How to find poetry contests that are worth your time

Winning a poetry contest is a great way to get your name in lights–and possibly get a major publication credit. Of course, it’s sometimes hard to find contests that aren’t outright scams. Let’s start with the wastes of time, shall we?

Who to avoid

  • Any of the Watermark Press imprints: poetry.com and International Library of Poetry, mainly, but there are several others. Here’s the simple fact about the “contests” they run, in case you don’t know: they are simply trying to sell you books. That’s why everyone who enters is declared a semi-finalist. The more people they can fit into their anthologies, the more anthologies they can sell to the poets. Remember Who’s Who Among American High School Students back in your school days? Yeah, same concept. Secondly, if you list poetry.com as a writing credit, editors will laugh at you. Seriously. Getting “published” on poetry.com is like tying your shoes or making a Ted Kennedy joke. Anyone can do it. According to a Jacksonville Sun article from a few years back, this was one of the winning poems:
    -
    Multiple sclerosis, will there ever be a cure?

    We really don’t know for sure.
    The medicines aren’t working,
    so she stays within her home lurking.
    Nothing can make the pain stop,
    she can’t even take her girls to the mall to shop!
    -
    Now, I’m not mocking the author or making light or her suffering, but that is just a bad poem. And it was declared a winner by poetry.com.
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  • Be wary of any contest that is not open about its judging procedures or allows a judges’ former students to enter. It’s not unheard of for judges to use a major contest to push an agenda or to favor his friends, students and lovers. For example, W.H. Auden was judging the Yale Younger Poets Series, one of the most important contests of the 20th century. However, he blatantly refused to pick anyone other than his friend, John Ashbery (author of the influential Some Trees).
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  • Avoid contests that don’t spell out all the rules and prizes beforehand. This is just common sense. You shouldn’t play the game if you don’t know the rules.

Some of the good guys

  • Patricia Grodd Poetry Prize for Young Writers — Backed by the Kenyon Review, this contest is open for high school sophomores and seniors. The top three winners receive publication in the Kenyon Review, while the first prize winer also receives a scholarship to the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop. No entry fee.
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  • Mississippi Review Prize — The Prize seeks any writers in the English language, has a $1000 prize pool, and publishes all winners and finalists in the winter print edition. Entry fee is $15.
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  • Slipstream Press — This contest has $1000 prize for first place, and publishes your chapbook. Although they do have only one prize (first place or bust), they do allow simultaneous submissions and reprints. Entry fee is $15.
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  • Women of Words Award and Poetry Chapbook Contest — Sponsored by the journal Southern Hum, the winner receives $250, chapbook publication and 25 copies of their chapbook. Entry fee is $10.
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  • Gerald Cable Book Award — Sponsored by Silverfish Review Press, this contests seeks to publish a full-length poetry collection by a deserving author. Winner receives $1000, publication, and 100 copies of the collection. Entry fee is $20.
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  • Green Rose Prize in Poetry — Seeks to publish unpublished full-length collections of poetry. Prize is $2000 and publication. $20 entry fee.
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  • Indiana Review Poetry Prize — Seeks individual poems, maximum 3 per entry. Prize is $1000 and publication. Entry fee is $15, which includes a one-year subscription to the Indiana Review.

These are just some of the quality contests available to poets. If you know of others, please comment on this post.

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