Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Poetry Book Contests Revisited

Having blogged probably more than you wanted about the dangers of book contests, and pointed readers to David Alpaugh's canny -- and now infamous -- essay on the paradigm of poetry book publishing contests and why they're like the pre-2008 economy (a bubble bound to eventually burst under their own weight), I have to admit that I have entered a few book contests this spring.

DISCLAIMER: I have only entered contests where I have some reason to think the final judge will appreciate my work. This, of course, sounds suspiciously like some sort of in-grouping, but no. I'm thinking of editors who have selected my work in the past, or at least commented on it, but with whom I have no personal or academic connection, thereby flouting no contest guidelines and courting no charges (in the unlikely event that I win) of favoritism.

Though I have already been tarred with that brush and accused of favoritism by complaining about Foetry, I remain pure as the driven snow. Not the driven slush, like Tallulah Bankhead. We're talking great drifts of unaffiliated purity, since I've never taken a single course, let alone an MFA, from anyone who could possibly be judging a book contest I've entered.

So which contests did I enter? Contests sponsored by Prairie Schooner; Pleiades; Cleveland State University; Nightboat Books; and Steel Toe Books. I did have a personal connection with one of those publishers -- and that was the editor who turned me down!

So, still pure. And relatively unconcerned to send many more checks to support poetry book contests, whose winning books, Alpaugh points out, will largely go unread. I can go unread all by myself. And may pursue other publishing options.

But it is fun once in awhile to spin the roulette wheel.


  1. In my estimation with regards to poetry contests, it's best to have absolutely no connection AT ALL to the contest judge. If the judge has been in contact with you even for five minutes, fahget about it, as they say. However, if there admiration for your work has been secretly kept from you, or if they have never read your work and when they do, fall of their chair in amazement, you have spent your $ well.

    Won't Send to a Friend

  2. Martha,

    But doesn't that automatically mean you will be judged by those who have elected themselves unmoved by your work -- that is, all the editors and poets who have failed to select your work for anything, ever? But maybe that's the real beauty of contests, their impossible-dream quality.

    You're right, of course, never send to a friend is the best policy. Luckily, I don't have too many friends among poetry book contest judges. And that's the beauty of it.