I was also interested in Ron Silliman's analysis of a survey of the online reading & publishing habits of poets conducted by Simmons B. Buntin for Terrain.org. Among many fascinating things he noted (his blog has a number of postings on this survey), there was the advice of 'don't enter competitions'. Well, I have done both (ie entered and deliberately shunned). Am I doing the wrong thing, either way?
I realise that the kinds of poetry competitions that prevail in the USA, and which I presume Ron is referring to, are a little different to here. I suspect it's partly connected to the foetry business (no, I won't provide the website, it's been overdone).
The large Australian literary prizes, as opposed to competitions, are run either through state government agencies (I once managed the NSW Premier's) or large trust funds. One's publisher enters a book (though individuals can also do so), so far as I know very few require fees (I can only think of one, because I used to also manage it), and in many but certainly not all cases the judging committee is both known and changed each year.
We have very few of those competitions run by publishing houses where you enter your manuscript plus fee and if you win they publish your book. We do have a proliferation of prizes for poems, long or short. I don't know if this is the case elsewhere. These are the ones I have done and shunned, over the course of years.
I've entered because:
- some prize money is worth scoring, or
- there is an associated anthology with some standing in the poetry community, or
- I was trying to prove something (I think, but am not exactly sure what and to whom), or
- it is a prize which I felt duty-bound to support.
I have deliberately shunned them because:
- I object (and continue to do so) to paying to enter a competition (if a comp is unsustainable, it shouldn't be run)
- I know that on the whole I don't write 'prize winning' poems (I've been a judge so I do know this, a fascinating contradiction, as I'm sure even blind Freddie will pick up on)
- one poem proves nothing
A poet I know, a well-respected and not conservative one, was very shocked when I said that that I wasn't entering any of the big poetry comps at the time we spoke. I don't have a black and white attitude about it, just the doubts expressed above. Sometimes, I don't mind wasting the time and money if it means it gets me working on something specific. I'm pragmatic enough to use whatever comes to hand to get me working. But I don't see poetry competitions as either compulsory or necesssarily useful. The prize money is always welcome, as I'm sure all would agree.