by John Glenday: 2022 judge, Poetry and Publishers’ Awards
Almost two hundred pamphlets – a breathtaking range of formats, subject matters and authors. All we needed to do was narrow that down from two hundred to one. It sounds all but impossible – how can we judges possibly decide which should be on our shortlists and which of these is the best pamphlet? With such a dizzying array of submissions, what does ‘best’ even mean? For me, the process was surprising and informative. As I went through the submissions I found they fell into two broad categories: those which after a reading seemed to lose something of their lustre and appeal and those which insisted on being read again – this might be because of the sheer quality of the poems or because they were speaking to me in new ways, or regarding new concerns. From the latter, a long list of pamphlets gradually emerged. Some of these grew in authority the more they were read; others seemed to fall quiet with rereading. And so my shortlist surfaced, rereading by rereading.
The hardest part will always be setting aside excellent pamphlets that deserve to be included in a shortlist if there were only more room. Pamphlets such as Karl Knight’s ‘Kin’ – compelling tales of survival in the face of disability, or the array of talented poets published for the first time by Green Bottle Press – I was particularly impressed by Iulia David’s ‘Blueprint’ and Milena Williamson’s ‘Charm for Catching a Train’.
The next stage is always trickier – the negotiations and discussions with other judges, promoting our favourites; listening to the qualities of theirs; reading poems aloud to each other to hear how they survive in the air, gradually agreeing on which should populate our common shortlist. I was surprised at the level of concordance between us – it was heartening that favourite pamphlets were echoed by the other judges, but what I found remarkable was the way particular pamphlets grew in authority and insistence the more we discussed them.
All this time, you see, it was the strongest pamphlets themselves which were demanding to be read and reread; the pamphlets which most perfectly inhabited their form, the pamphlets which continued to tell us something new in utterly new ways. In other words, the pamphlets themselves were doing the deciding. Great poems always insist on our attention. So as we draw towards an overall conclusion, an outright winner, I’m comfortable not so much that we will choose the right pamphlet to win this prestigious award, but that the right pamphlet will choose us.