Tag Archives: Contests

Another Win for Toronto Poet Donna Langevin

I’ve learned to listen with my eyes. – Donna Langevin*

Try it! Listen with your eyes! If you read the back cover of The Banister Volume 34, an Ontario poetry anthology launched October 26, 2019 by the Niagara Branch of the Canadian Authors Association (CAA), you will be transformed by Donna Langevin’s award-winning and heart-felt words.

For example, imagine what it would be like to have trouble hearing: “I’ve lost the inner ear within my ear, the sea of sounds once filling up its shell – cathedral bells…echoes in the belfry.”  Such lines introduced her poem “Even With the Help of My Hearing Aids” which won first prize in the CAA’s 2019 poetry contest.

CAA Banister 2019 anthology

Congratulations to Toronto poet/playwright Donna Langevin who won first prize for her poem “Even With the Help of My Hearing Aids”.

It’s a poignant piece and contest judge Bruce Meyer praised it highly. In his comments (p. ix and x) he wrote that Langevin’s first place creation is “a beautifully crafted poem…The poet has a wonderful idea of what constitutes a poetic line, and within those lines, the poem connects, not by paltry simile but through the unison of image and language.”

Meyer also stated that “language [in a poem] should engage both the ear and the eye”.(p. ix)

Langevin’s work certainly does that and this poet has a habit of winning contests. One of her humourous poems, “The first time”, received an honourable mention while two more of her poems were also selected for the same anthology.  Two years earlier, she won second prize in the CAA’s 2017 Banister contest and in the 2014 GritLIT contest, plus she was short-listed for the Descant Winston Collins Prize 2012.

A few days ago, I chatted with Donna (via e-mail) about her recent win, her poetry books including Brimming (Piquant Press, 2019), her writing space, and her plans for the future. 

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More Advice from Poetry Contest Judges

Who licks the gold stars/Decides on the winner,/The one who rises to/The next level? –Debbie Okun Hill from the poem “Licking Glue from Gold Stars”*

Behold the various opinions of poetry contest judges!

When I was an elementary school student, the grade one teacher would place a shiny gold star on any assignment deserving top marks. Sometimes, for special occasions, she would replace the star with a seasonal sticker such as a jack-o-lantern, a holiday wreath, and/or a bright red valentine. Oh, how this little reward was intended to motivate classmates to do their best! Not once did I ever doubt the teacher’s ability to judge.

Gold Stars - yellow 1

However, over time, I’ve discovered that to judge another person’s work is a huge responsibility, sometimes it’s subjective depending on the judge’s preferences, and when it comes to evaluating poetry, it’s not an easy task.

Earlier this summer, I posted a blog feature outlining my criteria or rough guidelines for blind-judging and selecting My Sister Rides A Sorrow Mule by John B. Lee as the a prize-winning poetry chapbook for a recent contest. See the blog post here. Upon sharing the information, I asked for opinions from other contest judges.

Below are the responses I received:

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Behold the Characteristics of a Prize-Winning Poetry Chapbook

The life of those/who went before/their bodies take the shape of sheers/that breathe upon the window ledge – John B. Lee – author of My Sister Rides a Sorrow Mule, winner of The Ontario Poetry Society’s 2019 Golden Chapbook Poetry Prize.

If someone asked you to judge a poetry chapbook contest, what would you look for? The squish of rain beneath rubber boots? The whirl and clang of a pinball machine? Would you seek out manuscripts focusing on your favourite subjects or would you evaluate the work on originality or the strength of the writing? How does one evaluate and compare a collection of Shakespearian sonnets to a test tube of experimental poems? Can a bushel of McIntosh apples compete with a box of Mandarin oranges? Can the writing of a people’s poet battle with a scholar’s life’s work and vice versa?

How many of you have entered manuscripts into contests and upon release of the winner’s list have asked, where did I go wrong? How can I improve my chances for the next submission call? Where can I go for advice? Should I even bother to enter another contest?

Apples and Oranges Photo by Okun Hill

Judging a poetry contest is like comparing apples with oranges. Find a manuscript with hackneyed clichés and themes and it’s quickly eliminated from the competition.

Last May, a cardboard box filled with poetry chapbook manuscripts arrived at my door with the instructions to select a top winner and five honourable mentions by November 2019. My head spun like a flying saucer heading straight for a chain-link fence. I had judged poetry contests before but this was my first assignment judging a manuscript contest. Just reading through the poems once could take months. I finally understood the weight thrust upon publishers inundated with a year’s worth of manuscripts. This would be no easy task.

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Interrogating the Local – Deadline Approaches for Brooklin Poetry Society’s Inaugural Contest

Another summer poetry contest? Sure, why not? You don’t live in Brooklin? No worries! I’ve never been there either. Just, take your notepad and jot down what’s happening in your own neighbourhood. Or better yet, grab a GPS and ‘interrogate the locals’ from another area! Don’t wait another minute!

Brooklin Poetry Society 2018 contest flyer copy (1)

Deadline for submissions is July 31, 2018.

Poets have less than two weeks to polish their “local” themed poems for the Brooklin Poetry Society’s Inaugural Contest. Digital submissions are being accepted until midnight, July 31, 2018. As the contest judge, I look forward to reading your new and unpublished poetry.

What constitutes a prize-winning poem?

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Poetry Contests: Is It Poetic Gambling?

A poet’s husband once won a trip for two to St. Lucia. I call that luck! For me, buying a lottery ticket is like throwing cash into a burning roulette wheel. It’s a waste of money unless you want to support a good cause like the Canadian Cancer Society or need a stocking stuffer or a compact gift for a friend or relative who enjoys playing bingo or a scratch version of crossword.

Let’s face it, how many of us are going to win a million dollars or a dream home during our life? What would a poet even do with that kind of cash?  Buy some exotic groceries? Quit his or her day job? Purchase more poetry books and new matching bookshelves for the office? You know I’m teasing here. A retreat might be nice, perhaps some sabbatical or retirement travelling to inspire the next book? Poets just aren’t that lucky or at least I’ve never met a poet or anyone who has taken home a sack of gold coins.

Entering poetry contests can be fun. Here the ghost of Dr. William Henry Drummond appears during a contest winners reading in Cobalt, Ontario last spring 2014.

Entering poetry contests can be fun. Here the ghost of Dr. William Henry Drummond appears during a contest winners’ reading in Cobalt, Ontario last spring 2014.

I will, however, gamble or (in softer terms) take a chance with poetry contests. Below are a dozen reasons why I believe entering literary competitions can be beneficial for a writer. Keep in mind, there are also drawbacks and some writers may have varying opinions based on his/her own experiences and viewpoints. I welcome your thoughts and feedback.

  1. Contests provide a deadline. Some writers work better under pressure. Deadlines can motivate some poets into action. It helps me focus.
  2. Contests encourage writers to dig deep into their files for old poems to tweak or word snippets to expand and nurture. Recycling is good for the environment.
  3. Contests nudge writers to explore new themes or poetic forms. Some will jump start new poems. For example, some contests like The Binnacle’s Annual International Ultra-Short Competition seeks poems with 16 lines or less. (Deadline March 15, 2015.) The Betty Drevniok Award 2015 organized by Haiku Canada seeks work based on the three-line haiku format. (Deadline February 25, 2015.) Earlier this month, The Malahat Review was accepting submissions of a single poem or a cycle of poems that was between 10 to 20 pages long for its 2015 Long Poem Prize.

    The Dr. William Henry Drummond Contest is an annual contest held in conjunction with the Spring Pulse Poetry Festival in Cobalt, Ontario. Contest submissions for this year must be postmarked by February 27, 2015

    The Dr. William Henry Drummond Contest is an annual contest held in conjunction with the Spring Pulse Poetry Festival in Cobalt, Ontario. Contest submissions for this year must be postmarked by February 27, 2015

  4. Contests can introduce you to organizations and magazines that you are not familiar with. HINT: It’s vital to research an organization and magazine to not only ensure the contest is legitimate but to get a feel for what that particular market might be looking for. For example, if you are a Canadian poet, seek out professional national organizations like the Canadian Authors Association, The League of Canadian Poets and the Writers Union of Canada or provincial organizations like The Ontario Poetry Society. Check out what contests these members are submitting to. For example, The Dr. William Henry Drummond Poetry Contest was established as part of the annual Spring Pulse Poetry Festival held in Cobalt, Ontario. (Deadline: February 27, 2015.) Also consider contests organized by established magazines affiliated with universities.
  5. Contest fees help support literary organizations and magazines that might not be able to survive otherwise. HINT: Set an annual budget. Be firm with the total amount of fees you wish to spend spent and establish the number of contests you have time for. Make sure the contest isn’t a scam. It should be affiliated with a well-known organization and/or has a reputable judge. Remember some contests like those organized by The Binnacle and Haiku Canada are free so they fit well into a poet’s budget.

    The Binnacle Annual International Ultra-Short Competition is a free contest that seeks poems with 16 lines or less. This year’s deadline is March 15, 2015.

    The Binnacle Annual International Ultra-Short Competition is a free contest that seeks poems with 16 lines or less. This year’s deadline is March 15, 2015.

  6. Some contest fees include the subscription of a literary magazine. This provides valuable market research and reading material. HINT: If you are planning to purchase a subscription, why not spend a few extra dollars and enter the magazine’s annual contest?
  7. Contests can introduce you to judges and established writers who you are unfamiliar with. HINT: It’s beneficial to study a judge’s work prior to entering any contest.

    The Crooked Ledge of Another Day: An Anthology of the Bizarre spotlights the results of Ascent Aspirations Publishing’s 2014 poetry and flash fiction contest.

    The Crooked Ledge of Another Day: An Anthology of the Bizarre spotlights the results of Ascent Aspirations Publishing’s 2014 poetry and flash fiction contest.

  8. Contests can introduce you to names of past winners. HINT: One way to improve your writing is to read what other poets are writing and if possible read winning poems to determine what makes them unique or award-winning.
  9. Contests teach us about sportsmanship. Not all poems entered into a contest will win a prize. That’s the reality of both contests and general submissions. Poets like writers must develop a tough skin. Just because a work is rejected does not mean it is a poorly written poem. What one judge may dislike, another judge may treasure. The key is to keep submitting. If the work is rejected take a closer look at the poem. Should it be rewritten? Should it be work shopped with other poets? Or does it belong in a different market? Treat this as a learning exercise then move on. Even the best writers receive rejections but they continue to submit their work.
  10. Surprise, surprise. Sometimes, a poet’s submission does win a prize. If you never enter a contest, you may never experience that unexpected joy of accomplishment. Each year, a Canadian and an International writer will win the $65,000 Griffin Prize for Poetry, “the world’s largest prize for a first edition single collection of poetry written in, or translated into English, from any country in the world.” The publicity surrounding this Prize has also been known to increase book sales. However, even smaller prizes can draw a publisher’s or reader’s attention to a poet’s work.
  11. Contests can reward contributions with the publication of a poem even if the work is not awarded a top prize. For example the Niagara Branch of the Canadian Authors Association will publish not only the top winning poems from their annual contest but will include honourable mentions and judge’s selections work in their Saving Bannister anthology. Ascent Aspirations Publishing also has an annual anthology where top prize winners are published with other selected work.

    The Niagara Branch of the Canadian Authors Association organizes a provincial contest for Ontario residents. Their 29th Saving Bannister poetry anthology was launched last autumn 2014. Submission guidelines for their 30th poetry contest will be announced soon.

    The Niagara Branch of the Canadian Authors Association organizes a provincial contest for Ontario residents. Their 29th Saving Bannister poetry anthology was launched last autumn 2014. Deadline for the 30th poetry contest is May 31, 2015. Submission guidelines will be posted soon.

  12. Finally, entering a contest is just plain fun. For example, every April, the literary magazine Contemporary Verse 2 hosts the CV2 Two Day Poem Contest. Registered participants receive 10 words at midnight Friday and then the new poem using those 10 words must be finished and submitted two days later. It’s a great activity for National Poetry month.

Poetry Contests: Should we even call it gambling? Absolutely not!

What are your reasons for entering or not entering a contest? Feel free to leave a comment or share this posting with your literary community.