27 April 2008

poetry contests

[from Ron Silliman's blog]

I think for a lot of young writers, in particular, especially those coming out of MFA mills (and especially the programs that don’t quite “get” contemporary poetry, which is to say most of them), I think the transition to becoming a practicing writer can be a daunting, even crushing task. It’s when most people stop writing. They find that the context they had for poetry in school no longer exists in the “real” world and don’t know how to build one out of whole cloth. These are the people for whom contests exist, and it’s why I think they’re ultimately damaging. For one thing, the odds are preposterous. For another, unless they actually know the work of the judge, and know who the judge is, there is no way to ascertain if there is any reasonable expectation of even being competitive. They send in their money and their manuscript, they hope and they can feel crushed if they lose, sometimes again & again & again. Where if they would just get together with their friends and publish one another, they would be making enormous headway much more quickly. And their books would be reaching the right audiences. Which is (again) why it’s far better to have a volume published by Pressed Wafer, if you’re a New England poet, than in the Yale Younger Poets Series.


  1. yeah, this sounds right. I have lost interest for some of these reasons.
    The "Poetry World" as it exists is something full of cliques and Who's
    Who and it's too much effort. Even
    Silliman's 'alternatives' are just that...a "gang" of poets who feed each other. It makes me somehow feel like the kid I always was...with my nose up to the window.

  2. I can relate to coming out of college and finding that my inspiration doesn't come as easily as it did, where I was once surrounded by like-minded souls, that academic atmosphere. I have had to find it in other places, maybe not whole cloth so much as in patches and swatches.

    Poetry groups are great when you can find people that nurture and help feed each other. I have also learned from experience that I have to have a tough skin when it comes to sharing my work, regardless of whether it is an editor, a judge in a writing contest, or my own peers, taking criticism with a grain of salt. I can choose to use that criticism salt for seasoning and consideration, or I can toss it over my shoulder.

    Either way, I have to tell myself that I love what I do and that's why I do it. Publishing is just the final step in the writing process, one must take it or the other steps are futile.