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This report is taken from PN Review 206, Volume 38 Number 6, July - August 2012.

The World of Poetry Competitions
: How It All Began
John Lucas
'And the winners are... Gerald Broomhead Walker, Clive Sansom, J.R. Fletcher, Jack R. Clemo, Robert Conquest, J.C. Grant, Theodore Nicholl and L.A. Bedford.' What the eight had won was a share in the prize money of£1000, which in 1951 the Arts Council chose to put up for the Festival of Britain Poetry Competition. According to John Hayward, who wrote the introduction to the Penguin edition of the winning poems, there were 2093 entries for a competition whose only conditions were 1) that it be open only to 'citizens of the British Commonwealth and Republic of Ireland', and 2) that the entrants had either to produce 'single long poems of not less than three hundred lines' or 'collections of between six and twelve short poems of not more than fifty lines each'.

'English poetry is once again putting on new strength and beauty.' Since Edward Marsh's famous pronouncement we have grown used to each new decade being heralded as promising something special for poetry. But Hayward is certainly not about to claim that the Festival Competition has unearthed any major talents. He even suggests that any open competition may guarantee that 'the most deserving will not compete and so leave the field free for the second-rate', from which we can infer that most named poets of the day didn't enter. And, picking over the bones, he laments the large amount of bad verse the judges have had to read, 'ranging in ineptitude from the expanded cracker-motto to grandiloquent failures to ...

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