All poems will be judged anonymously by our panel of judges;

Damian Smyth, Head of Literature & Drama at Arts Council of Northern Ireland. Head Judge

Head Judge Damian Smyth is deeply involved with the arts in Northern Ireland, with projects such as “One CIty One Book NI 2014”, as well as throughout Europe as part of the Corners European Xpeditions. He has published many works including both plays and his own poetry collections.

Tips from Damian:

1) Be direct, simple and blunt.
2) Don’t try to be ‘poetic’ or ‘delicate’ or ‘difficult’.
3) Don’t try to find ways NOT to say what you mean.
4) Give the poem its head when it is being written – you should not know where it is going to end up by the last line.
5) Don’t chunder out platitudes. Surprise yourself first.
6) Don’t dare be a bore. That’s a risk too far.
7) Remember the lonesome whippoorwill.
8) No one other than you needs to see your drafts. Take those many opportunities to say unexpected, even shocking, things.
9) Metaphor – describing one thing in terms of another different thing – is in fact CHANGING one thing into another. That is a form of magic. Don’t waste it.
10) Avoid abstract words – ‘Grief’, ‘Memory’, ‘Loss’. You can get away with ‘Love’, but not as often as you’d like to think.
11) Remember your readers believe what you tell them. Make it easy for them to do so.
12) Don’t be afraid of writing a sentence in poetry. The world doesn’t come in squares and oblongs.
13) Mean it.


Ross Thompson, Overall winner in 2013

Ross Thompson, having won the competition in 2013, returns as a judge. Last year the Judges felt there was a great energy to his poem, and that it was eerie and interesting with a a use of unusual language. The Judges loved the line, “The moon appeared to ripple as if reflected / in a bucket…”. They felt like this exploded in the middle of the poem. In June of this year, Ross launched his first pamphlet, Slumberland, published with Pen Points Press, and is currently working on other poetry projects.

Tips from Ross:

1) Write honestly. The more honestly, the better. If a memory makes you cringe with embarrassment or wince with pain, it will most likely make for a strong basis for a poem. Don’t be afraid of revealing something about yourself. That said, it’s not therapy so people don’t necessarily need to hear the innermost workings of your fevered mind.
2) Write with emotion. If the poem you are writing does not move you, it’s not likely that it will move your reader. Saying that, avoid being maudlin or cloying. Rather than writing about the full scale of a tragedy, focus on a small aspect of that tragedy: a broken necklace, a discarded shoe, an unopened letter, an unfinished piece of graffiti during wartime. You can’t possibly cover all aspects of a full-scale catastrophe in a sonnet but you can capture a snapshot. However, there are certain things that do not need to be described in words. There is nothing you can add to a melancholic story or event that already speaks loudly enough.
3) Write musically. A poem is not a short story, newspaper article or instructions for assembling a trophy cabinet. It should catch the ear when read aloud. Rhythm and rhyme (half, full, end or mid-line rhymes all work) along with sibilance, assonance, onomatopoeia, metaphor… are all hugely effective ways of catching your reader’s ear. Certain words are magical when rubbed together. Others are dull and lifeless so discard them and move on.
4) Write tonally. The maxim goes that good writing shows, not tells. You can convey thoughts and feelings by evoking an atmosphere rather than describing something in exacting detail. However, words can be powerful weapons so don’t be afraid to use them.
5) Write sparingly. Limiting yourself to a certain number of syllables (iambic tetrameter, for example) is a very useful and often productive exercise as one very quickly learns the value of words. If something in a poem is overstaying its welcome you should boot it quicker than a bad tenant.
6) Write and write and write. Jack Kerouac claimed to believe in the “First thought, best thought” approach, eschewing redrafts in favour of spontaneous creation. This, I would contend, is nonsense. A poem often requires work and lots of it, and this is no bad thing. If a poem does not cost you something, if it does not take part of you on the way out, then it has little value.


Beverley Brown, Funeral Services N.I.

Beverley Brown joined the senior management team of James Brown & Sons, Funeral Services Northern Ireland, in 2007, after returning home to Belfast from managing a leading UK fashion store on London’s Oxford Street and was appointed to the role of General Manager in 2010. Responsible for the overall running of 19 funeral homes across Northern Ireland, Beverley has a management team of 13 and a staff of 120. She managed the inaugural ‘Carer of the Year’ Awards for James Brown & Sons earlier this year and last year oversaw the opening of a new funeral home in Newtownards and the redevelopment of the branch in Larne.Committed to local community engagement, Beverley was involved in more than 400 community events in 2011 and the company won the Co-Operative Group’s ‘Community Event of the Year’. Beverley is a Mentor for The Prince’s Trust.