Poetry Competition Season

I’ve suddenly become aware of numerous poetry competitions happening right about now. 

On my desk I have leaflets for: the Poetry London Competition, Ledbury Poetry Festival, Keats-Shelley Prize, The Bridport Prize, Mslexia Poetry Competition, and the National Poetry Competition. If I entered all of these at the absolute minimum fee, it would cost £30.50 total.

Poetry competitions are interesting little beasties. I don’t usually enter them for a number of reasons — the small entry fees add up, fussing about with lots of little cover  letters and stamps seems much more reasonable in ‘batch’ form (as with submitting poems to various publications in regular, non-competition form, which is also, get this, free…)

Probably the main reason is the bafflement I encounter at considering that one judge (or a panel of say, three,) is evaluating hundreds, if not thousands, of poems, and that person’s preference will win out, which is completely fine as he or she is the judge — but the subjectivity of the whole process kind of grinds me to a halt. The liklihood of ‘poem A’ winding up as winner via the channels of ‘poet B’s’ personal preference is just so slim. You may not be surprised to hear I don’t play the lottery, either.

Of course, the attention, prizes and prestige that go with these competitions is a fair reason for people to enter. I do, once in awhile. Hearing of people who write a poem FOR the purpose of a particular competition blows my mind, because I never do: if a poem I have matches a ‘theme,’ great, it may entice me to enter. Again, none of this is bad, especially if it is encouraging people to write.

But then I have a misgiving. Shouldn’t you be writing anyway? Maybe there’s the rub. Competitions aren’t bad, but they are a sideline to the business of writing. They bring a lot of positive attention to the winners and to poetry in general, and they are often paired with really great prizes, like a writing retreat or a reading slot at a literary festival. So enter away, and good luck, but keep writing, competitions or no.

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