I’ve been trying to come up with some good advice for submitting to a competition. Rather than preaching something new, I’ll instead repeat something I was once told – which is to “do everything you can to stand out.” At least, for the right reasons of course.
The first simple step as I see it, is to get a hold of the competition guidelines and make sure you follow them.
That way, the first impression you make isn’t a bad one. Simple but classic advice, and yet, it happens a bit and always saddens me. As a poet, I know the care we put into our work and the big step it can sometimes be to submit our work to a competition, so it’s a shame when a writer disqualifies their own entry with a simple oversight.
Now, more importantly – the poem itself. I hope people find these two pieces of advice useful, perhaps for any competition in any genre: 1) Surprise the reader and 2) Be authentic. Now, both of those suggestions are perhaps a touch vague as they stand and one might even be misleading at first glance, so I’d like to discuss them a little for a moment.
Surprise. With surprise it’s not about providing a twist ending or ‘shocking’ content, so much as taking the reader somewhere unexpected. Let the judge see an old thing with new eyes, experience a familiar setting with new senses, rethink established ideas and norms with your poem – whatever you write on, make it worth a second look. You’re going up against the best poems of every poet who submits, so it’s your job as a competitor to stand out from the crowd.
In terms of authenticity, the quality might be harder to describe in terms of a poetry competition. Poetry, like all art, filters through the lens of the artist so of course it’s going to have the stamp of authenticity on that level. Your world view and experiences inform your poetry. But what seems to go awry with some entries is a fear of the self – a lack of confidence, perhaps – and an urge to rely too heavily on artifice.
Instead, use your worldview. Use your experiences and present them honestly and if there’s an urge to censor yourself, resist. Censorship of poetry has to be the death of poetry – and sometimes the one who censors most is the artist. Resist the urge.
Make what you say matter to you. And this might mean that a poem is political or focus on social commentary; it can be anything so long as when you look back on the poem in ten years, you can still feel the sting of its emotion. A truly authentic poem is one where, no matter how much time passes, you still know what you were thinking when you wrote it, you still know who you were when you wrote it, and you still recognise that it mattered to you.
And, still be proud that you said something authentic about human experience, perhaps.
So there’s some rambling on submitting for the competition, hope it helps!
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