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.
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.
- Contests provide a deadline. Some writers work better under pressure. Deadlines can motivate some poets into action. It helps me focus.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.