Poetry Competitions With The Best Prizes
Poetry competitions are worth the effort not only because of the opportunity to establish your reputation or gain prestige and respect but also to win the best prizes. Being treated seriously by poets and non-poets alike is an admirable cause but if you look at it purely numerically, you’ve a better chance of winning a reasonable prize than being accepted by a reasonable magazine or being featured on national TV. Unlike magazine submissions, there’s a clear cut-off date – after which you can send your poem elsewhere. Some competitions offer book publication as the prize – one of the few ways for new poets to get published nowadays.
Of course, it wouldn’t hurt to have luck on your side. Here are some useful tips to win poetry competitions with the best prizes:
Judges would be always looking for excuses to reject poems so avoid obvious errors and obvious subject matter.
Create a strong start as well as a solid ending.
Don’t be obscure but don’t take too many risks. A great line won’t in itself win a competition though a bad line will lose one.
Technical skills matter in poetry contests although it cannot guarantee you a sure win.
It’s best to avoid hackneyed subjects. It might also be a good idea to avoid dealing with recent big events – too many other poets might have chosen the same topic.
Winning competitions can be like applying for a job. The first stage is more to do with avoiding errors in order to get in the short-list. The second stage is where depth is revealed.
Do not be scared to write poems that don’t rhyme or scan, as long as they are good.
If you do use a traditional form, you’ll need to get the metre right.
The most important quality is authenticity of voice – be yourself.
What you should know about poetry judges
Judges in poetry competitions are not all famous for writing poetry. If there are established mainstream poets on the table, they are usually full time writers or tutors, not necessarily knowledgeable about many types of poetry. But they’ve a keen eye for bad examples of the types of poetry they understand – bad poems might be rejected in 10 seconds. When there’s more than one judge, don’t expect a surprise winner.
If you’re going to send in something that’s a little unusual, make sure you know the judge’s taste in poetry. However good your piece is, they may not appreciate your ‘language’. But you cannot also assume that they only like the sort of stuff they write.
Which competitions to enter
The National Poetry Library has produced a list at http://www.poetrylibrary.org.uk/competitions
Beware of covert exploitation – a £1 entry fee deserves a £100 first prize, a £3 entry fee deserves at least a £500 first prize. And if the judges aren’t named, don’t bother entering. Here are some of the bigger UK competitions:
June – The Bridport Prize (£5000 1st prize)
October – the Poetry Business competition (£1000 of prizes + publication for a booklet), the Poetry Society competition (£5000 1st prize, about 6000 entries)
December – The Cardiff Poetry Competition (£5000 of prizes)