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This review is taken from PN Review 62, Volume 14 Number 6, July - August 1988.

CULTURAL COMMONWEALTH Under Another Sky: An Anthology of Commonwealth Poetry Prize Winners, edited by Alastair Niven (Carcanet) £6.95 pb.

A poetry competition judge is reported to have opened proceedings by announcing that it would be perverse to award first prize to anyone but X. Certainly there is a fair bit of perversity in most committee decisions, which tend to compromise eccentricity out of the running, but then, judges who back hunches about innovation or difficulty often look equally odd. Winners are sometimes described as the second choice of the majority of judges. Fleur Adcock's more optimistic view, in her witty poem about prize poems, is that whatever kind of poem it is, 'it's got to be good'. With big competitions now attracting thousands of entries (several thousand individual poems for the Arvon or National Poetry Competitions, a 'shortlist' of a hundred slim volumes for Bloodaxe's recent attempt to encourage new authors, a regular entry of over five hundred for the Yale Younger Poets yearly trawl), 'winning' seems more and more a lottery. The arguments for competitions include giving poetry more publicity, bringing good - and not so good - poets into the open, making poor work subsidize excellent work. With entrants willingly paying £2.50 per poem, the commercial argument may be crude but it is very powerful indeed. Against this, of course, comes the observation that poetry is not a competition; however artists may strive for the glittering prizes, Time is the only judge. Many would argue that the whole business of 'competitions' is an absurdity. Poets have been known to refuse to allow their work to be ...


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