I must confess to a deeply-rooted antipathy to writing contests of every kind. The idea of grading a writer's work against the work of other writers in order of excellence seems to me to indicate a gross presumption on the part of those who offer to make such distinctions. A few minutes' research into the opinions, expressed in their own time, of the work of those who have now been acknowledged as masters should give any critic pause.

It can't be said too often that the judgement of any work of art by any contemporary can never be anything but tentative; the only test of the worth of any work of art is time. If people are cherishing it in later ages, it can be assumed that the artist was possessed of excellence in his time and of today - whether or not it was so judged at that time. It is not possible to make such a pronouncement about the work of a contemporary writer, and we ought to be questioning such pronouncements fron the critics who fill the "quality" papers with their profundities, and who make such presumptuous distinctions with no hesitation at all. 'Writing contests' can only serve to confirm these people in their all-too-evident conviction that they possess some divine sense of judgement which qualifies them to pronounce upon the work of their contemporaries.

We are so accustomed in our schools and universities to having our English essays 'marked' that we are perhaps beginning to accept that there are critics capable of marking any written work. There are not, and it ought to be said loud and clear - and more often.


Once there was a time, my masters
When a humble rhymester's prize
Was a simple wreath of laurel,
Priceless in a poet's eyes.

Only fools expected money;
No one whined that he was broke;
'Twas the normal dispensation
Till some enterprising bloke

Found a way to make a fortune
For himself and certain friends,
Bringing palpable enhancement
To their means, if not their ends.

They approached a politician,
Made appropriate genuflexion,
And he gave them public money
(Just in time for the Election).

"Now." they said, "We'll launch a Contest
And we'll charge two quid a time;
There'll be thousands of the suckers
Sending in their turgid rhyme !

We will offer splendid prizes !
We'll enlist some famous names !
With such backing, who will question
Us, and our ingenious games ?"

They were right; they made a packet;
(Easy money's always sweet).
Did the thousands who had entered
Ever see a balance sheet ?

None, it seems, asked any questions,
No one said, "Hang on a bit !
Who gets all that extra lolly ?
No one yet has mentioned it !"

Is the gentle Will, I wonder,
Turning in his winding-sheet
As he hears these eager rhymesters
Madly rushing to compete ?

Would the sweet-tongued Bard of Avon,
Contemplating such showbiz,
Recognize these bards of Arvon
As compatriots of his ?