It was really wonderful reading these poems and experiencing a teenager’s take on the world again. I enjoyed the way many of these poems weren’t afraid to draw on their personal life experiences – this made them feel authentic. For me, the shared traits of the most successful poems, and the ones we’ve chosen as winners, are: the ability to use that personal experience and emotion to relate to a larger world; very specific images, many of the less successful poems got caught up in the bigness of the driver behind the poem and so the poem became abstract, and sometimes cliched; the boldness and willingness to experiment, both with form and subject matter and with this problematic notion of ‘making sense’, the winning poems show that a collection of specific, well-written images can create a ‘mood’ or sense of their own without telling the reader exactly what to think. This shows that these students are actually reading contemporary poetry and being excited and inspired by what they’re finding out there, and that, in turn, excites and inspires me.
It was lovely seeing the various lenses students had on the world, and how they’d used poetry to focus in on certain aspects of life. There was a wonderful abundance of emotion, lots of great imagery, some powerful sentiments, and some very good writing. An editorial recommendation would be: don’t be afraid to do away with the original writing prompt if it doesn’t serve the purpose of the poem any more. When writing about emotion, try to be specific and descriptive about objects, events or people so that the emotional words don’t become the only thing in the poem, because it becomes much harder for the reader to understand what is going on in the poem if there is nothing for them to hang on to. People like to read about detailed, specific things and to gather their own emotions from those things, rather than just being told about a whole lot of big feelings. Having said this, it was lovely to judge this competition and there are some great new writers out there in New Zealand! How exciting! Well done all of you.