Open Poetry Ltd Launched the 2007 International Sonnet Competition


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In 2007 Open Poetry Ltd has launched an international sonnet competition. This was the competition's website.
Content is from the site's 2007 archived pages.


International Sonnet Competition launched

Open Poetry Ltd has launched an international sonnet competition, closing October 31, 2007. First prize is £1,400, and the judging panel comprises Susan Bassnett (UK academic and poet), Jacqueline Osherow (USA poet) and Don Paterson (UK poet).


The Open Poetry Competition invites entries from anywhere in the world - or the universe for that matter - for our inaugural competition running from 10 January 2007 to 31 October 2007 (closing at midnight). Top prize is a £1400, second prize is £750 and third prize is £350 (minima). If the number of entries allow us to increase the prize money, we will. The judges may at their discretion award additional prizes of up to £100 for entries that received high commendation but did not make it into the top three. Also we hope to publish the best entries in book form at the end of the competition.

Entries can be submitted via this website or by post any time until midnight (GMT) on 31 October 2007. If submitting on-line by clicking on the 'On-Line Entry Form' menu, payment of the entry fee is via a Paypal payment page (automatically in GB Pounds Sterling). If submitting by post, you must include an application form, either downloaded from this site (click on 'Download Entry Form' menu) or as can be found in one of our publicity leaflets. Whether you enter or not, if you write sonnets, you can also add your name to our list of sonnet poets (use 'Sonnet Poets' menu).

If you think you can help publicise the competition, please do so by word of mouth, email, local radio or any other means at your disposal. We would be happy to send a quantity of leaflets and bookmarks for giving out at societies, clubs etc, so please contact us via the 'Ask for a Leaflet' link on the left, if you would like us to do so.

The Rules


The main rules are very simple:
1. The poem can be on any subject and must be your own original work.
2. It must be exactly 14 lines long (excluding title).
3. It must be written in English.
4. You must never have received any kind of payment, however small, for the poem.
5. There is no limit to the number of entries by any poet.
6. Entrants must be over 16 years of age on 10th January 2007.



There are some "small print" rules below that you should look at, but for most practical purposes the 6 above are what really matter. All the same, here is little more detail that should answer most of your questions. Use the contact menu above, if you have further queries.

1. Any subject/original work: that means just what it says.

2. 14 lines - does that mean a sonnet? Yes, this is a sonnet competition, but we are looking for innovation more than imitation. Certain purists will say that 14 lines is far from being the only element required for a poem to be called a sonnet, but we beg to differ. If it has 14 lines (however long or short each line may be), we will call it a sonnet. It won't necessarily be a replication of traditional sonnet structures, but why should it be?

When Shakespeare, Sidney and others tried new forms, you can bet some people said that they were not writing proper sonnets as they were not pure imitations of Petrarch, the 'Father of Sonnets', but we now regard these forms as part of the sonnet tradition. So feel free to develop sonnet forms for the 21st century.

3. In English: not necessarily standard English, but the underlying language must be English. So an English based dialect, patois, street language would be acceptable.

4. Many competitions say that an entry must not have been published or broadcast. That makes a sort of sense when the aim is mostly to encourage new poetry. While we would like to encourage that too, we are at present looking for the best modern sonnets. You might have written yours some while ago - fine, we'd still like you to enter them.

There is also a problem of what is meant by publication and broadcasting. Before the internet, publication meant a book or journal and broadcasting meant radio and television. Where does a website fit? And can we distinguish between a well-visited poetry site and someone's personal site which may have been visited only by friends and family? Why should self-publishing on the internet, which is no guarantee of a readership, be penalised? Why indeed should any appearance in print or on broadcast media be penalised if your efforts were in essence subsidising the media, rather than the other way round?

So the easiest way round these issues is to say that poems for which you have ever received any payment - large, small, in cash, in kind, as a royalty, in the form of a prize with any kind of cash value - are excluded. All others are OK to enter.


5. Unlimited entries. The cost is £7 for each sonnet entered, except you may enter 3 for £14. This reduced fee operates every time you enter a trio. Thus 1=£7, 2=£14, 3=£14, 4= £21, 5=£28, 6=£28 etc.

6.Just what it says. If you are aged 11-17, try the Foyle Young Poet of the Year Award.

Supplementary Rules

7. All poems will be judged anonymously. The name of the poet must not appear on the poem itself, only on the entry form (on-line, downloadable or publicity leaflet versions).

8. In common with other major poetry competitions, the organisers reserve the right not to make an award if there are insufficient entries or the entries are considered by the judges to fall short of a suitable standard. [But you won't let that happen, will you?] The organisers also retain the right to change or add to the panel of judges without notice.

9. No competitor may win more than one prize.The decision of the judges is final and no correspondence will be entered into about the results. Winners will be informed and the results will be posted on this website as soon as feasible after the closing date.

10. Worldwide copyright remains with each individual poet, but the organisers shall have the unrestricted right to broadcast any entry in any medium or publish it in whole or in part for any time up to twelve months after the announcement of prize winners. [If there are sufficient entries of good standard we hope to publish prize winning entries and the best of the non-winning entries in book form. Details of this publication will be announced later. Authors of poems selected for this publication will be informed in advance wherever possible.]

11. A reception for prize winners will be announced at a date to be confirmed.

12. Entries will not be returned. Details of how entry fees can be paid are available on the on-line and downloadable entry forms and on publicity leaflets.

13. Members of the organising committee and their immediate families are not eligible to enter the competition.

14. All competitors will be deemed to have read and accepted all the conditions for entry in this competition.

Fourteen rules! How appropriate...



The Judges 2007

Susan Bassnett

Susan Bassnett is Pro Vice Chancellor and Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Warwick, in the Centre for Translation and Comparative Cultural Studies, which she founded in the 1980s. She is author of over 20 books, and her Translation Studies, (3rd ed. 2002) which first appeared in 1980, has remained consistently in print and has become the most important textbook around the world in the expanding field of Translation Studies. Her Comparative Literature: A Critical Introduction (1993) has also become an internationally renowned work and has been translated into several languages.

Recent books include Exchanging Lives (2002), a collection of poems and translations, Sylvia Plath: an Introduction to the Poetry (2005) and with Peter Bush, The Translator as Writer (2006). She also writes for several national newspapers. She takes a keen interest in regional and national policy for the arts and chairs the board of the Warwick Arts Centre.

Jacqueline Osherow
Jacqueline Osherow is the author of five books of poetry, including With A Moon In Transit (1996), Dead Men's Praise (1999) and The Hoopoe's Crown (2005), and makes extensive use of terza rima, the sonnet and other formal poetic arrangements. Osherow has been awarded the Witter Bynner Prize by the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, Fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ingram Merrill Foundation and a number of prizes from the Poetry Society of America.

Her work has appeared in many anthologies and journals, including Twentieth Century American Poetry, The Wadsworth Anthology of Poetry, The Norton Anthology of Jewish-American Poetry (1995), Best American Poetry (1998), The New Breadloaf Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry, The Penguin Book of Sonnets,The New Yorker, Paris Review and many others. She is Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Utah.

Don Paterson
Don Paterson was born in Dundee, Scotland in 1963, and works as a writer, editor and musician. His poetry collections are Nil Nil, God's Gift to Women, The Eyes (all Faber & Faber) and The White Lie – New and Selected Poems (Graywolf) and Landing Light (Faber 2003). Landing Light was awarded the Whitbread Poetry Award and the T S Eliot Prize, which Paterson is the first poet to have won twice. His book of aphorisms, The Book of Shadows was published by Picador in 2004. He has also edited 101 Sonnets (Faber), a selected Robert Burns (Faber), and Last Words (with Jo Shapcott, Picador). He has been the recipient of several other literary awards, among them the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Award, a Forward Prize and three Scottish Arts Council Book Awards. He received a Creative Scotland Award in January 2002. He is currently Poetry Editor for Picador, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, and teaches on the MLitt in Creative Writing at the University of St Andrews.

As well as poetry, he writes drama for the stage and for radio, and has worked as a book reviewer, columnist and music journalist for several national newspapers, and a computer games reviewer for the Times. As a jazz guitarist, he has worked solo and with the ensemble Lammas, which he co-led with the saxophonist Tim Garland and with whom he recorded five albums, the most recent of these being Sea Changes. He also composes for the classical instrument. Having lived in London for many years, he now divides his time between Kirriemuir in Scotland and London.

Orpheus, his versions of Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus, was published by Faber in 2006 and has received a Special Commendation from the PBS. He is working on a book on poetic composition.



Photo by Caroline Forbes
Christopher Whitby
Christopher Whitby studied English at Cambridge and then undertook postgraduate work at The Shakespeare Institute. His work on the Renaissance 'magus' John Dee (which moved him from purely literary concerns into the fields of the histories of science and thought, Renaissance occult philosophy, and much more) was published in 1988. Nearly 20 years after completion of the original thesis, this work was described as 'still the cornerstone of research' in studies of Dee's 'actions with spirits'.

Christopher spent many years as a teacher, including teaching courses on sonnets for Lifelong Learning, and is the Director of Open Poetry Ltd. He writes in various genres, but at present his poetry is almost exclusively in sonnet form as he feels its possibilities are by no means exhausted.

The Open Poetry sonnet competition is his idea.
Judging Method
A sub-committee of the panel will read all the entries to arrive at a shortlist . The Director of Open Poetry Ltd will exclude himself from the final panel.    




Traditional Sonnets


And if no peece of Chronicle wee prove,
We'll build in Sonnets pretty roomes;
As well a well wrought urne becomes
The greatest ashes, as half-acre tombes...
(John Donne, 'The Canonization')

The sonnet is Donne's 'well wrought urne' - compact, shapely, highly finished, and able to contain, in concentrated form, almost all that is human.

Michael R.G. Spiller, The Development of the Sonnet (London & New York, 1992), page 1.

Or in modern times, perhaps we could think of the sonnet as a crafted piece of furniture, combining art, skill, beauty, function and that indefinable quality that speaks to us of more than the sum of the parts.

Writing a 'traditional' sonnet, though, has similarities with doing a crossword. It is a puzzle to make the pieces fit; there is some intellectual tease, and you can mull over individual lines, like crossword clues, as you continue daily life. There is also a knock-on effect. If you change a line, other lines then may need to change, just as changing the answer to 7 across in a crossword may mean you have to rethink 4 down. It is interesting as a form of poetry in which, at least in traditional form, structure and meaning are very intricately bound together and writing sees an ever shifting balance between the two as the poem works out what it is to be.

The sonnet is one of the longest lived of all poetic forms. It appears to originate in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (Sicily itself and the southern half of Italy) under the rule from 1208 to 1250 of The Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. 35 sonnets survive from this period of which 25 are usually attributed to the notary and legal deputy of the Emperor named Giacomo da Lentino. He may be regarded as the 'inventor' of the form, although many preceding influences could be discussed for which there is no space here.

The perfecter of the sonnet in Italian is agreed to be Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374), otherwise known as Petrarch. The distinctive rhyming pattern of a Petrarchan sonnet is abba abba and then either cdcdcd or cdecde. With an alternative opening of abab abab, this pattern remained the template for the European sonnet until Sir Thomas Wyatt 'reinvented' the rhyming couplet as an ending (a minor Italian poet, Nicolo de'Rossi, c. 1285 - 1335, had done this before but it had not caught on with his contemporaries). After Wyatt's re-inroduction of the closing couplet, the form was adopted by most British sonneteers, so one typically finds abba abba cdcdee or abab abab cdcdee

Edmund Spenser (1552?-1599) introduced a more convoluted rhyming scheme of abab bcbc cdcdee, but there were few followers. Sir Philip Sidney ( 1554-1586) experimented in his Arcadia with some rather extraordinary rhyme schemes, such as a single rhyme for all fourteen lines and abab baba acaccc, but his great sequence Astrophel and Stella consistently uses an 'Italian' octet (abba abba) and an 'English' sestet (cdcdee or variants).

The form we now know as Shakespearean - abab cdcd efefgg - was actually established by the Earl Surrey (1517?-1547), but the quality and perhaps also quantity of Shakespeare's sonnets has resulted in his name bearing the laurels for this pattern. In English the Shakespearean form is the most widely imitated of traditional forms, possibly because it is less demanding on rhyme in a language that has nowhere near the number of rhyming words that, say, Italian has.

Italian sonnets tend to have 11syllables (excluding elisions) in each line, while English sonnets tend to have 10 syllables per line in an iambic pattern (unstressed syllable, stressed syllable), although most poets will play with metre at one time another. One of the points about repetitive metric patterns, just like beats in music, is the opportunity they create to suddenly change the pattern or beat for effect, whether that be emphasis, surprise, a sense of speeding up or slowing down, etc.

If you are really interested in the history of the sonnet, we recommend Michael Spiller's book cited at the top of this page (ISBN 0-415-07744-3 & 0-415-08741-4 pbk) from which much of the above has been gleaned. You may also wish to look at, and there are many other sites devoted to sonnets on the Internet.

A final word. The Open Poetry competition will treat traditional/formal sonnets and freeform/innovatory sonnets on an equal basis. Whatever the structural form, the quality of the sonnet as poetry is paramount and poetry is more than either form or content in themselves.

[If you are new to the use of letters to designate rhyming schemes, the first line rhyme is marked as a and any line that rhymes with that is also designated as a. The next new rhyme is b and any lines rhyming with that are also b, and so on to line 14, each new rhyme moving on a letter.]



Some Ideas


When people discuss sonnets, they usually argue for two forms: Petrarchan and Shakespearean, although we can also talk of Spenserian. If you are uncertain about these structures, which are largely to do with rhyme scheme and metre, and want to find out more, click here. They proved popular forms and have been much imitated, but they are not by any means the only forms for a sonnet. After all, like other poetry, a sonnet does not have to rhyme. And just as the Shakespearean sonnet form was an innovation on the Petrarchan, so your sonnets can be innovatory too. This is the 21st century. You can imitate a traditional style with modern content, or play with the style too and come up with your own format within the 14 line basic rule, which is the only structural rule we are operating.

Sonnets are actually incredibly flexible, despite the apparent constriction of the line number. If you do want to rhyme, what about breaking with tradition in any of the following ways?

Using some triplets. For example: 4 sets of triplets and a finishing couplet, or abbbcccdddeeea, or abbbcccadddeee or any combination of triplets and couplets *.


Rhyming penultimate words, or floating the rhyme in different positions in each line.


Rhyming 7 lines apart (1 & 7, 2 & 8 etc).


Traditional sonnets often have some kind of change of thought or pattern between the first 8 and the last 6 lines, but what about playing with numbers in the way lines are joined together by sense or rhyme? It's a bit like deciding your attacking//defensive pattern in football with 14 aside - look at some sample combinations:
4,4,4,23,3,3,3, 23,3,2,3,36,4,47,75,4,3,2

  What about playing with line lengths? While the traditional sonnet tends to use the iambic pentameter (10 syllables in unstressed, stressed pattern) because it seems to suit English well, there's no need at all to stick to it. Line length is your choice and doesn't need to be the same for every line. Rhythms are your choice too.
The tone can be lyrical, angry, conversational, introspective, gritty, bubbly - whatever your poem demands.
    [* If you are new to the use of letters to designate rhyming schemes, the first line rhyme is marked as a and any line that rhymes with that is also designated as a. The next new rhyme is b and any lines rhyming with that are also b, and so on to line 14, each new rhyme moving on a letter.]    
    Yes it does by our rules, although it is unlikely to be the best poem we receive!     That said, much can be conveyed in a few words, as shown here (though not a sonnet):     Sleeping Child

As I carry you
sleeping in my arms,
I picture refugees
and feel the dead weight of you
against my heart.

(Copyright protected)






Sonnet of the Week


For copyright reasons, we are unfortunately unable to publish (as yet) the work of most established modern poets, but each week we will place here an example of a good sonnet for which, to the best of our knowledge, copyright is not an issue.

On the Edition of Mr Pope's Works with a Commentary and Notes

In evil hour did Pope's declining age
Deceived and dazzled by the tinsel show
Of wordy science and the nauseous flow
Of mean officious flatteries, engage

Thy venal quill to deck his laboured page
With ribald nonsense, and permit to strew,
Amidst his flowers, the baleful weeds that grow
In th'unblessed soil of rude and rancourous rage.

Yet this the avenging Muse ordainèd so,
When by his counsel or weak sufferance,
To thee were trusted Shakespeare's fame and fate.
She doom'd him down the stream of time to tow
Thy foul, dirt-loaded hulk, or sink perchance,
Dragged to oblivion by the foundering weight.

Thomas Edwards

This is sonnet xxvi from The Canons of Criticism (1765) and addressed to William Warburton (whose maid incidentally is thought to have used some of the last surviving Shakespeare manuscripts, then in Warburton's library, to line pie dishes - a not uncommon use of old manuscripts). So the sonnet is usually about love? Not so with what might be called the Savage Sonnet, like this..





We would very much like to run the Open Poetry International Sonnet Competion again, but times being what they are, we are unable to underwrite the costs without support as we did before. Sponsorship would be most welcome, but equally useful would be simple underwriting. The 2007 competition was in the end self-financing (see link to accounts below), but it was a big risk to take without any backing other than personal finances. One of the problems we have found in seeking backing, apart from there being considerably less arts funding around now, is that the competition is international. So much arts support is concerned with developing local audiences that as soon as one mentions 'worldwide' there is a shaking of heads and a closing of doors. Do contact us (link button on left) if you can help or have any ideas of where we might find an underwriter or two for an international sonnet competition.



Hand Luggage Only

The anthology of the 2007 Open Poetry International Sonnet Competition is now available for ordering online and by post. For online orders worldwide, click on the link below:

Hand Luggage Only Order

For orders by post (UK only), write to us at the address below, indicating how many copies you would like, clearly stating your name, delivery address and a contact telephone number, and enclosing a cheque payable to Open Poetry Ltd for the correct amount based on the prices shown below our address.

Open Poetry Ltd
50a Main Street
Leicestershire LE9 7RE


Hand Luggage Only: £7.99 each
From 4 April 2011, UK post & packing is £1 per copy for 1-5 copies. 6-10 copies = £5 flat fee. Post & packing costs to destinations outside the UK are shown on the book order page.
For orders over 10 copies, email us at or call us on 01455 852522 (office hours) as we may use an alternative to Royal Mail.


2007 Competition Winners

1st Prize: Julie Kane – 'Used Book'

2nd Prize: Daniel Neumann – 'Two Moments'

3rd Prize: Alison Mace – 'Wartime Picnic '

Highly Commended:
John Haynes – 'First Thing'
Lydia Macpherson – 'Lessons'
William Orem – 'Crucifix, Church of the Most Blessed Sacrament, Washington, D.C.'



You are welcome to add your name to our list of sonneteers by clicking on the 'Sonnet poets' link in the left hand row of buttons.

If you wish to create a link from your own website to ours, click here.

Thank you to all who entered the competition. If you wish to see how entry fees have been used, the competition accounts as of 30 August 2008 are to be found by clicking here.



2007 Sonnet Competition Accounts


For reasons of transparency and because it might help anyone else thinking of starting a poetry competition, we present here what no other poetry competition seems to do: an explanation of the competition accounts.

The figures below cover the period from first working on organising the competition in the summer of 2006 through to 30 August 2008 when, apart from any extra anthology sales to come, the costs are pretty much all known. Only matters like 2007-08 accountacy fees are as yet unknown (the competition ran across two financial years: 2006-07 and 2007-08).

One important thing to bear in mind when reading the accounts is that while the competition entry fee was £7 per sonnet, there was a consistent '3 entries for the price of 2' offer and that when entries were made online, Paypal would deduct a transaction fee, a percentage commission, and in the case of non-UK currency transactions a further currency conversion commission. This is standard practice for e-commerce, but it meant that a set of 3 sonnets from an overseas entrant could reduce the revenue per sonnet to £4.41. These commissions are the reason why the entry fee revenue is not a multiple of £7. Open Poetry Ltd is not VAT registered, as while that would have enabled us to offset VAT on expenditure, it would also have meant adding VAT to the entry fee.

Entry Fees
Bank Interest
Total Income  
    Advertising Google Adwords, magazines and 2006-07 annual web hosting and name registration costs
    Bank charges  
  See note 1.
    Marketing Launch PR and similar
    Payroll Student at £6 per hour harvesting email addresses of creative writing courses, e-zines, and other areas for publicity
  See note 2.
    Postage etc Mailed leaflets and delivery of boxes of leaflets to libraries etc
    Printing Leaflets & bookmarks, photocopying entries
    Accountancy Company set up, record keeping and 2007 audit
    Legal Companies House annual registration fee
    Travel Reimbursed expenses
    Prize money and judges' fees
    Website hosting 2007-2008: 2 main sites and 7 others directing traffic to these two
    Reception For anthologised poets (room hire & drinks - Cambridge)
    Total Expense  
    Subtotal excluding anthology
    Loss on anthology as at 30 August 2008 *
  See note 3.
  See note 4.
    *Anthology costs
    Design, artwork and proofing
    Printing & ISBN number fees
    Postage & packing on orders
    PR and marketing to launch book
    Total anthology expenses
    Anthology Sales (including p&p costs received) to 30/08/08
    Anthology profit/loss
  See note 5.
    1. While the bank offers free banking for up to 100 cheque deposits per month, the last month of the competition exceeded that number. We still thought it better to deposit the cheques rather than hold them back so as to prevent concern amongst entrants.
    2. The director of Open Poetry Ltd has to date taken no remuneration for the time spent building the competition website and administering entries, or indeed any other time spent on the running the competition.
    3. Anyone considering printing a book should not forget that design and artwork form a major cost and also needs to consider that if one wants a book reviewed, a significant number of copies need to be sent out free to reviewers (with no guarantee of success).
    4. This surplus is being held against 2007-2008 accountancy fees and website costs. It will no doubt all disappear into those two areas – mainly the accountant's pocket I should think!
    5. As the competition was wholly unsubsidised, but personally underwritten, it was not possible to offer a complimentary copy to the anthologised poets. We offered a discount instead. We trust that these figures show why complimentary copies were not possible on this occasion. We are seeking sponsors for the next competition and anthology.