Wednesday, June 15, 2011

the contest shuffle

There has been quite alot of buzz over the last few weeks over this article and the role that contests play in the poetry community. At first, I sort of wrote it off as being a tad bit overdramatic (yet another diatribe on what is "ruining" poetry..blah, blah, blah..) even though I do tend to agree a little that one shouldn't soleley depend on contests, as a poet, as a way to get ones' work into the world. It has always just seemed that the odds are far worse, having to please an endless gauntlet of first readers, editors, judges (this is even in a fair contests, outside of Foetry shenanigans). It actually seems easier, in the cases where presses allow open submissions, to only have to impress a single editor, or small staff, than to have to succeed in jumping all the hoops of contests, to get past so many sets of eyes to a single judge.

I don't run contests at dgp, mostly since it seems like a logistical nightmare, but I do know alot of good presses that depend greatly on the entry fees to help them get their books out and get them read. As a reader, many of my favorite poetry books are prize winners, and I know that the authors benefit greatly not only from the prestige of winning, but the buzz generated around certain contests, which in turn puts more books in possble readers hands, which can only be a good thing. (For example, I got a huge new readership even being just a finalist in the NMP chapbooks contest, possibly a little book that's sold far more copies than either of my 2 full-length books published outside the contest system. When I get praise or fan mail from readers, more than not, it's about feign.)

I think the biggest problem though that I had with the article seemed to be the specific choice of alternatives, some presses mentioned that definitely seem to be rather tight coteries (Canarium Books, for example, and maybe I'm wrong, but there are alot of predictable names on their list--good names, but exactly who I would expect to see..) that it would be hard for average unknown writer with a first book to break into, even harder than a contest where everyone's work is judged anonymously. It would definitely be easier if you have alot of connections, friends in publishing, to find a way to get your work out there. But if you're not living in the right place, down with the right people, publishing in the right places, aware of presses that take open subs, a contest might might be just as good an option for helping you break on the scene, and spectacularly so with the right contest if that's what you want.

I always feel a little like there are so many ways of being a poet (the academic contest route, the indie press route, the self-publishing route) and all manner of ways of going about it, that you just need to find what suits you and meets your needs of finding readers...

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