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How to enter poetry competitions 2

The advice I’m giving here is quite general and quite obvious. It won’t tell you how to win but it will help you to avoid simply wasted entries.

1) Read and comply with the rules. If it says 30 lines don’t send in a 31 line poem – it will be disqualified. Poetry judges are faced with a difficult task whittling down the pile of entries – any obvious short cuts available to them will be taken. If it says ‘in black on white paper’ don’t use the yellow stuff they were throwing out at school etc. etc.

2) Make utterly sure that what you send is correctly punctuated and seplld rite. Judges cannot correct or revise your manuscript. They may really like a poem, but because it is missing an obvious full stop or a conjunction they will have to reject it. The judge knows it is a good poem, she knows just what you meant to write, but still has to reject it – frustrating for both of you. The poem can’t appear on the winners rostrum uncorrected and the judge can’t correspond with you to get it corrected and there are other entries which have everything present and correct so…next time make sure that applies to yours. (As with all proof reading ask a friend to take a look or better still, an enemy.)

3) Most competitions ask for ‘original’ work. In that case don’t send them a translation (there are translation competitions for that) and don’t send them a poem ‘after so and so’. The ‘after X’ poem gives the judges a headache. Unless they are world-experts on X they won’t know how much of the poem is new and how much might be borrowed. Are they going to spend all night reading the collected works of X in the hope that they won’t find a big chunk of your poem in there – it is not likely is it? There have been several celebrated cases of magazines and competitions getting duped by plagiarists in the last few years, so it is not the kind of risk a judge will want to take. Send the poems ‘after X’ to magazines and the translations to outlets specifically geared to consider translated work.

4) You are going to enter near the deadline – because you have a life (possibly) because you want your poem to spend as little time out of circulation as possible (probably) because you are in a panic and just remembered (certainly). Try to enter a day or two before the last. Why? because in that final flurry of emails, when a thousand poets are trying to get through the door of the web server, accidents happen. That is when payments get dissociated from poems, poems get dissociated from poets, and competition administrators just get dissociated. The risk is that either you pay for something you don’t get or the whole process fouls up and you’ve lost your time if not your money. If something has gone wrong with your entry there will be very little time to investigate or correspond: we do our best, but help us out by entering when there  are still a few days to go.

5) Unless the on-line process is particularly difficult then enter on-line. It is generally cheaper than paying for postage – and the postal service does not always take care of those envelopes. It is generally less complex for administrators who can scrape your details from the on-line form rather than having to re-type from hard copy. Finally re-typing or trying to read handwriting introduces the possibility of errors – particularly with email addresses – and you want the organisers to be able to contact you about your prize!

Five very dull and obvious points…..but as part of a judging panel recently we had to reject several poems which had already reached the long list (the top 40-50) on quality because they were either too long, mistyped or potentially unoriginal.