The Secret of Poetry Competitions


Here’s our scoop on how to give yourself the best chance when entering a poetry competition or poetry contest.

Poetry competitions and contests can be a great way of setting yourself a target as a writer, and for finally polishing up your half-finished poems into completed work. Having your poem chosen in a competition can be a huge boost to your confidence. In addition, many of the best poetry competitions offer exciting training opportunities and support to help you develop as a writer. Here are some tips to make the most of a poetry competition and perhaps getting the inside track on winning.

Take a few moments to pick your favourite competition(s)

There are very many poetry competitions out there and it is worth taking a few moments to choose which one you are going to work towards. Always look to see if the judges are respected poets – a good guide to the calibre of the competition – and try to read winning poems from the previous years’ competitions, which will guide you towards the kind of competition it is. We have listed some good competitions in our Poetry Opportunities Page.

Read the rules, twice…

It is depressing how many poems are set aside simply because the poet has gone over a line limit or has ignored the stated theme of the competition. Don’t let your hard work go to waste by assuming you know what to do without having first read the rules.

Getting your poem ready

It is always better to send one poem that you have drafted and redrafted than a lot of poems that you haven’t reviewed as carefully. Ruth Padel says, “When you’ve finished and you think it’s perfect, take a knife to every line and say ‘do I really need you?’” If you think a line or even a word works less well than the rest of the piece, the judges are bound to notice it too; it is far better to have a shorter but stronger poem than a longer one with a weak line in it.

Try reading your entry aloud to yourself before you send it off. This might help you pick up on any snags or rhythmic glitches. The judges may well read entries aloud to each other, so a poem that ‘feels right’ in the mouth will have a greater chance of success.

For more ideas on getting your poem you can read Cliff Yates’ advice on rewriting.

Make it look professional

The judges may have thousands of poems to read, so they won’t appreciate poems that are laid out in a way that is hard to read. Type up your poem if you can and choose a friendly font like Arial or Times New Roman. Keep it large enough to read, but not so big that it runs all over the paper. As a hint, 12pt or 14pt is fine. If you are entering a handwritten poem, keep your writing as neat as possible. Don’t detract from the poem with pictures or colour papers, the judges are more likely to be impressed by a professional looking poem in a nice and plain font on plain white paper.

Leave plenty of time

If you are entering a competition by post, make sure you leave enough days for it to arrive safely. Even if you are entering online, remember to leave enough time so that you can work things out even if you are stuck with any hiccups or computer problems. Remember to check what time of day the competition closes: some competitions close at midnight, some at noon, some at 5pm or 6pm. Don’t be caught out!

And finally…

Putting your stake on just one competition and then torturing yourself endlessly while you wait for the winners to be announced won’t do any good. Be realistic and don’t pin your hopes on just one thing. Once you have sent your poems off try to forget about it and focus on your next poem. To freshen up your mind and get inspired, try to read something new.

While this feature has focused on competitions where poets submit written work, there are competitions where poets perform their poems (like the SLAMbassadors UK championship shown above) or for essays about poetry such as the T.S. Eliot Shadowing Scheme. Find out about the range of competitions on offer on the Poetry Opportunities Page.

Published April, 2011

10 thoughts on “The Secret of Poetry Competitions

  1. Also- don’t go slightly over-excited and enter too many as to seem unprofessional and overload on the judges. Choose what to send well, and limit it to a few very good things.

    1. Hi. You can use the Poetry Map to help you find competitions you want to enter and follow the guidelines for each of them. Please also have a look at the challenges we post up on the network to inspire you. Best of luck!

  2. Remember-while some sites and competitions are better than others,some are vanity publishers or just downright scams. Make sure you use companies you trust, otherwise it can be disappointing to discover this later rather than sooner.

    1. Hi there,

      Thanks for your comment, and we’re sorry to hear that you’re scared of not winning. Remember – you don’t have to submit to poetry competitions until you feel ready. There’s absolutely no pressure to share your work with anyone. We hope you keep writing.

      Best wishes,

      Young Poets Network

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