National Poetry Competition
Tips From Last Year's Judges

When the judges came in to make the final decision on the winner of the 2009 competition we asked them to sum up what makes a successful entry. Follow these tips from Daljit Nagra, Ruth Padel and Neil Rollinson and increase your chances of winning! 

Judges' Tips:

  • Don't use large or unconventional fonts.
  • Think carefully if you intend to centralise your poem, as this might come across as unconsidered and ill thought out.
  • Photographs, hand drawn illustrations or clip art images tend to lower the tone of an entry.
  • Consider your use of italic and bold text. Poems written completely in italics or bold for no reason tend to read clumsily.
  • Keep the presentation of your poems as neutral and neat as possible.
  • For the most part it is suggested that you avoid epigraphs or footnotes explaining the poem - a poem should stand alone without these.
  • Abstract nouns in the title or first line of a poem can be off putting, they cannot be visualised and can make the poem difficult to grasp.
  • Pretentious asides or instructions that try to 'tell' the reader how the poem should be read should be avoided.
  • Coloured paper or other novel ways of presenting your poem will not benefit your entry. Judges much prefer to see something that is neatly and professionally presented.
  • When you think your poem is finished and perfectly polished, read through every line and word and think 'Do I really need you?'.
  • Try reading your entry aloud to yourself. This might help you pick up on any snags or rhythmic glitches. The judges may well read entries aloud to each other, so a poem that 'feels right' in the mouth will have a greater chance of success.
  • The judges are on the side of the poem. If the judges feel that the poet has misjudged the poem's tone or 'let in' too many lines then they will put the work aside.