Friday, 16 May 2008

How NOT to win a Strokestown poetry any price!

At the outset Poet-in-Residence must say that he holds the poet George Szirtes in high regard. He must also admit to having won (and also not having won) a poetry contest and having been (and not having been) a final-stage judge in a poetry contest. He can therefore consider the 'how NOT to win a Strokestown poetry contest...' scenario from all sides.
But this item is not really about what it claims to be about. It's rather about the unfair cost of entries in the recently judged Strokestown 2008 Poetry Competition.
What drew P-i-R's attention to the Strokestown competition leaflet, made it stand out from the others, when it arrived at the P-i-R residence was the fact that George Szirtes was highlighted as the main judge. Now, George Szirtes is nothing if he is not scrupulously honest. In this respect he is the dream candidate for the position of chief judge in a major international poetry contest such as the Strokestown. This fact, and this fact alone, persuaded P-i-R to read the whole of the entry leaflet.
What struck P-i-R as curious were the entry-fee details. A UK entrant had to fork out 4 pounds (equal to almost $8) whilst a USA poet had to pay only $5(equal to 2.50p) per poem. In other words the UK entrant had to pay nearly twice as much as his USA rival to get a poem onto the judging table. Or to put it another way, the USA entrant could submit twice as many poems for the same price!
But that wasn't all. The Eurozone entrant (including George Szirtes' fellow citizens in Hungary) had to pay €5 per entry - also significantly much higher than the USA entrant. And bear in mind that wages in Hungary are significantly lower than in the USA and the UK.
Poet-in-Residence decided to bring all this blatant unfairness to the attention of the judges and any other interested parties by means of a spoof poem. The poem would highlight not only the absurdity of the Strokestown entry fee structure but also allude, with a sprinkling of German words, to the subjugated Hungarian spirit kept down by the Austro-Hungarian Empire and almost destroyed by the Third Reich but ending with, hopefully a wry smile on the honest face of George Szirtes when he reads that Austrians and Germans now flock to Hungary on free buses to have their teeth done. And reads that the author is facing a Hungarian dentist armed with a drill.
The following sycophantic spoof poem was duly written and entered in the contest. It goes without saying that it didn't make it to the short list. To read the poems that did make it, visit the handy Strokestown link in the Poet-in-Residence sidebar at left.

Dentistry in Mosonmagyarova

You'll not be getting many Strokestown poems
from Ungarn*
not this year George
not with the price of free bus dentistry
being tied to the €urozone
in orts* like Mosonmagyarova
just think of all those bad teeth George
and the price of a couplet in the Strokestown
sent prioritaire* from the €ast €uropean €urozone
you know exactly what it takes George
a man of your calibre
a man with your canon
what it takes to make a measly $ollar or measly €uro
in a place like Buda
the exchange rate George
know what I mean pal, buddy, mate, amigo,
now if my Ungarn* crony Tibor* was a spangle-heeled Yank
or just an average sort of oil sheik
wheeling and dealing in barrels of oil $ollars
things would be a lot different
a mere klax
he'd offer you ten at cut price
he tells me
poems that is
not teeth George
to oil the wheels of the canon
know what I mean George
or maybe it has recently escaped your notice
that they're out on the streets again these days
blocking up the chain bridge*
smashing up the parliament
it's the rate of exchange for the old landsleute* George
it's that business with Strokestown sticking its financial oar in
you know what I mean George
all that Strokestown financial clout
all those nest eggs in brown paper bags
all those common cormorants and shags
all that bad maths
all that reckoning up
and reckoning down

so how do you reckon it George pal, buddy, mate, amigo
reckon 5 greenbacks in DC
gets you 5 measley €uro in Pest

and while you're chewing on that one George
I'm facing the guy with the drill.

c)- 2008

*Ungarn - German for Hungary
*orts - German for places, generally villages or small towns
*Tibor - Tibor Fischer, Hungarian author of 'Under the Frog' (humorous novel about survival in the face of oppression - contains wonderful dialogue such as 'I'm just going to shake the snake' - one which you might like to try at your next cocktail party!)
*prioritaire - 1st class post or air mail
*chain bridge - a Budapest landmark where students and workers recently demonstrated
against the government which they claim won the election by telling lies
*landsleute - German for fellow-citizens or people having a common nationality


  1. very interesting on the fees - maybe conversion charges inflate the non-dollar fees but then contests with entry fees don't interest me at all.

    PS it really is time you learnt how to put the links into your posts rather than just in the sidebar.

  2. Thanks for your comment Gerald! Re the links in the sidebar rather than in the posts I plead guilty as charged. The reason I like to keep the links in the sidebar is so that I can access them at a glance at some future date and not have to hunt through the old postings.

  3. You can do both.

    Links in the sidebar are fine for having a good list of regularly visited sites.

    But when someone reads a specific post the appropriate link should be there to be clicked. Expecting people to hunt for the link in the sidebar is a bit unfruitful. Most people won't bother.

  4. Thanks Gerald, I'm all thumbs when it comes to computer technology but I'll give it a go!

  5. I found it interesting that all (if I remember correctly) the winners & shortlisted were roughly about the same (cf. thin fashion models or Miss World conatestants) in their careers, academic jobs, publishing credits, prizes boasted, etc. Most of the poems (or so it seemed) are standard elegies) and none touched on ecology, war & peace, global warming, etc., the impersonal facts that affect us very personally indeed.

  6. Dear Anonymous, I confess I didn't read the winning poems or buy the anthology etc., but I have just finished reading Tropic of Cancer (published in 1936 in Paris - banned for 30 years elsewhere), a book greatly admired by Samuel Beckett, - and I find it is bang up to date, over 70 years on, regarding what you rightly call "the impersonal facts.." right from the off. - e.g. we're in Paris waiting for the war to start". Now there's real grown-up writing!


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