in January this year was a lovely surprise. And it was even nicer to be published in Poetry Review for the first time. The fact that Ponting resonated with the three judges gave me the much-needed confidence to embark on my next group of poems. Ponting took about two weeks to write (including research time) and twenty drafts. Then I left it in the drawer for six months. I always think it’s a good idea to leave your poem in the drawer for as long as you can. If I get twitchy about opening the drawer I start work on a new poem to distract myself from the temptation to coo over a piece of work which is so riddled with faults that I cannot even see there is no central image around which the poem can cohere, that I have not paid attention to making the most of my line breaks and that my narrative thread is so weak as to be non-existent. In the wake of the prizegiving good things happened. I found myself racing from one poetry festival to the next to give readings. At Ledbury Festival I read three times over the course of a weekend, mainly from my new collection, Banjo, which came out a couple of months after the National Poetry Competition results and included Ponting. At readings many people have said how much the poems have meant to them. I enjoy giving readings. I find that speaking the poems out loud can bring something new to them, even to me. Now I am back in the shed,... Continue reading
Posted Oct 17, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
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Here Here - and also on the sidebar to the right - is a little orange picture, with people excitedly scrambing over an enormous open book. This is your portal to entering the UK's National Poetry Competition - in reality, an international poetry competition - possibly the most important competition for an unpublished poem in the UK. A competition has a life beyond the words first, second, third. This year, to celebrate the life and afterlife of the poems that win, or are commended - and the journeys poets find themselves on, sometimes merely as a result of deciding to enter - we're taking some of the most interesting poets in the UK on a 'blog tour' to talk about their own poems and experiences. 'Best American Poetry' is kindly hosting us for this week; we'll be posting up at least one post a day. So read what the poets have to say, find your best poem, click the picture, enter the competition - you never know where you're going. To begin, here's a piece that appears in the current issue of Poetry News, our members' newsletter: The kids are back at school and the nights are drawing in – it’s that time of year again. That’s right: the “season of mist and mellow fruitfulness”, when poems from up and down the country, and around the world, make their way to the Poetry Society for the UK’s most important poem competition. The holiday season is over and it’s time to get the pick of your poems ready for their big day out. For 34 years, the National Poetry Competition has been making a difference: both to well-known poets and to the new names the competition has brought to the fore, whether as winners, as ‘commendeds’ or ‘placed’. Every year the judges, and the staff in the office, feel a palpable excitement; last year saw over 11,000 poems submitted and the winners and commendations reflected the thrill of new discoveries. New discoveries included last year’s third prizewinner, Zaffar Kunial for ‘Hill Speak’, who had never sent a poem anywhere before (though he had been writing for years). In 2010, Paul Adrian’s first-prize-winning poem ‘Robin in Flight’ was also his first published poem. How do you help your poem put its best foot forward in such company? Even after he won, Paul Adrian said, “the calibre of the past winners is truly intimidating”. But your poem is not up against past winners: it’s up against the other poems sent in for this competition, and they are all judged anonymously. Paul added, “The NPC is wonderful in its democracy: open to all, professionals and amateurs alike, and judged anonymously, it focuses solely on the strength of the poetry.” Ian Duhig has sat on both sides of the fence, as both a competition winner and (in 2001) a competition judge (with Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, Michele Roberts, and Michael Donaghy). Here’s what he says about that process: “All the good poems somehow created space around... Continue reading
Posted Oct 16, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
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Oct 2, 2012