Perhaps that could be a poem title? Should I send it to the Poetry London comp, or is more of a Poetry on the Lake sort of title? Could I get some kind of double meaning out of ‘game’ in order to make it a nature poem and would it appeal to Simon Armitage when judging the Rialto comp?
‘Games’ were fun things we did as kids, weren’t they? if you discount ‘games’ – that Wednesday afternoon ritual at secondary school that usually involved mud, cold and not being picked for the team. But now we have gaming. Gamesmanship. Game over. Not fun any more. Or is it?
If we decide to enter poetry competitions we could approach it as a game (ie a bit of fun). We give a go, and if we win it’s great – sometimes a cash prize, sometimes a prize giving event or publication. Or in the case of a big competition, career-enhancing. We don’t mind paying to enter because it’s a lot of work for judges and organisers. And besides, the entry fees are a way of giving something back to poetry – the promoters of competitions are usually publishers after all, or champions of poetry in some way.
Is there an alternative? In the wider world of ‘comping’, there are people who make a good living from competitions and win more iPads, Audis and holidays than they can cope with. Apparently the secret is to approach it systematically. Less beach cricket, more The Hunger Games. A serious comper will tell you it’s a waste of time NOT to approach it this way.
So is that also true of poetry competitions? I’ve read various posts about this – what makes for a competition-winning poem, what ‘due diligence’ should be done before entering a competition, whether you’ve got more chance in a smaller competition than a big one (not as obvious as it sounds!) Judges are often happy to give their side of it, either being helpful before the fact (Emma Lee has written a good article outlining exactly what she looks for when judging a competition) or in judge’s reports (which often tell is like it is – essential reading!) Personally, I find the shortlists and longlists (for those competitions that make them public) tell you a lot. I’m often amazed at some ‘big name’ poets entering competitions. And the sheer number of entries from some poets – either money’s no object or their strategy is spend big to win big…
I also read recently (can’t remember on whose blog – help me out, someone) that competition-winning poems don’t necessarily have a place in a pamphlet (and vice versa). I quite enjoy sometimes writing to a theme, but is writing ‘competition poems’ anathema to a poet working on a pamphlet or a collection? And yet that’s a bit of a broad judgement too – look at Ian Duhig’s marvellous The Lammas Hireling, winning the National and then the title poem of a fine collection.
I came across this interesting piece by Jendi Reiter which, although it’s primarily to do with submitting to US journals and competitions, I still found useful. I rather like her reminder that if you enter competitions, “you’re going to get a lot more rejection than validation, and internalizing others’ opinions of your worth will lead to writers’ block or fearful, unoriginal writing.” I think this is one reason I’m so ambivalent about it. I’m not sure I can keep up a healthy attitude to writing poetry at the same time as entering comps. And yet part of me enjoys the game, and every now and then I can’t resist it.