Neil AstleyNewcastle, UK

Meet the Judges: Neil Astley

Neil Astley shares what he will be looking for in the winning collections and other thoughts on The Poetry Business Book & Pamphlet Competition…

I’ve always thought that The Poetry Business Book & Pamphlet competition is especially valuable in making it possible for any poet to have a widely circulated pamphlet published purely on the basis of the quality of their work, regardless of any personal connections. A Poetry Business pamphlet can be a stepping stone to publication of a full collection either with Smith|Doorstop or another leading poetry publisher. Along with Michael Schmidt and Amy Wack, I’ve published a number of first collections at Bloodaxe by poets who started out by winning the Poetry Business competition.

While Michael Schmidt, Amy Wack and I have a lot in common — recognising and championing literary quality and diversity — we don’t always favour the same kinds of work, which means anyone entering the competition this year will have the chance of having their work judged by three publishers whose editorial taste is refreshingly wide-ranging. If this is a first collection, entrants should make sure they include all their strongest poems. If it’s not, then I’d recommend going for unity, assembling a collection which works well as a coherent whole. If you aren’t sure whether to enter, I’d suggest showing the collection to a trusted writer friend.

What I will be looking for…

I will be looking for a writer who is doing something new, something different. I want something more than just a collection of good, well-written poems: there are a lot of those about, so many collections, whether books or pamphlets, that could be written by anyone. I’m always looking for poetry which is distinctively and recognisably the work of that particular new writer. The poems should read unlike anyone else’s and that writer’s stamp has to be felt right through the whole pamphlet, so that the whole work feels like a coherent, consistently strong collection imbued with that writer’s particular imagination and way of writing. That’s my stance as Bloodaxe editor and I’d carry that over to judging the pamphlet collections submitted to the competition. Because the entries are anonymous, I’m expecting the stand-out collections to be noticeably different from the rest.