I’ve recently finished judging the third James Kirkup Memorial Competition, and I’ve enjoyed it very much. I have to admit though, that when the big batch of numbered entries came through the mail box I was a bit daunted, particularly since the judging period coincided with preparations for StAnza and getting Alec Finlay’s book published. But as soon as I started reading the manuscripts I was lost in the process.
There were just short of 200 entries, and I was asked to pick one winner, who would have a pamphlet published by Red Squirrel Press, and 24 runners-up, who would all appear in a Red Squirrel pamphlet. I read through all the entries first, and was delighted with the overall quality of the poems. After a few days, I did a more critical reading, marking those I thought deserved further consideration. That reduced the number by about half. A few days later I read through these ticked entries, double ticking some, and leaving others with a query mark. Then I read through the ones I had not selected, just to make sure I hadn’t overlooked any gems. Finally, I picked 25 I thought should go into the anthology. I had changed my mind on a couple of poems, but not many – I think my first impressions were mostly the right ones here. The job of selecting an overall winner from the 25 was perhaps the most difficult, but I chose one which I thought was very accomplished, subtle and strong.
After that, I sent Red Squirrel’s publisher, Sheila Wakefield, my list of numbers, with some notes on my choices. In turn she sent me a list of the names of the poets. Some of the names I knew, most I did not, and that pleased me. I hadn’t guessed any of the entrants from their styles or contents, which pleased me even more. The anonymity of the judging process, in this and other competitions, is something which matters enormously. I didn’t know the winner at all, but I look forward to reading her pamphlet in due course. And I’ve since bumped into several of the runners-up, so I know how much their success in this competition means to them. Details are up on the Red Squirrel website.