Wednesday, 24 March 2010

How to Come Second in a Poetry Competition

Alright - what you really want to know is 'How to WIN poetry competitions'. However, I've only actually won one or two but have come second or runner up in about ten... and you want me to know what I'm talking about don't you?

Sometimes a lower placement in a prestigious competition earns more kudos and cash than winning another one.  I won the Big Issue in the North Poetry Competition and the prize was six books, but snapped up over £300 coming second in the Feile Filiochta in 2007 plus an invite to read in Dublin.

Why enter? It raises your profile, boosts your writing CV and can get you published. OK, it costs to enter most competitions but I have actually made a profit over the years with 16 cash prizes. (If I make that sound easy, bear in mind this is out of 140 competitions entered.)

The first point to bear in mind when aiming to win competitions - and pay attention because this is REALLY important - you have to enter them. If you're not sure how to find them,  PrizeMagic is really useful (and entertaining) list of poetry competitions in UK and further afield. There's also a regular mailing list called Kudos compiled by Orbis editor, Carole Baldock.

Top ten tips for winning prizes in poetry competitions

  1. ENTER competitions - if you don't do this, none of this will work.
  2. Study previous winners of the competition you are about to enter, and competitions in general to get a feel of what judges are looking for
  3. Choose competitions which are at the right level for you and look kosher. (I've written more about choosing which ones to enter HERE.)
  4. Submit poems that say something deep about life...
  5. an unusual way or from a different angle or unexpected point of view...
  6. ...using strong characters and specific images...
  7. ...with memorable phrases – especially the first and final sentences...
  8. ...and no clich├ęs - root them out, at the end of the day.
  9. Make sure your punctuation and spelling is PERFCET
  10. follows the rules of the competition to the letter - you will be disqualified if your poem is too long, late, or presented  in a way other than stated in the guidelines

Incidentally, I was recently runner up in Ragged Raven's annual competition - and they have chosen my poem title as the name of their excellent annual anthology (*blushes*): 'The world is made of glass'  They probably wouldn't have done this is I'd called the poem 'Shards' - which was sorely tempting - so maybe I should have added to the list something about having an interesting title.

Do any of you enter competitions of any kind?


  1. Coming first can be a sticky position. You can only go down.

  2. no I don't, I lack the bottle.
    wish I didn't. I am just about brave enough to write a blog.
    You should see my drawers (not knickers) stuffed with bits of paper
    from before the days of the Infernal Machine.

  3. Great advice. I came second in a competition to be Poet Laureate in my local town. At the awards ceremony (in a castle's Great Hall - the best bit!) the winner had to wear a laurel wreath on her head and have her photo taken by the local paper. That was when second seemed like A GOOD THING.

  4. Congraulations on your runner-uppery - very impressive!

    I can't write poetry to save my life (well only the rhyming stuff with proper poets laugh at) but I do enter short story competitions occasionally. Mostly smaller ones where I have more chance of winning :o)

  5. Hah. Last poetry competition I won was two nights ago.

    There were only 10 people in the room, including myself, and two other people were performing. My brother was also there. And he was a judge. And we were all a little bit tipsy.

    Can you put 'skills in nepotism' on a poetic CV, I wonder?

  6. sorry for delayed responses to all of you here - I have no idea why I didn't at the time. Shall we blame my computer? Yes - lets!
    Moptop - yes, but at least you've come somewhere!
    Friko - in the grand scheme of things it isn't really bravery, methinks
    Fran - how fabulous. I think we should have wreaths here, too. I already have a pink sash.
    Karen - I LIKE rhyming stuff and it's just as 'proper'. I struggle a bit with short stories.
    TimT - I thought you were the OTHER Tim - which could have led to all sorts of confusion if I had actually responded the first time. But I'm just catching up on my blog-reading and your latest set me straight! I think we can forgive your winning in such circumstances because at least you came clean about it!

  7. Oh, I remember now! I was 'out of the country!'