Prompted by John Foggin’s recent post on poetry competitions and an email conversation I’ve been having with a friend of mine, writer and academic, Zoe Walkington, I thought I’d pitch in and share what I’ve been doing over the last couple of weeks, which is putting a pamphlet together. Smith/Doorstop, who have published my previous two pamphlets, are running their annual Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition, so the obvious thing seems to be to get it together for their deadline (1st March). I can highly recommend entering, as being a winner of this competition in 2011 was a massive boost for me. However, if I miss their deadline, there are other small presses, so I’m trying not to be too hard on myself if I don’t get the work ready in time.
Zoe and I have agreed to read each other’s submissions, so here’s part of the email I sent her which outlines my thinking:
I’d love to read it [the pamphlet manuscript] so please do send it. I’m trying to get some poems together myself, not so much in the hope of scooping a prize, but more as a way of submitting myself to the process, if that makes sense. I’ve been out of the loop with poetry a bit, and I know putting poems together for a pamphlet makes you think very differently about them, so I’m treating it as a sort of refresher course (with all the attendant anguish it induces). My feeling is that if you’re paying to enter, you force yourself to take it seriously. And once you’ve got the poems together, they can always be sent elsewhere if they’re not successful.
So, in the spirit of comradeship, do you want to read mine by return? No worries if you can’t fit this in, and I’ve not quite got them as I want them yet. However, if I don’t get on with it this weekend, it won’t get done at all!
You are possibly a bit further down the line with yours!
As for the judges, it’s probably best not to think about them at all as they won’t know what they’re looking for until they see it. If it’s any help, I’ve scribbled the following criteria on the front of my manuscript (in no particular order): cohesion/ groupings, pairings, authority/ maturity, variety, titles. For me, these are all areas where I feel I need to be more rigorous. As I said at the start, I really don’t expect to be placed but the other thing about entering is that it shows the readers where you’re up to with your work, and they do sometimes publish pamphlets without them being comp. winners. You deserve to win by the way – that last pamphlet was really good. Did you send it anywhere else?
Looking back over my poetry with a view to putting it in some sort of order is something I find always difficult, but I’ve been telling myself it’s doing me good, shuffling poems about, tweaking final lines (like titles, they’re sometimes hard to pin down), cutting an adjective or two. Of course, it’s taking up most of my spare time, but hopefully it will be worth it. And when I catch myself thinking, ‘This pamphlet will never win’, I try to remember what John Foggin says: The odds of your winning a poetry competition are dramatically increased if you enter.