Jun 27

What's Really Wrong with Poetry Book Contests

Check out this essay by David Alpaugh, published Nov. 12, or just the excerpts below, if you've suspected there's something wrong with the exponentially growing number of poetry-book contests -- bet it'll articulate some of your uneasy feelings! Samples from the essay:
  • "Today, a short search of the web turns up over 300 chapbook and full-collection competitions . . .Even if contests merely continue to escalate at the rate of five or six extra competitions per year, an astounding minimum of 50,000 poetry books will be published as distinguished award-winners by the end of this century!"
  • "Before Emily Dickinson’s heap of 1,775 untitled poems could be competitive, she would have to discard 1,700 of them; give each of the remaining 75 a title; sort them into three thematic batches, each with a section title and epigraph; and come up with a catchy “umbrella” title (Wild Nights might be a hit with student-screeners)."
  • "Poetry book contests privilege serious poems over humorous ones; pathos over wit; “sincerity” over virtuosity; they eschew satire and persona; and devalue variety in favor of consistency of theme, form, tone, and “voice.” A swerve into the ineffable in the last few lines of each poem will keep your work “open” and “risky” in conformance with current MFA workshop practice."
That last one might not be entirely accurate anymore; I sense from recent winners that "the ineffable" is old hat, and satire and wit are coming back.