I’ve entered a nationwide competition which asked for creative work produced during lockdown. 

The competition is called King Lear because, apparently, Shakespeare wrote that play in 1605-1606 when there was an outbreak of a plague in London.

You had to be over 65 to enter and I’ve sent in a number of my Covid-related poems.

The judge for the poetry is the writer and broadcaster, Gyles Brandreth.

I don’t know quite know how he is going to manage to select a winner because there have been over 16,000 entries!

I’m just wondering how they’re going to whittle them all down?  I’ve heard they’ve got a large number of Oxford students to help.

How good, I wonder, are Oxford students at judging poetry?  And how are they possibly going to undertake this seemingly impossible task?

They could well take the the advice of a recruiter in the advertising industry who once gave a talk to my students on the do’s and don’ts of job applications.

For every graduate training post, some agencies would receive hundreds of entries. So how to cut them down to a manageable size?

The first thing they did, before even opening any of them, would be to discard any that were not in a white A4 size envelope.   That probably got rid of about half.

They would then throw away any where the contents had been folded.  That got rid of another quarter.

If the address was handwritten or in anything other than black type, those envelopes too would be chucked.

The envelope had to have been addressed to the correct person, correctly spelt, properly lined up.

We’re now down to less than a quarter of the original applicants.  And that is before they opened the envelopes!

The application had to be a maximum of two pages of A4, word processed and on clean plain white paper. No use of colour or fancy fonts. And, of course, no spelling mistakes or typos.

There are probably now only about fifty applications left to read.

However, the majority of the King Lear applications will be online. The only criteria was the age of the candidate and that the poem had to be 40 lines or fewer.

How does one judge poetry?

Are you are a fan of e.e. cummings who only wrote poetry in lower case?

Then there’s Larkin who famously wrote – “They f… you up, your mum and dad …”

And what about Pam Ayres, the nation’s poetry treasure, whose most popular poem starts, “Oh, I wish I’d looked after me teeth …”

Or how about William Topaz McGonagall the Scottish poet who was notorious for writing extremely bad poetry that seldom scanned? The fact that we’ve heard of him today means that someone must have liked him even though his poems are regarded as some of the worst in English literature! Here’s an extract from his poem, The Bridge of Tay.

When the train left Edinburgh
The passengers’ hearts were light and felt no sorrow,
But Boreas blew a terrific gale,
Which made their hearts for to quail,
And many of the passengers with fear did say-
“I hope God will send us safe across the Bridge of Tay.”

I feel a wave of sympathy for the Oxford students. How many McGonagalls will they have to read before they come across something prize worthy?

I  find that much of today’s poetry needs to be read a dozen times before it starts to make any sense.  Is that how poetry should be? What do you think? Who are your favourite poets?

Results in September. I’m not holding my breath. Watch this space!



© Andrea Neidle, My Life in Poems



  1. I agree with a lot of what you said Andrea. I often don’t understand modern poetry so don’t get anything out of it.
    Good luck Gyles Brandreth ! Like you I won’t be holding my breath !


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