Winner of Made-Up Words Competition Announced

David Grubb has won the English PEN/Arvon Made-Up Words Competition with his poem, Cribbling.

Femi Martin, the judge of the competition, said:

More than anything else, I wanted to be affected by the winning made-up word, and this piece was nothing short of awe-inspiring. This ‘cribbling’ was both new and immediately understood. It is more than strength, more than resilience, more than grace, more than faith; it is all of these things in differing ways at different times. It is a word we can use. The writer has captured something special here, something as rich as the imagery in the piece. This poem moved me; it’s a real gem.

The poem (published below) won from over 400 entries in a competition that saw the arrival of such new words as pokflok, frisms, telesue and clamberquick . An e-book of the shortlisted Made-Up Words will be available soon.

David Grubb wins a place on an Arvon course at one of the English centres.



Refugee Camp

Sometimes it is language that defies,
the necessary vocabularies of fear and doubt,
the torn up reports and nature of the unsaid;

at other times it is about memory and rapture
and following stars that may not actually exist
and the names of ancient flowers;

brickle star, daisy nettle, wind wonder,
or the nature of rivers and rains
and how we define a stone wall;

and sometimes it is about a girl standing
up to sing to soldiers before they cut her,
or when an old woman gets up to dance

and the crowd becomes a tapestry of clapping,
as mothers blow on the feet of their babies.




31 Comments on “Winner of Made-Up Words Competition Announced”

  1. I couldn’t wait to read the top 30 shortlisted —- hoping you save this 30 or so as core of English PEN; either I would be shortlisted or not I would devote my remaining days writing poetry with this group: witnessing the metonymy of last Tuesday’s Joy of Speaking aka Listening ( according to Philip) is POETICALLY CHILDLIKE, literally and metaphorically though! Kudos to everyone especially to the heroes from the reception to the “fingered food poets” ha ha

  2. Having read this through the winning entry a number of times one is left with the following conclusions.

    Poetry has to have an essence that is intrinsically unique to itself and, in this respect, arranging what is, essentially, a prose piece into fourteen lines does not constitute poetry. As a prose piece, it exceeds the 100 word restriction that other prose writers faced.

    If the made up word is “cribbling” ; this is not incorporated into the piece and is only used as a title. The work could be called anything and be given a made up word just to qualify for the competition.

    The word “cribbling”, though not featured in a dictionary is very similar to the words “crib” and “cribbing” and could be seen as having enough similarity to existing words with just the edition of a mutated ending.

    There is an old Saxon word “Crybble”: A rack or bin to hold hay for cattle.

    There is also an old dialect word from Norfolk/Suffolk “Cribble” to describe a fine grade of bran.

    A quick scan through a dictionary or two did not bring up “brickle” used once in line seven, so this may constitute a made up word. However, it could be argued that as a simple adjective used once, it has no bearing on the piece and could easily have replaced any number of adjectives in this line.

    The conclusion drawn is that this is not a strong piece to be a winning entry. Without any reference to other entries it may well have, in the opinion of the judge, been the most worthy winner; if this decision is based on criteria such as poetical skill, accordance to the rules, etc, rather than, or as well as, subject and content, it is a worrying reflection upon the standard and quality of literature now being produced and leads one to question the precise direction and agenda of englishpen courses.

  3. Jon,
    while you’re entitled to your opinion on the piece itself it is worth noting that the rules for the competition stated;
    “All you need to do is write a poem (maximum 14 lines) or a piece of flash fiction (maximum 100 words) with a title that is a made-up word”
    so there was no requirement to incorporate the word into the piece itself. Also the word is clearly not referring to a rack holding hay for cattle, nor is it crib or cribbing, though it resonates with this meaning.
    Well done David, a beautiful piece, and a deserving winner Femi.

    1. Given the criteria as stated, I can not disagree with your points but I would make the following observations.

      The other extreme would be a fourteen line poem with, say 100 words in each line..allowing 1400 words, a short essay…it would be within the rules but would be rather against the spirit of the competition.

      It would also allow a writer to take an existing piece of work, “crib” a new title to it and enter it, rather than write a piece in response to the competition.

      1. Just as an afterthought I would like to say that I consider the piece a powerful and well written piece of prose. It also strikes me re-reading it that “Refugee Camp” may have been the original title and “cribbling” added to render it eligable?

  4. So you’ve chosen a piece which a) is too long (as mentioned by Jon this is a prose piece disguised as a poem) , b) doesn’t contain the made up word in the title, c) is a very weak piece of writing. 
    You have in one decision ruined the reputation of English PEN. It’s simply appalling that the judge was allowed to get away with this.

  5. “Ruined the reputation of English PEN”

    I doubt that the reputation earned through a century of campaigning in solidarity with writers all over the world is going to be dented by this decision.

  6. I admit to being initially surprised at the winning poem for some of the reasons already mentioned. I presume that the invented word is “cribbling”, the title of the poem but even now I would need help to know what the defintion of that word is. And of course the word does exist in some dictionaries.
    However, once I considered the competition as a whole I realised that the writer had completely taken on board one of the aims of PEN by the subject matter of the poem. He treated the “brief” as more of a prompt than step by step directions. We all need to ask ourselves if our entries actiallt stand up as poems and not just as entries into a competition to make up a word.
    I can’t wait to see all the short-listed poems and be surprised all over agian.

  7. It would be interesting to learn Steve and Jon’s definitions of poetry from which they exclude David’s. ‘An essence that is intrinsically unique to itself’ sounds good, if tautologous, but what does it mean?

    1. Poetry is a subject as precise as geometry. (Gustave Flaubert)

      I’d as soon write free verse as play tennis with the net down. (Robert Frost).

      The above quotations go some way to expressing my views regarding poetry. It does not mean that poems have to be structured like a Chrismas card greeting and, perhaps, one of my own strongest guides is the opinions of T S Eliot, someone very different to Robert Frost. For me, poetry is as precise an art as fine painting…precision of word, a structure that is the only structure that will work for the particular poem being written:

      To much
      is just
      arranged like this.

      and that is not poetry.

      1. Having just read a blog that was linked to one of the replies here I have discovered that the winner is a “proper full-on published poet”. I have to remark that I feel dispair if this is the measure of the quality of published “poetry” in this country that? The sound of Keats, Hopkins, Eliot and many others spinning in their graves.

          1. ..the mistake with “literary” was, obviously, deliberate :-)..I imagine spelling and grammar are not deemed that important anymore, anyway.

          2. Jon, your cage has obviously been well and truly rattled here. Out of interest, did you enter the competition?
            I am pleased to say that my entry was shortlisted, and I’m looking forward to you ripping it to pieces when the anthology comes out.
            However, it is not a poem, it was written specifically for the competition, and the made-up words (there are two) are an intrinsic part of the story, So maybe I’ll get away with it and escape your ire. I still fear it may not satisfy your exacting standards though. Ah well…

          3. Hey Troutie (had to post here as there was no “reply” option under your comment..maybe, I will start criticising the poor design of this webpage, next :-) )

            No cage. No rattle. Possibly exacting standards for which I make no apology. No reason why I would rip into your work and congratulations on being shortlisted.

            Yes..I did enter and I guess I did not make the short list and, no, it is not sour grapes..I accept it if my work was not what the judge was looking for. I also am left with the feeling that there is a general slip into banality within most fields of art, be it visual or literary, particularly in the UK..about time someone noticed the Emporer is not, actually, wearing anything and spoke up about it. I am happy for you to take a look at the piece I produced, specifically, for the competition and feel free to tear it apart, if you wish.

  8. I think the poem as a stand alone piece, without associations of “made-up word” is very good. I’m more frustrated with Femi Martin’s take on the poem.
    “It is more than strength, more than resilience, more than grace, more than faith; it is all of these things in differing ways at different times.” 
    In the quieter words of the Virgin Mary, come again…
    “It is a word we can use.”
    OK, put it in a sentence.

  9. The debate seems to have come to an end; attention spans exhausted. Having just noted that englishpen is funded by Arts Council England, this explains a great deal. Having dealings with them when I was involved in photography it soon becomes apparent that they have their little agendas and no amount of banging on their door will help gain support for some sectors of the artistic community. I had intended going on an englishpen course but this competition and the general reputation of the Arts Council has turned me from the idea. I would not pay them a penny to receive their ill-conceived ideas about art…I don’t suppose they were in any way consulted over the choice of the current Poet Laureate?

    1. I think perhaps there is a confusion in this discussion between English PEN, who run literacy workshops, book groups, and author talks… With The Arvon Foundation, who run creative writing courses.

      In this instance, a competition run by PEN had an Arvon Course as its prize.

  10. Jon, there are words which continually fall out of common usage and that are re-appropriated and re-housed to fit something else. This seems rather fitting for a word that incorporates refugees into its meaning.
    In Eliot’s words “the mind of the mature poet differs from that of the immature one not precisely in any valuation of ‘personality’, not necessarily more interesting or having ‘more to say’, but rather by being a more finely perfected medium in which special, or very varied feelings are at liberty to enter new combinations… great poetry may be made without the direct use of any emotion whatever: composed out of feelings solely’

    Or, to put it another way, poets can write in any combination they so desire. You might dislike this on a subjective level, but if something doesn’t interest you, don’t give up — there are hundreds of contemporary poets who are widely published and tackle a cornucopia of different subjects, many of whom write in more familiar forms and in orthodox metrical modes (if that’s what floats your boat). Go to readings, find a reading group near you – there are plenty around.
    Language is in a continual state of flux, and words like fodder, scatalogical and cheddar have meanings that are continually being redressed. Wordplay and slang are at the heart of Shakespeare and are the seeds of communication between not just within the English-speaking world, but across all cultures. Think about how many people around the world know ‘David Beckham’ and how many know the Anglo Saxon word crybbling?
    I don’t work for PEN, but to say an organisation designed to proliferate freedom of speech has an agenda without (and I’m assuming here) attending any of their courses seems contradictory and mean-spirited, especially when you clearly would like to have been published by them. 

    I’m sorry your poem wasn’t shortlisted and that you feel as though David Grubb’s poem is not up to your standards, but I find it elevating, intriguing – it made me reach for the dictionary and it challenged me (qualities I hope will be passed on to the next generation of English language speakers), and moved me in an unexpected way that I don’t remember feeling from another poem, or – how to put it – it has an essence that is intrinsically unique to itself. 

    1. Many thanks for your comments and measured response, Harry. it is much appreciated. The quotation of T.S. Eliot sums up my opinion in a way. Good poetry is good poetry regardless of the poet’s own personality, however, I am still of the opinion that the piece under discussion is not poetry. For the poetic form to be of itself and different from other forms of literature it has to, by definition, contain something unique and particular to itself. The extreme conclusion, if this is not the case, is that every piece of writing could be considered as a poem.

      A similar philosophy has had a negative affect on the medium of visual art. One could argue that from the moment Duchamp placed his found urinal in a gallery a scholl of thought developed that claimed everything was art and only the context is meaningful. This does nothing to improve things, indeed, it could be argued that it is a form of inverse snobbery. A pile of bricks is art because an artist says it is, yet a pile of bricks on a building site is, merely, a pile of bricks because the brickie is not an “artist”. If poetry is not contained witihn a certain structure, then what use prose or any other form of written expression; any sequence or arrangement of words can be deemed poetry. It is interesting, as I write this, I think are the novels of Joyce poetry? In conclusion, I would say they are poetic, but they are not poems. Eliot would find much to dismiss in the work claimed as poetry today. All writing can be poetic, prose can be poetic but that does not mean it is poetry.

      “Or, to put it another way, poets can write in any combination they so desire. You might dislike this on a subjective level”

      I have to disagree with this. I attempt, perhaps unsuccessfully, to write a critical piece as objectively as possible. It is not a matter of what I, as an individual, like or dislike, it is simply about what constitutes poetry. Poets are free to write on any subject that desire, but they are not entirely free to write in any form or combination: revising that statement, they can write anyway they like, but it is not all going to be poetry.

      A great painter can put paint to surface, so can a child. A Turner, Kandinsky, etc paints, so does a six year old. One hangs in a gallery, the other is stuck to the fridge. Both are paintings, but they are not inter-changable, they are not, intrinsically art in the medium of paint. In the same way, I still would say that it needs to be clear as to what constitutes poetry and differentiates it from other forms or writing.

      -just lost the rest of this when I went to submit it, apologies if the following is rushed-

      I accept your rebuke concerning PEN. I have had dealings with organisations funded by the Arts Council in both visual arts and writing, I would say that I was left with the impression that they are selective as to who the give opportunities based on criteria not always associated with art. I was not upset about not winning, I developed a thick skin while working as a photgrapher, the prize interested me as I was considering attending a course and the competition seemed to present a possible opportunity to win a place on one.

      A long term health condition leaves me with little energy so attending things like poetry groups is not that easy for me. Also, I fear with my views on poetry I may be thrown out for heckling! :-) As for my own writing; I was a pretty good photographer but did not get anywhere while watching some who did not know which end of the camera to point at the subject got on. In the world of art it is more about who you know than what you know. I think I am a decent enough writer but I do not have the energy or the inclination to put myself through the same thing again. I would prefer to just stop but, as I am sure you know yourself, if you have the desire to create, it is hard not to do so.

      To end, I would like to thank you for your advice and reasoned viewpoint. We may differ regarding our opinion but it is the measure of a civilised culture that differing opinions can be heard and discussed in a reasoned and polite manner. Forgive the length of this reply and any mistakes, typing it a second time has not helped. (the original version was better..the fish that got away)..we may not agree but I hope you appreciate this reply as much as I valued reading your response. All the best.

  11. So I wouldn’t be so quick to write this poem off. Good luck with your own poetry writing, and I hope you get everything you want from it.

  12. A controversial winning entry so it seems, and I to have admit to being flummoxed by both the decision and the meaning of the “poem”. But then again I’m not as learned as Femi so perhaps it’s a winner after all.
    I’m not as angry as Jon but just as much as we should be gracious in defeat we should also be magnanimous in our victories. So perhaps the following suggestion might draw this rather acrimonious debate to a close.
    From the comments here at least, David is already an established and published writer and given the ability of Arvon’s courses to kick start a career (or simply spark a life long love of writing) coupled with English PEN’s aims of promoting free speech and the freedom to write, what a wonderful end to this story if David were to donate his prize to someone more disadvantaged than himself – and what an incredible human story it would be if he were to donate it to Jon (who based on the energy in his comments is clearly struggling with something). Good luck to both of you whatever happens.

    1. Dear Donna

      I am neither angry nor struggling with something. I, merely, feel that poetry should aspire to certain criteria for it to be regarded as poetry.

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