Things to avoid when entering a poetry competition

I thought it might be interesting to post a couple of times through the process of editing this year’s NZPS anthology. There’s no official secrecy about it, but an awful lot of people don’t seem to know how the process works. So lets start with some real duh moments.

The first time I edited the anthology, I actually had two poets (who shall remain nameless) phone me at home to tell me I’d got it wrong. One of them was (sort of) excusable – the poem I picked was quite quirky, and the poet in question thought I must have meant his/her other entry, and had accidentally written the wrong title down. The other person essentially wanted to know why his/her poem hadn’t been selected. And was it because s/he’d [something about pestering NZPS committee members]. And so-and-so had said it was a very good poem, and so I should have chosen it. And I should choose it. I should. 

For those of you who read the above and are thinking “well, what’s wrong with that?” … argh.

On that note, here are some words of advice.


Some Poetry Competition DON’Ts

Don’t use fancy/coloured/scented paper – unless you’re a child, this isn’t cute or interesting or funky, it’s just bloody annoying. (And it’s only ‘barely tolerable’ from a child.) Think about it. I’m going to have to read hundreds of entries. Don’t make my eyes or brain sore. Don’t make me want to throw your entry in the No! pile.

Similarly, Don’t use fancy fonts/large type. Make it as easy to read and as neutral as possible. You want the poem to lodge in my brain, not your taste in typefaces.

Don’t ask the judge/editor/competition secretary why your brilliant poem wasn’t chosen. Most competitions have a condition saying something along the lines of “no correspondence will be entered in to”, and they really mean it. And the competitions that don’t specifically prohibit it are assuming that you have the sense and good manners to understand that that sort of things is wildly inappropriate. Be an adult, not a sulky child. Otherwise you may find your entries mysteriously going missing.

Don’t ignore the entry conditions or blissfully assume that you know them, don’t have to read them, or don’t have to follow them all because no-one really minds as long as you include your fee.

This last one is on my mind a lot at the moment. The NZPS comp has a large haiku section (adult and junior). In excess of a thousand entries. The entry conditions ask you to submit TWO COPIES of each individual poem ON ITS OWN SHEET OF PAPER. Which, no doubt, is why one school sent in over three hundred entries printed five or six to a page. The poor competition secretary had to spend a full day cutting the damn things apart, and noting a different entry number on each tiny sliver of paper.

I’ve already been through and selected my shortlist of junior haiku, and all those tiny slips of paper were a real pain in the arse. Had I been aware that the school hadn’t even had the courtesy of following the entry conditions I would have binned the damn lot. Yes, seriously. Apart from how bloody annoying they were to handle when editing, they provide a potential OHS issue for the Society.

Seriously. Read the damn conditions. TWO copies means that one set goes to the judge(s), the other to the editor. (Or is held by the competition secretary in case one lot goes missing in the post.) FORMATTING requirements are just common sense – make it as easy on the judges and editors as you possibly can. If all the bits of paper are the same size, I’m less likely to lose any when I’m shifting the piles around. They’re easier to handle. They stack up properly. Don’t give the judge any reason to want to discard your entry.


End of rant. Next week – some comments on the selection process.

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