Sonnets for SIWA – the results


Well it’s all done and dusted now. Results have been handed out, winners cheered and others given their “short, helpful comments” from the judge. 

Who were the winners? (Drumroll please)

1st: Elizabeth Robertson, “My father is never lonely”,
Runner-up: Shirley Eng, “A Bicycle sonnet”,
Commended: Janice Healey, “Water! Right!”,
and Mary Fitzgerald, “Post Spring Song”.

I genuinely had no idea who had written any of these. Fascinating! And well done. 

For future information (and for the heck of it), I’ve posted my general remarks below. If you entered the competition and would like my full comments on your poem, email me with your non de plume and I’ll send them to you.


Judge’s Report

In judging this competition I asked two questions:

how well written were they as poems,
and how well did they function as sonnets?

My own sonnet requirements are fairly simple: it should be either fourteen lines or a proportional approximation; there should be thematic development throughout; and there must be a volta or equivalent point (or points) of reflection. Regularity of metre (as long as it didn’t get predictable) and use of rhyme (ditto) would attract bonus marks, but were not essential.

A few general remarks:

  • Read your poem out loud a couple of times before you decide it’s finished. Then get someone else to read it. A number of poems were impossibly clumsy when read aloud.
  • Proof-read your poem before you submit it. Correct spelling and adequate punctuation are at the very least a courtesy to your reader. Give your poem every chance of being interpreted the way you intend.
  • Many poems were let down by poetic inversion: changing the natural word order around to either sound “poetic”, or to accommodate a syllable count or a rhyme. A couple of examples would be “As my lips your froth filters”, and “For these thin bones and cold”.
  • Unless you are adopting a persona, write in an idealised version of the way you would speak. To quote Salt Publishing’s Chris Hamilton-Emery:

“Those who wish to write in the manner of 19th Century Romantic poets should seek a publisher of the same era.”

  • There’s more to rhyme than full rhyme (moon/ spoon/ June). Slant rhyme (moon/ boot, or moon/ spin) is subtle and effective. But it needs to happen more than once, or it will seem accidental. And rhyme doesn’t have to happen at the end of lines – try rhyming the end of one line with the middle of the next.
  • Don’t wrench normal word order or sense in order to fit a rhyme or syllable count. To work well, rhyme needs to be natural and/or surprising. Although bizarre rhyme is an effective comic device (as long as you mean to be funny).
  • Iambic pentameter is an average, not a rule. And ten syllables does not equal iambic pentameter. Vary it. You can add as many unaccented syllables as you like.
  • When writing in a form, do a bit of reading first to see how modern versions of the form are being written, and what is considered to be important. Modern sonnets don’t have to rhyme, or follow any particular metrical pattern. But they almost always are 14 lines long, and use some sort of volta.

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