The first poetry competition I entered was Ledbury 2010, judged by Billy Collins.
My poem came third and I won £150. This may have given me a false impression of how likely one is to win a poetry competition. I’ve been lucky to have been placed or commended in a few, and have even won a couple. I don’t enter anything I consider expensive, and for some reason I’ve never entered the National, although I might.
The best thing about these comps. is not the prize or being published online or in the winners anthology, both of which are nice, but the invitation to read at the award presentation. I’ve shaken hands with, and had nice things said to me about my poems, by judges whose work I hold in high regard. I’ve met and made friends I would not have otherwise met – for example the Irish poet Paul McMahon , winner of the 2012 Nottingham Open Poetry Prize. I’ve eaten canopees, cake, nice biscuits, cheese on sticks, and sometimes I’ve sipped wine before the sun has got past anything resembling a yard-arm. It’s a great way of feeling part of a poetry community and for getting a sense of how poets and poetry thrives in cites, towns and villages away from the major prizes, annual awards and readings.
I’ve written some thoughts on poetry competitions before on the Poetry submissions page of this site. Competitions do tie up poems which you might otherwise submit to magazines, but I quite enjoy the wait for results and I try not to get too disappointed if my poems are not selected from what are often hundreds or thousands of entries.
Some positive aspects are that a percentage of the fees often go to good causes (Allan Sillitoe Prize, Ver Open homeless charity etc.) as well as helping to fund poetry societies and small publishers. From the poet’s point of view there is of course the chance to win (perhaps a better chance than having a poem taken by a big magazine), to be anthologised, and my favourite part, to travel, to read and to meet people.
This morning I received an invitation to read at the Abbey Theatre, Holywell Hill, St.Albans on July 6th. My poem ‘A Western Australian Piano Graveyard’ has been highly commended in the Ver Open competition judged by Nick Drake. I like Nick Drake’s work very much and am looking forward to meeting him and hearing him read. It would have been nice to win (the £600 1st prize was won by Josh Ekroy whose work is always striking) but it is good to have a poem chosen by a poet whose work I admire and to be invited to read a stones throw from the flat where I lived for many years.