I’ve been reading a couple of posts online lately about whether poetry prizes are worth the entry fees. While I do understand that the often steep fees tends to privilege those who can afford it, and that there may be a bias towards certain styles of writing, or certain subject matters, I do think in the main that poetry prizes are good for writers. For a relatively unknown poet, prizes are a great way of getting your name known, and your work taken seriously. Even a longlist can make the difference between being able to get your work published or not. The best poetry competitions are blind judged by well respected poets at the top of their game, which means that entrants aren’t advantaged by number of publications or how well-known they are.
As a ‘professional’ reader of poetry who is often overwhelmed by the number of books that come my way, I do often rely on competition wins to help direct my attention. It’s a noisy world out there, and prizes help filter that noise a little. I often use the excuse of a competition entry to direct my writing and as encouragement to polish something.
For me, the Newcastle Poetry Prize is one of the best and something I enter annually. It’s a regional prize and administered by the Hunter Writers Centre - a writers association that I’ve been a member of for over 20 years (they’ve sent a lot of opportunities my way, including a fully funded mentorship which got me going with my first novel). With a $15,000 prize for first place, the prize substantial enough to warrant time and effort, and this year they’ve got the fabulous Eileen Chong and Kevin Brophy as judges. Because they accept up to 200 lines, the competition is particularly suitable for longer poems and poem cycles or poems with multiple parts. For me this is a kind of constraint since I usually write short poems and has given me a reason to explore the longer form, and do something I might not otherwise tackle. The prize is blind judged, and many poets have become known through their wins. Competition is steep to be sure and the winning poems have been exceptionally good, so the chances of winning aren’t huge, but at the end of it, even if you don’t place, you have a poem that you’ve polished to be its best, which is already a win. Enter here by the 30th of June: http://www.hunterwriterscentre.org/newcastle-poetry-prize.html