In 2009, the year in which I discovered there were magazines in the UK and Ireland specifically publishing poetry, I also stumbled upon the wide world of UK-based poetry competitions.
I found the website the Poetry Kit and entered one or two. I had beginners luck that year, having a poem come third in the Ledbury poetry competition, as well as poems placed in a couple of smaller comps. I was simultaneously making my first exciting forays into submitting to poetry magazines. I’ve always done both- that is submitted to a few competitions and quite a few magazines.
I didn’t (and still don’t) have any strategy for which poems I send where. People talk about the ‘competition poem’ but I’m still not sure what this is, and though I will sometimes read the winners, I don’t study the results to try to assess what type of work is being given prizes. As with the editorial taste, everything will depend on the taste of the judge or judges, and, in-case you think you have hit on a plan, this may vary considerably from the work they themselves produce.
When I do look at competitions I can’t tell a ‘competition poem’ from one I might see in a poetry magazine. Then there are the variations in my perception of the quality of the work. There are competitions where the work chosen has seemed to me to be exceptionally good, and others where I am surprised, bemused or, on one notable occasion (when a very big prize was being offered) completely confused by the choices of the judges.
When considering whether to enter a competition I’ll see what unpublished and un-submitted poems I have available, who is judging, and if I think the entrance fee is reasonable. Other factors might be where the entrance fee goes- I understand that magazines like The Interpreter’s House run a competition to enable them to keep the cover price down- and that others, like The Ver (St Albans) and the Lumen support charities. I’ve written a bit about these and other aspects of poetry competitions before, on the Poetry Submissions page of this site.
Some poets I know don’t enter competitions for various reasons. Others enter lots. I enter one or two a year, and have yet to enter any of the really ‘big’ competitions as I don’t like paying more than £6 to enter for some reason – perhaps that’s the cut off point because it’s the price of a drinkable bottle of wine – so that rules out the National Poetry competition and a few others.
Should you submit your poem to a competition or a magazine? Well, to help you decide you might consider how long it will take to get a response. In many cases the results may come back faster than a response from a good magazine. And if it’s a ‘smaller’ competition, there may even be less entries for a competition than there are submissions to a popular (in poetry terms) magazine. I suppose submitting to magazines could be viewed as a kind of competition, albeit one that is free to enter. It is possible that the competitions run by smaller magazines offer better odds, to use gambling terminology – after all, in entering a poem for a comp you are effectively placing a bet on your own poem.
I started writing this post because I wanted to flag up this year’s Prole Laureate Competition. Prole is a small high quality print magazine based in Wales, and their annual competition is relatively inexpensive to enter (I don’t fancy drinking wine at that price, unless it’s by the glass) and affords better odds, I imagine, than some of the larger comps. Prole is a self funded project and has survived and flourished due to the hard work and dedication of its founders. So if you are in the mood to enter a competition and have a poem free, why not have a go. If you want to consider entering after reading an interesting and informative interview with one of the hard-working editors Brett Evans, here it is. Goodnight and good luck.