Sue and I could be called old fashioned poets, well if it wasn't that these days free verse is just as old fashioned!
It is going on for 100 years since a writer (who I shall not name for two reasons, one because why give an idiot the credit of using his name and two I can't remember it) declared that rhyme and metre were dead. Since then we have had the great, truly great, poets of the First World War and a whole succession of others who wrote with perfect rhyme and flow.
Read Dylan Thomas's "Rage against the dying of the light" and you are reading a Villanelle, yet for many people the form and the rhyme simply go unnoticed, that is part of a great poem for me, the technique should be hidden and all that is left should be the sound and the sense of the poem.
To get back to directly what we are looking for, we want poems that rhyme and flow, where the structure of the poem adds to the contents, doesn't cut across it. We both at times admire clever shaped or form poetry but for us, particularly in these contests, that should be secondary, if you want to win pour your passion into the contents, then make sure that the rhyme is perfect and when you read it aloud (you do always read your poems aloud, don't you?) the flow is totally natural. The words stress where they need to to make the poem work and you haven't twisted English to fit the words in. "This is the sort of thing up with which we will not put."
Especially for these contests we are very strict on what we mean by rhyme. For instance; rests and best do not rhyme, low and cow do not rhyme and me and dream do not rhyme.
Some rhymes only work in some accents, I was pulled up on hearth and path which rhyme perfectly in Southern England but not the North and on taught and sport which only rhyme in Old England not in New, if you think any of your rhymes need the right accent then let the reader know!
We also largely mean end of line rhyme. Nothing against good internal rhymes, I love them, but what we are looking for here is "old fashioned" end rhyme. Finally for rhyme to work well it needs a rhyming scheme. Random lines that happen to rhyme simply wont cut it.
You cannot judge flow as you read to yourself, or as you write. It is essentially aural.
Is your poem easy to read aloud? No traps for the tongue? No squeezing in of an extra beat? No sentences that run from one line to the next without a natural pause?
And finally the contents
Are YOU in the poem? Does it read as though you believe every syllable? Does it paint a delicious picture? Does any reader know exactly what the poet was thinking, or rather what the poet wanted the reader to think he was thinking. A love poem should make every reader melt, a poem about a mountain view should have you scared to step forward, about a tragedy should have you crying buckets.
Of course as well as all that, it has to at least try to fit the theme!
Also we do not like "nasty" poetry, don't give us poems about murder maiming or suicide, any of those things can be in your poem, but neither of us want to read a guide on the best place to stab someone, or how to get the most blood out of your own veins.
Get all three of those right and you will write what we consider a great poem. We aren't looking for clever or difficult poems, they can be wonderful but so can a perfect rhyming quatrain (just 4 lines of poetry) or even a limerick.
If you're writing a poem to win
Then think of a way to begin
Then make it all rhyme
And stick close to time
And try to give readers a grin!
Let us know the way that you feel
Let all your phrases fit the theme
Make all your images seem real
Flow like a dream
Make each stanza rhyme and scan
Make your lines stand on their own
Do the very best a writer can
And we won't moan