A short rant against poetry contests

Almost every day, a new solicitation for a poetry contest pops into my inbox. I have read articles and heard rumors about their transparency or lack of transparency. But even if all entries are read blind, and the awards are based solely on what the appointed judges fell is the best work (or the best of the screened entries provided to them), I am writing this very short rant against the whole dynamic of the poetry contest.

At this  point there is almost a contest every day–some days multiple contests. Entry fees go from $15-40 per contest. In fact, the raison d’être of the contest is to fund the offering organization, a journal, a publisher, whatever. Some organizations run multiple contests a year, a continuous income stream. Each of these contests must have a winner regardless of the quality of the submissions, producing a glut of meaningless winners of contests, and allowing the organization to keep publishing.

This glut of fundraisers masquerading as contests seems opposed to the very spirit in which poetry should be written. I have entered and won or been a finalist in contests in the past, and with this little note plan to opt out in the future. Let my poetry stand or fall based on my own taste and the pleasure of those who read or hear it.

2 thoughts on “A short rant against poetry contests

  1. I agree with what you say about the idea of contests being inimical to the idea of poetry, but have a few quibbles. I’ve been on both sides of many contests over the last decade and do believe that, except for perhaps the very most prestigious ones, such contests are in fact run blind and are fair. For better or worse, they are one of the few routes left open for beginning poets to get any positive acknowlegement for their work, let alone publication. And they continue to offer an entree to publishing for new writers. They level the playing field, giving writers without publication credits a shot at getting one or two. Yeah, the proliferation of such contests has definitely diluted their value as arbiters of good work. They don’t and should not mean a whole lot to the public at large, and they mean less to editors in the know. Most writers, like you, will decide at some point they don’t need to enter contests, or not as many. But I think they are still important for new writers or writers otherwise struggling to get any recognition for their work.

    1. You raise some really good points, and I agree with them. But wouldn’t it be better if writers, new or established, could just submit their work and subscribe to journals that they wish to support?

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