Thursday, August 28, 2008

Poetry Book Contests - makes you think

It's that time of year again - when multiple book contest deadlines seem to, well, multiply. Along with the average cost of subbing a manuscript to contests. I've heard poets say they've spent more than $500 to enter contests (I forget whether the person who quoted that sum had actually won a contest).

New Pages has a handy guide to upcoming deadlines.

Here's another handy guide, courtesy of poet David Alpaugh, author of the thought-provoking article published in Poets & Writers, "The Professionalization of Poetry." David is as handy with statistics as he is with words, as this excerpt from a new article shows:

1) A cursory investigation on the Internet turns up 158 full collection poetry book contests and 172 poetry chapbook contests. That's 330 contests a year--and though just an approximate figure, it's a conservative one.

2) If the figure holds at the current level there will be 3,300 poetry book contest prize awards each decade--33,000 by the end of this century.

3) Everything leads me to believe that the figure will not hold--that the current trend and history of exponential growth will continue and that the figure will double, triple, quadruple, perhaps even ten-tuple as technology proceeds.

4) We could easily be looking at over 100,000 poetry book awards by the end of the century! Each book chosen from hundreds, in some cases thousands, of entries by "distinguished" poet/judges--and published by supposedly selective, credible presses, trying earnestly to bring the best poetry available to the reading public.

5) How could a 22nd century English professor be confident that he had a handle on the best 21st century without carefully reading these 33, 000 to 100,000 "prize-winning" books? And how about the tens of thousands of books that didn't win prizes? How about the tens of thousands of self-published ones?

Certainly makes you think before shelling out the contest fees. Instead, you could spend that $500 to get your collection well printed. Since we all know we are our own distributors, and even Shakespeare and Whitman self-published, why not skip the middle man? Of course, those prizes look alluring. Every year the top prize amounts go up. As do the average fees. Of course, readers should be counted by their quality, not necessarily their quantity.

It all makes me thoughtful. And then my brain seizes up and I just want to read and write poetry and flee logic, at least for awhile go lyric.