A judge's viewpoint

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Re: A judge's viewpoint

Post by Heather » Sat Dec 11, 2010 8:15 pm

David I'd like to add my thanks for your helpful comments. I'm also new to writing bush poetry. Knowing the "rules" has helped me improve my writing.

I guess it boils down to there is a time and place for everything. If you don't like the rules then you don't enter the competitions or you enter the appropriate competitions - if competitons are the way you wish to go.

With to the reference to the preamble. The poem in question that I had written was dedicated to someone and I wondered if I could write that. In the end I found I was able to convey that in the poem and I am very happy with the result.

I hope to attend more festivals in the future with the aim of listening, enjoying and learning.

Heather :)
Last edited by Heather on Sun Dec 12, 2010 10:35 am, edited 1 time in total.

william williams

Re: A judge's viewpoint

Post by william williams » Sat Dec 11, 2010 9:18 pm

:lol: Hi Stephen in answer to your queastion it easy to differentiate the difference between the Stoat and a Weasel

:cry: Now the Weasel is Weasely distinguished

:roll: And the Stoat is Stoately different

:o Now there you have it


william williams

Re: A judge's viewpoint

Post by william williams » Sat Dec 11, 2010 9:21 pm

David you answers to those problem are very helpfull and thank you once again

Bill Williams the old Battler

David J Delaney

Re: A judge's viewpoint

Post by David J Delaney » Wed Dec 15, 2010 3:12 pm

G'day David, I to am a late-comer, thank you so much for your explanation from a judges point of view, considering it was I who started the "grammar" thread, I'll just have to knuckle down & try to learn more.

Thank you again,

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Re: A judge's viewpoint

Post by Bellobazza » Thu Dec 16, 2010 1:46 pm

G'day David...
I would like to add my thanks to you for taking the time to provide such a thorough and concise insight into the judging process.
I would also like to take the opportunity applaud the contribution that our judges make to the bush poetry community and its continued success. Theirs is an unenviable yet invaluable task; my mind boggles at the thought of weighing the comparitive merits of hundreds of poems, knowing that relatively few entrants will be less than disappointed with your decisions. "I dips me lid."

I get the impression that punctuation is the great bug-bear for most of us, especially when it comes to entering written competitions. In this regard, bearing in mind that I believe there are over forty rules of grammar for the correct usage of the comma, it seems to me that there is a tendency in a lot of cases to overdo its use. If in doubt, put in a comma sort of thing. I was wondering what your thoughts are on this aspect? Do you find 'over-punctuation' or a lack of punctuation more common and which is the greater sin in your view?

Cheers, Will.
"Each poet that I know (he said)
has something funny in his head..." CJD

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Re: A judge's viewpoint

Post by David Campbell » Thu Dec 16, 2010 7:39 pm

G’day, Will

Many thanks for the words of appreciation, and you ask a very good question. From a judge’s point of view, metre is by far the biggest problem, followed by rhyme, and then punctuation, spelling and grammar all in a bunch. I’ll get to the punctuation in a moment, but please allow a small diversion first.

Metre causes the most trouble because it is so important in traditional verse, and yet it can be difficult to master. Some understand it instinctively, while others really struggle. Much like ballroom dancing. Some are poetry in motion, but others on the dance floor (like me) have two left feet. That’s just the way it is. Similarly, accurate rhyme is vital to written verse, because anything that is not quite right is immediately obvious. The written word is unforgiving, because, when it comes to metre and rhyme, it is there in black and white to be tested against objective criteria.

But, as you say, there are all sorts of rules for the comma, not to mention things like colons and semi-colons. So it is much harder for a judge to pin down correct punctuation, and thus a fair amount of flexibility is possible. I’ll punish over-punctuation (which is usually random punctuation) and lack of punctuation equally because most cases tend to be at the extremes. In other words, there’ll either be no punctuation at all except for capital letters at the beginning of each line (also wrong in my view), or else there’ll be a multitude of commas sprinkled in all sorts of odd places. Both situations are reasonably common.

But in between the two extremes quite a bit of variation is acceptable. Those who have trouble in this area should live by the rule that punctuation has to serve a purpose…it is there to aid the reader of the poem, showing where pauses occur and why. Stephen has referred to the advantages of musical notation in a separate thread, but my knowledge of musical notation is zilch, so all I can say is that commas, full stops and so on should act as signposts, guiding the reader through the poem and giving a basic idea of how it should be approached. The best way to illustrate this is to use a couple of verses from one of my poems and explain what I’m trying to do:

His voice is soft, his hands are scarred, his eyes a deep, dark blue,
and when he speaks of times so hard his words ring clear and true.
He says to me: “Those years were tough,” and slowly rocks his chair,
“but words are never quite enough to tell of our despair.

My parents wouldn’t take the dole…we called it ‘susso’ then…
I had to take an adult role when I was only ten.”
He sees my smile and lifts his hand, then quickly shakes his head.
“Don’t laugh, my boy, please understand…you’d hate the life I led!”

This is a combination of narrative (by the son) and direct speech (by the father), so the timing of pauses is very important for a reader. The first line is broken by four commas, each allowing for a brief pause to separate (and emphasise) different aspects of the physical description of the father. But the second line flows straight through because it represents a single thought that is most strongly expressed without any pause, until coming to a definite conclusion with the full stop.

Then direct speech is introduced and I use a colon to indicate a dramatic pause before the father actually begins speaking. It’s a change of voice, so needs a clear demarcation. It announces that something different is coming. However, the colon could quite legitimately be omitted and I’d never penalise anyone for not using one. For the rest of those two lines I’ve used commas to indicate brief pauses between the narrative and the direct speech.

The second verse is only there to show a use of the ellipsis (…), and again it’s just because I think it can be quite useful, though by no means essential. The ellipsis is most commonly employed to indicate that something has been left out, but I find it handy to use as something stronger than a comma, but not as final as a full stop. In the first line it creates an ‘aside’, an explanation of the common name for the dole during the Depression. However, two commas would also work, as would a semi-colon after “dole” (to indicate a separate, but linked observation) and a full stop after “then”. That’s what I mean by flexibility. There could also be a comma after “smile” in the third line, but I avoided a pause there to indicate that his raised hand followed immediately after the boy’s smile. In the last line I could easily have used a comma instead of the ellipsis, but wanted a slightly more dramatic pause to emphasise, along with the exclamation mark, the strength of “you’d hate the life I led!”

You’ll see from this that I consider punctuation to be an important part of a writer’s armoury, a powerful weapon to be wielded carefully and thoughtfully. But the best punctuation in the world won’t save a poem that falls down in the metre and rhyme department.

This has been rather lengthy, but I hope it all make sense.


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Re: A judge's viewpoint

Post by Terry » Thu Dec 16, 2010 9:06 pm

G/day David,
Let me start by saying you have used a couple of very well written stanza's here in your example.
Back to punctuation, I'm one who struggles (among other things) with it. I think I'm slowly starting to get the hang of it, but still have a fair way to go. I noticed in the first stanza you used a comma before an 'and', which is what I often used to do myself, until recently when in a critique from a Comp I was told "you do not use comma's before AND", what's your view on this?
Another thing I have noticed is that semicolons are also often a bone of contention with most people I talk to. This can also cause a bit of confusion at times, with some having a more liberal view on their use than others.
All that aside I enjoyed your explanation here and hope I can store a few of your suggestions into my thick head for future reference.

Regards and thank you for taking the time to pass on some of your hard earned knowledge.


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Re: A judge's viewpoint

Post by Irene » Thu Dec 16, 2010 11:15 pm

Hi David
Thanks for sharing your experience - it is great to have comments from a judges' perspective.

One question - how do you rate the use of hyphens in a poem? Where you have the ellipsis in the first row of the second stanza, would you penalize the use of hyphens in place of them?
I tend to use hyphens a bit, but am not sure on how a judge would see them.

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Re: A judge's viewpoint

Post by Zondrae » Fri Dec 17, 2010 5:44 am

G'day David ... and fellow writers.

Thank you David for taking the time to address some of our questions. I for one will find your advice invaluable.

Regarding the use of the comma, I was taught that, it should be used to isolate a clause in a sentence that, while supporting the rest of the sentence, could be taken out without the sentence losing its meaning. I now know there are many more 'rules' to its use. As to not using a comma before an 'and', I guess I have always looked at this one with the first rule, here noted, in mind. Where can we find all these rules? or should we take the excuse that we are just 'Bush' poets and rely on our instinct? Then again are all the judges, we are presenting work to, as knowledgable as you are David. Then again do we write to win contests or to leave our thoughts to posterity (and therefore wish them to be as correct as possible). Having looked into the can of worms, can I now re-close it?
Zondrae King
a woman of words

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Re: A judge's viewpoint

Post by David Campbell » Fri Dec 17, 2010 1:04 pm

Hi Terry, Irene and Zondrae.

I’ll respond to your posts in order, but first a word of caution. The House of Grammar is built on ever-shifting sand, and other judges may well have a different slant on things.


I’m surprised that anyone would suggest that you don’t use commas before an “and” for, although there are certainly situations where you shouldn’t, there are also quite a few where it’s perfectly acceptable. If you check back to my post to Will, you’ll see that I’ve done it twice in the first two sentences. That’s prose, but it’s exactly the same for poetry. In both cases the comma before the “and” allows for a pause (and a breath) before continuing on with something that is linked, but making a different point.

Two grammar books that I have give the following as examples of acceptable usage:

“The man rose to his feet; his opponent rushed at him, and both fell to the ground.”
(I chose this one as it also shows use of a semicolon. Semicolons are tricky, but are generally employed when you want to link two statements and need something stronger than a comma, but weaker than a full-stop. Alternatives are the ellipsis…see my previous post…and the dash. )

“The explorers were Stuart, McKinlay, and Burke and Wills.”
(Note that you wouldn’t put a comma after “Burke” because “Burke and Wills” are a pair.)

“There was little seating, and most people sprawled comfortably on the floor.”

In poetry, a comma will often precede “and” when it comes at the end of a line, as happens in the first two lines of the poem I quoted in the previous post. To push the message a little further, here’s a fun example:

We listened to the band,
and wandered ’and-in-’and,
and there upon the sand
I told ’er she was grand.

There used to be a convention that “And” couldn’t be used to start a sentence, but that’s largely ignored these days.

As you asked me about punctuation, I hope you won’t mind if I say that you need to be careful about the use of apostrophes. You’ve referred to “stanza’s” and “comma’s”. The apostrophes shouldn’t be there, as the words are simply plurals. The placement of an apostrophe is most important. Compare the following three sentences and the use of the word “stanzas”.

You might write:

I like the stanzas.
I like the stanza’s metre.
I like the stanzas’ metre.

The first is a plural and doesn’t have an apostrophe. The second states that you like the metre in one stanza, while the third says that you like the metre in more than one stanza. And finally, of course, an apostrophe is regularly used to abbreviate something: “I am” to I’m” and “you are” to “you’re”, for example.

Hope this helps!


I think you mean a dash rather than a hyphen. A dash could certainly be used instead of the ellipsis, whereas the hyphen (which is shorter) applies in terms like “happy-go-lucky”, “mind-boggling”, “well-known”, “great-grandson”, and numbers like “forty-two”. You’ve actually used a hyphen as a dash, but I don’t think any judge would penalise that. I use the ellipsis because it’s easy to generate on my Mac keyboard. To get the longer dash (—) I have to go via the symbol window (unless anyone out there can suggest a short-cut!).


I know what you mean about the comma being removed without a sentence losing its meaning. In the grammar-book examples I’ve given to Terry (above) each of those commas before “and” could be dropped and no meaning would be lost. In poetry, however, I see the great value of the comma as it’s ‘pause’ effect. That is, it works in conjunction with the metre to allow small shifts in emphasis. Some might argue that it should be left to the reader to figure this out, but that entails a risk that the strength of a poem (based on your intention) will be diluted, and I couldn’t recommend it for a written competition.

I’m well aware of that can of worms, and what I’ve written here definitely involves diving down into that wriggling mass. But I used to be an English teacher, so I had to know something about this stuff…which probably puts me well towards the pedantic end of the judges’ spectrum. (In fact, some will say I’m right off the end!) People should write because they enjoy doing so, and part of my enjoyment comes from playing with words and the way they’re put together. But my attention to detail will drive a lot of people up the wall, so it’s a case of horses for courses!

A quite useful book for those who want to have a reference beside them as they write is: The Penguin Working Words (An Australian Guide to Modern English Usage)

Cheers to all

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