I’m judging the O’ Donoghue Poetry Competition at the moment. I’m charged with choosing 13 prizewinning poems from between one and two thousand poems entered. I’ve read about 500 poems now and already I’ve found at least a dozen great poems. What’s disconcerting is that there will possibly be over a thousand more entries to read, at least another couple of dozen great poems will emerge from that pile. I will be left with 30-40 great poems and can choose only one first prize winner and twelve other prizewinners.
Aside from these great poems I expect there will be at least one or two hundred others deserving of periodical publication - even if they’re not quite capable of impressing me more than the first 30-40. No poetry competition lists a couple of hundred honourable mentions. It’s disconcerting to know in advance that the authors of many fine and accomplished poems will not get to know I liked their work. But that’s the nature of the game. I’ve been runner-up a couple of times for poetry book and manuscript competitions but I’ve never come anywhere in a single poem competition. As I do the necessary cull of the poems not getting into the final 13 I think to myself “So this is what has happened to every poem I’ve ever entered in a competition”. One side of me is ruthless in its decision-making, the other side is filled with empathy.
At least people can rest assured that unlike the situation with many other competitions all the profits raised by entry fees in the O’Donoghue award will go in payments to writers, writers who win prizes in the competition, writers who will be published in Southword and some writers invited to the Cork Spring Poetry Festival. The only other expenses are the money we spend on advertising the competition.
All of us at the Munster Literature Centre are so grateful to the entrants for parting with their money for the benefit of our registered charity.
Normally there is a fee for the judge of the competition, but one of the reasons I’m judging it this year is because the Munster Literature Centre needs to divert the usual judge’s fee to the budget for the Cork Spring Poetry Festival. I’m determined that the judge should change each year. Last year’s judge Leanne O’Sullivan is in the middle of editing the poetry section for four full issues of Southword and won’t be replaced as editor until after next Summer. The next paid judge of the competition will be the poet who succeeds Leanne as Southword’s poetry editor.
In the meantime I’m maintaining my patience until the last entry is in before checking out the authorship of the great poems which have reached me minus their author’s names. As the expression goes “I can’t wait to find out who they are”, but actually, I must do and will do.