Poetry Competitions: Everything You Need To Know 

Hey there, fellow poets! If you’re anything like me, you’ve often wondered how to dive into the exciting and rewarding world of poetry contests. I get it—there are so many contests out there, each with unique rules, themes, and prizes. It can feel overwhelming, right? But don’t worry, I’ve got your back!

I’ve entered my fair share of poetry contests, faced the ups and downs, won some, lost many, and learned a lot along the way. Now, I’m here to share everything I know with you. So grab a cup of your favorite brew, settle down, and let’s dive into The Complete Guide to Poetry Contests. Trust me, it’s going to be a fun ride!

1. What are poetry contests, and why should I enter one?

Poetry contests are competitive platforms where poets submit their work to be judged by experienced writers, poets, or literary figures. Why enter? Let me tell you about winning a poetry contest for the first time. The thrill, the recognition, and the boost to confidence are invaluable. Not only can contests give you exposure, but they also provide deadlines (great for procrastination), feedback, and even prizes like cash or publication.

2. How do I find poetry contests to enter?

The Letter Review Prize is open for submissions. Our writing contest is awarded every two months, with a total Prize pool of $4000 USD and publication for our winners. Up to 20 writers are Shortlisted in each category, and the winners are considered for submission to the Pushcart Prize and other prestigious anthologies. All entries are considered for publication. The categories are Short Fiction (up to 5000 words), Poetry (up to 70 lines), Nonfiction (up to 5000 words), & Unpublished Books (Novels, Story Collections, Poetry Collections, and Nonfiction).

When I first started, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of contests out there! What worked for me was following websites that list reputable contests, subscribing to literary magazines, and joining poetry communities online. Your local library or community college might also host contests. Just like when I stumbled upon a local contest that turned out to be perfect for my style—sometimes, the right contest is just around the corner!

3. How do I know if a poetry contest is legitimate?

This is crucial! Not all contests are created equal. I learned the hard way by entering a shady contest that ended up being a scam. Always research the organizer, look for past winners, check if there are entry fees, and what they offer in return. Reputable contests will have transparent judging processes and provide clear information about prizes and rights. Trust your gut—if something feels off, it probably is.

4. How should I choose the right poetry contest for my work?

Oh, finding the right fit! It’s like trying to find the perfect pair of jeans. You need to consider the theme, style, length, and sometimes even the form of the poem. I remember when I found a contest specifically for sonnets—it was perfect for a piece I’d just finished. Always read the guidelines carefully and make sure your work aligns with what the contest is looking for. It’s a match made in poetic heaven!

5. Are entry fees for poetry contests normal? Should I pay them?

Entry fees shouldn’t deter you. They often support the administrative costs of the contest or fund the prize. I’ve paid my share of fees for contests that were well worth it. Also, there are also free contests that are reputable and fantastic. It’s all about researching and weighing the potential benefits. If the contest is legit and the fee is reasonable, go for it!

6. How do I write a poem that stands out in a contest?

Ah, the golden question! I can tell you from my own wins (and losses) that originality is key. Be yourself, let your unique voice shine, and don’t be afraid to take risks. Play with language, explore new themes, and push boundaries. Remember the time when you read the poem about the dancing cactus? It stood out because it was different. Don’t be generic; be extraordinary! Purple cow.

7. Can I submit a poem that’s been published elsewhere?

This is a tricky one, and it tripped me up once. Some contests allow previously published work, while others require exclusive, unpublished material. Make sure to read the fine print! If it’s unclear, don’t hesitate to reach out to the organizers. Better safe than sorry!

8. How do I handle rejection from a poetry contest?

I’ll be honest; rejection stings. I’ve had my share of “thanks, but no thanks” emails. But I’ve learned to see them as opportunities for growth. Ask for feedback if possible, and use it to improve. Keep submitting and remember that even famous poets faced rejection. Keep your chin up, and your pen moving!

9. What rights do I retain when I submit to a poetry contest?

Rights can be a complex issue. I once lost the rights to a poem I loved because I didn’t read the fine print. Usually, you retain the rights to your work, but some contests may require exclusive rights for a certain period if you win. Always, always read the guidelines carefully and understand what you’re agreeing to. Seek advice from a lawyer in complex legal situations that you don’t understand, and don’t rely solely on advice from Letter Review.

10. Can I submit the same poem to multiple contests simultaneously?

Simultaneous submissions can be a time-saver, but they can also be risky. Some contests allow it, while others don’t. I learned this the hard way when I had to withdraw a poem from one contest because another one accepted it. Always check the rules, and if in doubt, stick to one contest at a time.

11. What should I focus on while editing my poem for a contest?

Editing, my friend, is often where the magic happens. I’ve spent countless nights polishing and fine-tuning my poems. Focus on clarity, imagery, and emotional impact. Remove unnecessary words, refine metaphors, and make sure your poem flows in just that way you intended. Remember, every word must earn its place on the page.

12. How do I deal with nerves before submitting to a poetry contest?

Oh, the butterflies! I get them every time, even after all these years. What helps me is to remind myself that I’m proud of my work and that I’ve done my best. Sometimes, I’ll take a walk or chat with a fellow poet friend. And don’t forget, no matter the outcome, you’re still a fantastic poet! If nerves bother you regularly, consider meditating or increasing your daily exercise. Eat healthy. Perhaps speak to your doctor.

13. How can I leverage a win or honorable mention in a poetry contest?

Winning or even getting an honorable mention is a huge deal! When poets experience their first win they often go to cloud nine. Use it to boost your writing resume, mention it in your bio, share the news on social media, and celebrate with fellow poets. It’s not just a win; it’s a validation of your hard work and talent. Next time you reach out to a publisher to discuss the publication of a collection of your poems, make sure to mention your win.

14. What’s the importance of following submission guidelines in poetry contests?

I can’t stress this enough: Follow the guidelines to the letter! Ignoring them can lead to instant disqualification. Trust me, I’ve learned this the hard way. From formatting, font size, submission method, to themes and word count, make sure you adhere to every single detail. When in doubt, double-check!

15. Is it okay to write in a non-traditional form for a poetry contest?

Absolutely! I once won a contest with a poem written entirely in dialogue. If the guidelines don’t specify a particular form, feel free to experiment. Just make sure that the form serves the content and that it’s not just a gimmick. Be bold, be original, but above all, be true to your poetic voice.

16. How can I make my poem resonate with the judges of a contest?

Connecting with the judges is a subtle art. Read previous winning entries if available, understand the theme, and try to align your work with the ethos of the contest. That time when I wrote a nature poem for an environmental-themed contest? It clicked because it resonated with the contest’s core values. But remember, never lose your unique voice; it’s what makes your poem special.

17. Can I enter a contest if I’m outside the contest’s country?

This varies from contest to contest. I’ve known poets who’ve entered international contests successfully, but some contests might be restricted to residents of a particular country or region. Always check the guidelines to be sure.

18. How can I increase my chances of winning a poetry contest?

There’s no surefire recipe for winning, but you can increase your chances by submitting your best work, tailoring it to the contest, following the guidelines meticulously, and being original. Keep learning, keep growing, and never give up. Remember, every submission is a step towards success. Seek feedback and refine your techniques. Always return to your favourite poems to discover what you love most in a poem. Pastiche is a fine way to begin.

19. Should I enter contests that only offer publication as a prize?

Publication can be a fantastic prize! I’ve entered contests just for the thrill of seeing my work in print. If the contest is reputable and aligns with your goals, why not? After all, it’s not just about winning; it’s about growing as a poet and sharing your work with the world.

20. Can beginners enter poetry contests? How can they start?

Beginners, welcome to the exciting world of poetry contests! I remember my first contest entry; I was as green as they come. Don’t be daunted; many contests are open to all levels, including newcomers. Start by finding contests specifically aimed at beginners or open to all. Read, write, revise, and take the plunge. Every poet started somewhere!

21. How do I know if a poetry contest is reputable? What should I look for?

Ah, the search for the golden contest! I’ve sifted through many to find those gems. Reputable journals are often members of the CLMP and adhere to the CLMP Contest Code of Ethics. Letter Review’s poetry contest uses this code of ethics. Look for contests hosted by trustworthy literary organizations, magazines, or publishers. Check the judges’ credentials, read previous winners, and search for feedback from other poets. If it sounds too good to be true, it might be. Trust your gut and do your homework!

22. Should I write to the theme, or stick to my style in a poetry contest?

This is a dance I’ve often done! If a contest has a theme, it’s essential to adhere to it, but never lose your unique voice in the process. I once wrote a love poem for a contest about technology, using tech terms as metaphors for romance. Stay true to yourself, but also be adaptable and creative.

23. How long does it usually take to hear back from a poetry contest?

The waiting game, oh, how it tests our patience! It varies from contest to contest. I’ve heard back in weeks, and other times, it’s taken months. Most contests will specify the notification date, so mark that on your calendar and try (I know it’s hard!) not to obsess over it. Keep writing in the meantime! For some organizations it can be up to half a year or more. I once waited for over a year to hear back from Granta.

24. How important is it to understand the judging process in a poetry contest?

Understanding the judging process can give you an edge. I once entered a contest where the judging was blind, meaning the judges didn’t know who wrote the poems. Knowing this allowed me to focus solely on the content without worrying about my bio or background. Familiarize yourself with how the contest is judged, and tailor your submission accordingly. Letter Review’s poetry contest is judged blind.

25. Can I enter a poetry contest with a collaborative poem written with a friend?

Collaboration can be a joyful experience! I’ve written collaborative poems, but entering them in contests can be tricky. Some contests allow it, while others don’t. Check the rules, and if in doubt, contact the organizers. And make sure both you and your co-writer are on the same page (pun intended) about entering the contest.

26. Is feedback from poetry contests common? Should I expect it?

Feedback is like gold, but not all contests offer it. I’ve received some invaluable feedback from contests, while others have sent only generic rejection letters. If feedback is essential to you, look for contests that specifically offer it. The Letter Review’s poetry contest comes with the option for feedback.

27. How can I use poetry contests to build my writing portfolio?

Contests are stepping stones! Winning, placing, or even just participating can be added to your writing portfolio. I’ve used contest experiences to show my commitment to my craft, my willingness to take risks, and my successes. Don’t underestimate the power of contests in building your writing journey.

28. Can I enter a poetry contest if I’m under 18?

Young poets, rise and shine! Many contests are open to younger poets, and some are specifically designed for you. I’ve mentored young poets who’ve won contests, and it’s a thrilling experience. Always check the age requirements, and don’t be shy to show the world your talent. Letter Review’s poetry contest is open to writers of all ages.

29. How do I stay motivated to keep entering poetry contests?

Motivation can wane, I know, but keep your eye on the prize (literally and metaphorically). Celebrate every entry, learn from every experience, and connect with fellow poets. I have a poet buddy, and we cheer each other on. Remember, every contest is a chance to grow, to learn, and to shine.

30. How can I keep track of all my poetry contest submissions?

Organization is a poet’s best friend! I’ve used spreadsheets, apps, and good old-fashioned notebooks to keep track of where and when I’ve submitted. Include the contest name, submission date, response date, and any other essential details. Stay on top of it, and it’ll save you headaches down the road. Duotrope and Chillsubs are two excellent submission managers to consider. They list prizes and opportunities and help you keep track!

31. What resources can I use to find poetry contests?

Ah, the treasure hunt! I’ve found contests in literary magazines, writing newsletters, websites like Poets & Writers, and social media groups for poets. Connect with fellow writers, and keep an eye on reputable literary platforms. Opportunities are out there, waiting to be discovered! If all else fails, try Googling list of poetry competitions. The Letter Review Prize for Poetry is now open.

32. How can I write a winning cover letter for a poetry contest?

The cover letter is your handshake, your smile, your introduction. Keep it professional, concise, and friendly. Mention the contest name, the poems you’re submitting, any relevant bio information, and a thank you. And remember, your poems are the stars; the cover letter is just the opening act. Mention where you have been published before, and writing courses you have completed. Quickly mentioning one or two things you are passionate about can help to build rapport, but keep it short. For example, ‘I’m passionate about hiking, and swimming.’

33. Should I take a poetry writing class before entering contests?

Classes can be transformative! I’ve taken workshops that have sharpened my skills and introduced me to lifelong writing friends. If you can, I highly recommend taking a class. But don’t let lack of formal education hold you back. Your unique voice and passion are what make your poetry sing. And if you can’t afford it, just skip it (or maybe seek a scholarship!).

34. How can I ensure that my poem fits the contest’s theme?

Reading and understanding the theme is vital. I once misread a theme and had to rewrite my poem at the last minute! Analyze the theme, brainstorm how your voice can contribute to it, and if possible, read previous winners to gauge what resonates with the judges.

35. How can I create a unique voice in my poetry for contests?

Voice is a funny subject. Poets who have strong voices would probably agree that the voice can be changed. Many elements make up voice, such as who your imagined reader is, the purpose of addressing the reader (i.e. to cheer or strike with wonder), even energy level (and many other things). Experiment with many types of voice. Experiment with every element of your writing. If a poem seems to resonate with a competition, or with your readers, ask people why that is. Expand and delve into the parts that appear to be well received. Experiment, and refine. Voice will emerge.

36. Should I hire an editor before submitting to a poetry contest?

An editor can be a valuable ally. I’ve hired editors for specific projects, and they’ve helped me see my work from new angles. However, it’s not a must. Consider your budget, the importance of the contest, and your confidence in your work. Peer feedback and self-editing can also go a long way.

37. Is it necessary to follow traditional poetic forms in contests?

Traditional forms can be beautiful, but they’re not always required. I’ve submitted sonnets and free verse alike. Check the contest guidelines to see if they specify a form. If not, feel free to let your creativity soar. Just make sure it’s polished and resonates with the theme if there is one.

38. What’s the importance of understanding a contest’s audience?

Tricky. Easy to be prejudiced here. Don’t assume a magazine with predominantly older readers are looking for a specific type of poem. Or that young readers can’t handle certain types of writing. Political leanings are relevant: if a magazine like the Australian Overland identifies as being left wing, then socially progressive themes are likely to be received well there. If a magazine is conservative like Quadrant, then themes more relevant to the right wing of politics are bound to be popular. But there is no hard and fast rule: art eludes neat compartmentalization, and writing to your perception of an audience’s desires jeopardizes the creation of art you truly believe in.

39. Can entering poetry contests lead to other opportunities in the writing world?

Absolutely! Contests can be door-openers. I’ve had poems published, received invitations to readings, and even made connections with other writers through contests. Even if you don’t win, just participating shows commitment to your craft. Keep entering, and you never know what doors might swing open.

40. How do I know if my poem fits the length requirements of a contest?

Getting this right matters! I’ve had to trim and even expand poems to fit contests. Always check the guidelines for line or word counts. Follow them to the letter (literally!) as going over or under can lead to disqualification.

41. How do I write a bio for a poetry contest?

Writing a bio is like introducing yourself to a new friend. Keep it relevant, professional, and concise. Mention your writing background, significant publications, awards, and something personal that reflects you as a writer. Usually it’s good to look calm, and trustworthy.

42. Can I write in a language other than English for a poetry contest?

Language can be both a barrier and a bridge. Some contests welcome poems in different languages, especially if they reflect cultural diversity or a specific theme. I’ve seen contests that encourage bilingual or non-English submissions. Always check the guidelines to ensure your language choice fits.

43. Should I consider self-publishing if I don’t win a poetry contest?

Don’t let a “no” stop your “go”! I’ve taken poems that didn’t win contests and self-published them in chapbooks and online platforms. Consider why the poem may not have won, revise if needed, and then explore self-publishing if traditional routes aren’t opening up. Your words deserve to be read! Remember there are poem contests that accept self published work.

44. Can I attend poetry readings or workshops to improve my chances in contests?

Yes, yes, and yes! Workshops, readings, and classes have enriched my writing journey. You’ll learn new skills, meet fellow poets, and even discover new contests and opportunities. I’ve often found inspiration and encouragement in these settings, which has fueled my contest entries.

45. How do I know if poetry contests are right for me?

Ah, the big question! Poetry contests aren’t for everyone, and that’s okay. Try entering one or two, see how it feels, and assess what you gain from the experience. I’ve found contests to be exciting and growth-inducing, but the right path is the one that feels true to you.

And there you have it, a comprehensive guide to the world of poetry contests from someone who’s been in the trenches. Entering poetry contests can be an exhilarating experience, full of growth, learning, joy, and sometimes a few tears.

What’s most important is that you enjoy the process and use it to hone your craft. Write from the heart, follow the guidelines, and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. You never know, the next big win might be just around the corner. Just like it’s happened for many in the past, that one magical day, it could happen for you.

Keep writing, keep believing, and above all, keep being you. You’ve got the words and the passion. Now go out there and make some poetic magic. Happy writing, my poetic friends!

The Letter Review Prize is open for submissions. Our writing contest is awarded every two months, with a total Prize pool of $4000 USD and publication for our winners. Up to 20 writers are Shortlisted in each category, and the winners are considered for submission to the Pushcart Prize and other prestigious anthologies. All entries are considered for publication. The categories are Short Fiction (up to 5000 words), Poetry (up to 70 lines), Nonfiction (up to 5000 words), & Unpublished Books (Novels, Story Collections, Poetry Collections, and Nonfiction).