competitions, compensation and closure

I had a friend who used to say that until a poem was published, it wasn’t complete.

I’m not sure whether he felt that once the poem had been accepted and approved by an editor it was fixed and he could stop tinkering with it, or whether the purpose of a poem was to reach a readership which only publication would provide. Whatever the reason, in some way, publication of the poem gave him ‘closure’.

In some respects I understood his attitude. But when it came to competitions we definitely disagreed. He was always delighted when a poem was chosen for a competition anthology; I, on the other hand, try to avoid any event that threatens to publish runners up and commended poems.

I try to keep a copy of all my published writing, both prose and poetry. And if I’ve paid an entry fee for a competition, I don’t see why I should then have to pay again simply to keep my records up to date. Particularly as the pamphlets often look as if they’ve been put together by someone who has no idea of either poetry or design and who has printed the copies out at home on a dot matrix printer whose ribbon needs changing.

Ok, I’m exaggerating. A little.

And no doubt I should be more concerned about the quality of the content than the production.

But, to be honest, unless the anthology is both high quality and well produced, I’d rather my poem came home with nothing more than a mention in the list of ‘other commended poems’. I don’t want it hidden away in the pages of a publication that won’t be read by anyone except the people who organised or entered the competition.

Let’s not kid ourselves: if a local writers’ group runs a poetry competition and gets 300 entries, they’re doing well. They then produce an anthology with 30 or 50 of those pieces, but how many copies get sold? I doubt it’s more than 100 or 150. Most of those will be sold to the people whose poems are included. And half the time they don’t actually read it once they’ve found their own name in print.

However, if my poem is a runner up somewhere, I may be able to polish it a little and make it a winner somewhere else. If it’s good enough for one judge to commend it, there’s no reason why another wouldn’t actually thnk it was worthy of a prize. Even if it only wins 20 quid in a small competition, that pays for quite a lot of stamps and envelopes and makes further competition entries possible.

Alternatively, a poem that’s commended in a competition may well get accepted for a magazine, if I can find the right editor. (And most magazines provide at least one contributor’s copy even if there’s no payment.) But once it’s appeared in print, it’s usually no longer eligible for submission elsewhere.

I guess the real reason I’m ranting about this, is that when I was looking at which poems I had ready to be sent out, I realised Terror Incognita wasn’t available. It’s languishing somewhere in a local competition anthology of which I do not have a copy. That’s really why I put it online here: I think it deserves to reach a wider audience.

Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

2 thoughts on “competitions, compensation and closure”

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