Those first two exclamation marked phrases in the title are good to set the heart of any hopeful writer racing but the third is very rarely uttered out loud. That’s left for the writer to work out for themselves.
There ARE fantastic long-standing and well respected writing competitions worldwide but there are also too many competitions which are merely a cynical money-making exercise, that prey on the hopeful scribes who live on the dark, (sub)urban streets of the perpetually gloomy and downtrodden district of Slushpilesville.
These competitions are the muggers on the corner of that town’s goddawful streets and they’re not having to brandish a knife. They just smile sweetly at you and ask you to pay for a chance of Hope.
We came across this site last night. It made us not just a little bit angry – but angry enough to spit out, and put to one side, our late-night snacks of fudge, cheese and jelly beans (with a sidewash of gin), so that we could take a closer look at yet another ‘in it together’ website. But we think it might be legal? It looks exciting – homely – comforting and wahey!! £500!! Let’s all dig in!! But wait…
You have to pay £8.50 to enter a poem and £12.50 to enter a story.
Now, where are the judges? Oh, there are none! They are to be ‘found’ online via a public voting system.
Where are these people based? It’s a .co.uk site so I presume it’s English but why is the spelling all American?
So do I keep the copyright of my work once it goes on their site? Uhh, it doesn’t say.
So, I get to be entered into other national competitions if I win! Woohoo! But, hang on, those competitions are free to enter by anyone and your entry will most likely be invalid as submitted by a third party?
If you are entering a competition with your writing – those words that you’ve spent hours, day, weeks, sometimes even years slaving over – you owe it to yourself to use the following checklist:
How long has the competition been running?
Who is judging?
What are the publishing/copyright terms?
Have any past winners gone on to being published. AND was that something more than the competition’s own publication?
Please know that many competitions work this way:
They get you to pay to send in your poem/story
They choose one winner but then tell all participants (within reason) that there will be an anthology/collection/national tome of the best entries.
They send you an order form to order said anthology/collection/national tome at the standard price of £x + premium profit. And you don’t get a penny in royalties. But that’s okay because… YOU’RE PUBLISHED!!
Being published is lovely. It really is! But there has to be a grip on the credibility of what being published actually means. The kudos of being chosen in a national, long-standing, credible competition is immense. Entering into the spirit of a town’s search for their own poet laureate is fabulous. But no-one should pretend that a town or city is serious with this intention if they are saying it is a worldwide competition. Surely if it’s a local competition it should be local? Unless, ahem, that wouldn’t generate enough money?
That is, if the actual writing that’s produced at the other end is actually only a mere sideline to the bank balance of the Think-tank behind the competition?
Take a look at what competitions are out there – choose wisely.
There’s too many people making a fast buck out of other people’s hope.
There’s too many falling for it.
Spread the word? Slushpilesville needs a clean-up.
Imagine an art gallery where every canvas is the same size, every painting uses the same media, every image is monochrome.
Some may argue that it would be a fabulous art gallery to visit. You get to concentrate on the subject matter rather than be distracted by an artist’s individuality in the way he presents himself. Some may say that to create art with such constraints is a breach of the fundamentals of art. The artists themselves would most likely see it as an interesting exercise but refuse to conform to it being the norm.
Yet poets conform. Every ‘official’ representative body of the poetic world enforces strict rules on how poems should be presented to them. I presume this means that poems of other formats are not ‘proper’ poems.
I have just completed and published my second poetry collection along with another author’s, making a total number of fifteen books I have helped through to publication. Each one is unique. In some cases the author has illustrated, in others the author has asked for a settled spacing to create an additional question of the book as a whole, in one there is a blatant conglomeration of prose and poetry on the same page… and they are all magnificent.
The progression of poetry outside of the ‘established’ organisations, is an exciting transformation into a combined visual, audible, anarchical attack of the reader. And it’s thrilling. In my town, Brighton, poems are being posted in disused buildings, stickered on empty shops and every poetic rule is whipped into submission by the poet’s desire to just ‘get it out there’ because they also see the need to create a new audience and a new platform for their work.
I have no doubt that once these ‘rebel’ poets have achieved that audience, drowning out the table pounding of die-hards bleating on about meter, those same ‘official’ representatives will embrace the genre, say that it was all their idea anyway and then impose rules on how subsequent works should be presented in order to achieve recognition.
So I hereby declare the formation of the Unofficial Poetry Society. The only rule is that there are no rules. Sign up at any local lavatory wall. No subscription required.