“Le Mans & the manuscript”
New Poets 17 Judge’s report delivered 1 November 2011 SAWC Rundle Mall
Why your poem is like a car
The spark from your plug
at just the right moment.
Your valves fan air & fuel
compress, combust, seal.
When your piston moves
oil’s kept from the sump
or, like Icarus you’d burn, be lost.
Without a connecting rod
your crankshaft won’t rotate
there’ll be no Jack springing from any box
or tricks from any toolkit trade.
So your poem is like a car
kitted out for the endurance race
to rally throughout the day
and all through the night.
I speak figuratively for a purpose. My simile brings me to expand why poems are like cars into why poetry collections are like car races, or particularly, Le Mans. And the reason is simple; it’s that key word: endurance.
I speak of the effort of writing a manuscript – not the process of judging. For, like a sports commentator, I’m passionate about that job and it was a pleasure, not a chore.
This is for the NP17 competitors who entered the field. Like a Le Mans start, they lined up, sprinted into their cars, jumped in and took off. For those of you unfamiliar with my motorsport metaphor, I’ll briefly fill you in:
Begun in France, 1923, Le Mans is the oldest sports car race in the world. It’s also known as “the Grand Prix of Endurance and Efficiency” where teams have to balance speed against the cars’ ability to run 24 hours straight. What counts, is the way fuel, tyres, and brakes are maintained. Drivers rotate shifts two-hourly with three drivers to each competing car.
So much for Le Mans – I think there are three things I like about my comparison - firstly, is its continuous nature – this is unlike drag racing, for a manuscript there is no quick sprint, it takes unremitting thought. Secondly, it’s not just round and round like NASCAR – you need to be more varied than stock variety – and keep prepared with a variety of tools and strategies, where your manuscript is not the same throughout, but is full of surprises, and thirdly, it’s not so cross-country as rally – though maybe a full collection for a book is as tough as the Paris – Dakar in a Kamaz truck, but a la Le Mans, is a first manuscript in a shared collection like NP17.
You’ll remember what was needed: fuel, tyres, braking.
Fuel – you need the resource to make the poem ‘go’. It’s not just gas, it’s combustible – able to be sparked into ignition – and go the distance. Some poems fizzle, splutter, and don’t really leave the starting line. Some peter out before the end – the race fuel was not conserved properly, not paced, and the juice ran out before the end.
Tyres – you need traction, and for the rubber to last, not shred before the end. Some poems are too slick, others too deeply grooved. Like your choice of tyre for climatic conditions, your poetry manuscript must suit its competition.
Finally, braking – knowing when to apply pressure, to adjust to the corners a poem might through up – a curve, a hilltop – a collection must encompass all the topography and know how and when to stop.
As I do now, to announce my selection. I commend all the entrants and thank you for the thoughts and emotions you presented me. I feel privileged. I’d like to particularly note four special mentions: manuscripts entitled ‘Guerilla Poet’, ‘Buttons on my dress’, ‘A Tourist without a Map’, and ‘The Spaces in Between’. To each of the contestants unsuccessful tonight, I encourage you to keep honing your craft and to resubmit in future years.
For the three winning publication in NP17, I’m very excited to announce the manuscripts: ‘Fence Music’, ‘Gunyah Healing’, and ‘Sliding down the belly of the world’. I can’t wait to see the book in print and look forward to its launch next year – it will be a strong collection and everyone here will want to buy multiple copies.