I made a concerted effort to send out some poetry competition entries earlier in the year. I haven’t had the success I’d have liked, but there have been a few short-listings and commendeds.
I received a copy of the adjudicator’s report for the Southport Writers’ Circle International Poetry Competition a few days ago and was delighted by the fact that my piece Neighbours (I) was commended for “its use of everyday language to express an horrific scene.” (The fact that it’s called Neighbours (I) might reasonably lead you to think there are other neighbours. There are, and they are mostly quite nasty, too.)
I checked up about what happens to the commended poems from the Southport competition and was pleased to be reassured:
We usually only publish the placed poems on our web site[…] [I]f a poem is good enough to be commended it’s good enough to win elsewhere and publication denies the poet this opportunity.
This fits closely with my own ideas which I’ve mentioned here in the past.
I’ve also just heard that two of my three entries to the South Bank Poetry Magazine Inaugural Competition were short-listed, so one of them will be in the competition anthology issue which is out in November.
Of course you never know how long the short lists for competitions are, but I gather this must have been 50 from around 450, which I don’t think is too bad. It’s interesting that one of the poems was a fairly rambling performance-style piece that I wasn’t at all sure would work on paper, while the other was a neat little eight-line vignette. Both of them had been finished specifically for the competition, the longer piece from a note originally jotted down in spring 2009, the vignette dating back at least a year before that.
It’s not easy to know what will appeal to the judge of a competition; indeed, many smaller competitions don’t tell you who the judge will be. For the SBPM competition, though, I was fortunate in that I know Niall O’Sullivan from the Poetry Café Poetry Unplugged sessions that he hosts on Tuesday nights. Apart from that, since the competition asked for poems on the general topic of London, it was a lot easier to choose which pieces to enter than it usually is when there is no set theme.
When it comes to entering poetry competitions, there are a number of general guidelines that can at least ensure your poem doesn’t get thrown out immediately. The first is read the rules: although they are always fairly similar, there are minor differences and if you don’t follow them to the letter, however good your work is, it isn’t going to win.
Incidentally, there’s a downloadable pdf available from the Poetry School website where George Szirtes talks about some of the things to consider. (You have to register on the site to access it.)
I think I’ve seen most of the advice before, but one phrase caught my attention: “Poetry is repetition without boredom.” Hmmm… I agree, but I think there’s more to it than that.
And now that all my poems have come home without bringing me a penny for my efforts, I’d better start sending them out again to seek their fortunes. (Poetry competitions, are, apparently, also repetition. Although, given my lack of enthusiasm at this point, perhaps they are repetition with boredom.)