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Poetry competitions: ‘do you not know who I think I am?’

Winners & losers roadsign

I laughed out loud at Martin Malone’s editorial in The Interpreter’s House 57 on the subject of poetry competitions.

What is wrong with us? […] Are we such fragile approval junkies that we need to feel repeatedly validated by our Highly Commended in the East Jokerville 3rd Annual Arts Festival Poetry Competition?” Er, is that a rhetorical question?

He goes on to question what competitions are actually for (“Do they produce some great poetry? Or do they produce great Competition Poetry? Has this notion actually become a poetic sub-genre in itself?”)

Competitions are one of those things that poets are supposed to feel ambiguous about. You know how it is: you shouldn’t appear too bitter if you go in for something and don’t win (the Troubadour winners have already been contacted by the way, and I didn’t get a phone call – PAH!). But then again, if you win something, it doesn’t do to be dismissive in an attempt at modesty (“It’s not as if it were the National!”). And yes, I’m guilty of this – but then a friend pointed out “If you go in for a competition, surely the best possible result is to win?” (ie what the &*$@?* are you moaning about…)

It’s taken me a while but I think I’ve finally learnt my lesson: the best policy is to treat winning in the same way you should treat any compliment – accept it graciously, say thank you but don’t let it go to your head.

Or as Martin says, “A personal rule of thumb with regard to competitions is that they’re all rubbish except the ones I win or do well in. And I’m right: they are all rubbish except those ones. I think I speak for many in the poetry community when I ask the question, ‘Do you not know who you think I am?’ ”  Tee hee!

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  1. I think I speak for everyone inside my crowded head, when I say that what you have written here, Robbie, is sage. Very sage. With a great amount of onion thrown in. Let us not, then, fear getting stuffed by competitions.

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Robin Houghton 2021