The AVBOB Poetry Competition | Blog


Excellent poems and top-level poets as the fifth AVBOB Poetry Competition closes    
Mon, 13 December 2021

Tight times, powerful poems, mother-tongue magic and 3 000 new poems in the AVBOB Poetry Library is the summarised version of what happened this year in the fifth AVBOB Poetry Competition, which closed on 30 November 2021.
The competition created a space for poets to write on the topics of birth, hope, love and death around the theme “I wish I’d said…” Many used the opportunity to process the feelings and losses experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the ongoing and relentless privations took their toll, newcomers took to poetry to make sense of the ordeal.
In a bid to improve the standard of submissions, the maximum number of entries permitted was lowered from 20 per poet to 10. Editor-in-Chief, Johann de Lange, said, “This strategy bore fruit, and we saw substantial increase in submissions from award-winning and established poets. The sense I got was that these ‘big-name’ poets are taking the competition seriously, which is encouraging and augurs well for the competition’s future.”
Another undertaking that proved beneficial in increasing the quality of entries was a specific effort to interview and write about leading poets. These articles appeared in leading online literary sites such as Litnet and Arts24. Additionally, the AVBOB Poetry Project focused on providing motivational and educational messages on all social media platforms, as well as ‘how-to’ articles from leading poetry teachers. This bid to inspire poets paid off.
All the statistics for the fifth AVBOB Poetry Competition
This year, 4 133 poets threw their hat into the ring, each able to enter up to 10 poems in any of South Africa’s 11 official languages. Of these poets, 25% had at least one poem selected for publication. De Lange continued, “This year we put in place more stringent measures to ensure that each poet was only able to register with one account, and we increased our plagiarism monitoring efforts.” 
Adding this year's 22 558 entries, a total of 144 187 poems have been submitted since the inception of the AVBOB Poetry Competition in 2017. Having grown by 3 000 poems, carefully selected by the competition’s professional language editors from 2021’s entries, the AVBOB Poetry Library now offers over 17 000 poems of comfort and consolation to all South Africans. With each of these published poems earning their respective poets a R300 usage fee, AVBOB invested R900 000 through usage fees into supporting South African poetry in 2021.
This year, our oldest entrant was 87 years old, and the oldest selected for publication was 83. The youngest entrant, who also saw publication, was just nine years old! All poets under 18 entered with permission from their parents or guardians. 
Adriaan Bester, General Manager of AVBOB’s Corporate Affairs, noted that the majority of poems entered (65%) were in South Africa’s vernacular languages with the remaining 35% of entries being in English. The second largest language by entries was isiZulu (18% of entries), followed by isiXhosa (11%), Xitsonga (9%) and Tshivenda (7%). Bester said, “We can see that poetry and creativity in vernacular languages are alive and well. We believe that this might be the single most important aspect of what we accomplish with the AVBOBPoetry Competition, as we continue to see the quality of poems in vernacular languages improve. This speaks to a growing pride in mother tongue usage, which was one of the main goals of the competition when it started.”
Lastly, the number of youth poets (aged 29 and younger) amounted to approximately 75% of entries. Bester shared what keeps the poetry project close to his heart. “Poetry has become, for many youth, an avenue of hope and healing. Through the AVBOB Poetry Competition, we’ve been able to offer people a platform to share consolation and the work of growth through suffering and loss and the opportunity to learn and practise new skills. There are many people who wouldn’t otherwise have written the poems that have helped them unlock their full potential whilst yet enduring their loss. As the saying goes, ‘A burden shared is a burden halved.’ We thank all who participated for sharing a little piece of yourselves with us.”
The winners of the fifth AVBOB Poetry Competition will be announced at the AVBOB Poetry Gala in the third quarter of 2022. In conclusion, we share the poignant and fitting last verse of a poem by novelist and memoirist, Joanne Hichens, who entered the AVBOB Poetry Competition this year. This verse speaks to how poetry consoles and comforts those in their darkest hour.
What do we say
Joanne Hichens
What do we say to the grieving?
I am so sorry.
Here is a meal for you.
(Made with loving hands.)
(And a bottle of wine.)
And let me sit with you awhile.
In loving silence.