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Reasons for entering a poetry competition

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When considering whether to enter a competition I’ll see what unpublished and un-submitted poems I have available, who is judging, and if I think the entrance fee is reasonable.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.

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Interview with Brett Evans, editor and poet .

Brett Evans is co-founder and co-editor of the poetry and prose journal Prole Magazine.

Prole

Prole has a reputation for spotting and publishing many writers who had previously not had work in print, as well as attracting submissions from more established poets and story writers.

Since its inception, Prole has expanded its operations to include the running of creative writing workshops and an annual competition. The book publishing section of Prole is also growing with the recent publication of ‘Caboodle’, which features six distinct short poetry collections gathered in one volume.  Early recognition for the quality of this publisher and it’s editor’s eye for fine work came when Wendy Pratt’s ‘Nan Hardwick Turns Into a Hare’ (2011)  was favourably reviewed in the TLS.

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Brett lives in his native North Wales where he enjoys walking his Parson Jack Russell terriers Remi and Rio. His poems have appeared widely in publications including Bare Fiction, Butcher’s Dog, The Frogmore Papers, Ink, Sweat & Tears, The Interpreter’s House, Other Poetry and Poetry Wales. His first poetry pamphlet, ‘The Devil’s Tattoo’ (2015) is published by Indigo Dreams.

Hello Brett.  Could you tell me a little bit about how Prole started? Did you and your co-editor see a gap in the ‘market’?  Were you daunted by the set-up costs for a print magazine? Did either of you have prior experience in any areas relevant to magazine production

Prole started, as many things often have, over several pints of Guinness early on in my friendship with my now co-editor Phil Robertson. We did not see so much as a niche but we did feel that a lot of literary journals, not all of course, were publishing more style over substance and felt that there may be a place for poetry and prose with a bit of dirt under its nails, and booze and smoke on its breath; our mantra has always been to engage, challenge and entertain.

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Prole Magazine. 

We weren’t daunted by set-up costs as we were completely ignorant of everything.  Experience?  Roy, we hadn’t a clue about anything: publishing costs, print runs, calling for submissions, ISSNs, you name it we didn’t know it. We had no contacts back then and went into it with what we could afford as an initial stake and hoped we would attract enough submissions for our first issue.

Your magazine is extremely rare (particularly given the size of the magazine in terms of circulation and exposure to sales outlets) in offering to pay contributors according to sales revenue. I remember being very impressed to receive a royalty from you back in 2011 and I’d like to say how much I admire your policy.  Are you pleased with the way things are going so far in terms of circulation?

Thank you. What we pay our contributors is hardly going to bump them into a higher tax bracket but we do believe in paying our contributors and if it is only a small token then it is something. We split the profit of each issue – 50% we retain, and 50% gets distributed to the contributors of that issue. We have been fortunate enough to pay out since the first issue. Yes, I’d say that we are pleased our circulation and word seems to keep spreading by mouth and via social media, a lot of people have been very kind.

What have been the highs and lows of being an editor?

This will sound totally selfish but the high is always getting together with Phil for drinks and silliness! It is a friendship that goes far beyond Prole. However, other highs: simple things from opening a submission and on first reading thinking ‘Yes, that’s for us!’ to holding the latest issue; always a joy. Other joys have been sociable events such as last year’s Prole writes workshop and the two launches of Caboodle this year (the first in Sheffield, the second in London), where we met old friends and made new ones.

As for lows, that’s quite a heavy word and I really am having trouble finding anything to attach to it. There are little frustrations as there are in every job – people submitting to the wrong address, or not reading the submission or competition guidelines fully, but I’d hardly class these as lows as they are easily and quickly sorted out.

That’s a seriously positive attitude! Do you have any advice to would-be editors?

Yes, get someone who shares your passion to share the work and the joy. Obviously you’ll find a way that works for you. At Prole, Phil does the IT, looks after the site, sorts the pdf sales and I do the book work, pack up the hard copies and trudge to the post office in the hope of causing a miserable, muttering queue. Phil reads the prose submissions, I read the poetry and then we send what we think good enough to consider to one another and make our decisions.

But it is in proofing an issue where having two people really helps – one will always pick up something you have missed and vice versa. Make sure it is someone you can work well with, I’m fortunate in having a very laid back co-editor who also happens to be a lovely man to drink with.

Your own collection has just recently been published.

Brett's book

Do you feel being an editor has helped or hindered your own writing at all?  How do you make time for your own work?

Hmm, certainly a bit of both but that is not to say it would necessarily hamper every editor’s own writing. It is common sense that every writer should first and foremost be a reader, but do we always read with an editorial eye? I’d like to think so, but when you have to read the amount of submissions that a journal receives and have to be judicial about line breaks, the weight and balance of words and images (though so much can be purely subjective) and of course any poet should look at their own drafts the same way but there are certain things you recall about pieces either rejected or accepted that you either look out for or strive for.

Making time for my own work has been difficult. Prole aims for a one month turn around with submissions and we do not plan to restrict potential contributors by introducing submission windows (and that is no disrespect to any journals that do – in fact two journals I really admire have had to do this and I fully understand why, but I have no academic studies or ambitions and Prole is my priority). I’ve never made a secret about alcohol being a massive feature in my life – it is an integral part of my pamphlet – so that of course can also distract from valuable writing time. Making time, regular writing time, is something I have to bring in to my schedule, but still Prole’s submitters will receive the dedication due to them and never be waiting more than a month.

Do you have any general advice to potential contributors, either writers or those wishing to offer cover art?

Surprise us. Delight us. Make us laugh or cry, pinch the skin or punch the gut. Our cover art usually contains some human (or animal) element – interpret that as you wish, but cover art of previous copies can be found at our website.

Thank you Brett. Those are some down to earth answers!  Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Just a thank you to you, Roy, and to say it is a pleasure as I have enjoyed your blog so much in the past. All the best. Cheers. Thank You!

Thanks.