16 Ways to Not Win a Poetry Contest: Guest Post by Miriam Sagan

Please welcome our guest blogger Miriam Sagan, who has read thousands and thousands of poems submitted to a
variety of national and local poetry contests over the past decade. She
has retired from judging to run the creative writing program at Santa
Fe Community College in New Mexico, where she advises the student run
Santa Fe Literary Review. Her blog is Miriam’s Well. She has won a few poetry contests
in her time.


As a poet and teacher, I’ve been asked to judge many poetry contests. These range from large national ones to one in the local newspaper. At times, there have been so many entries that they’ve arrived in boxes from UPS. I’ve been paid in money, thanks, and even gift certificates for restaurants in town. What strikes me about these contests is both optimistic and pessimistic. The optimism comes from the fact that so many people actually care enough about poetry to write it and submit it. The pessimism derives from the fact that many of these writers obviously don’t read or even know much about contemporary poetry.
There are a few simple things any poet can do to vastly increase the chances of winning a poetry contest. These include everything from honing craft to following directions. I thought it would be fun, however, to tell you how to NOT win a poetry contest. I’ve often wished I could include such a slip with entries that didn’t win–and never would–without work from the poet.

  1. Write your poem in total isolation. Don’t read contemporary poetry–after all–you don’t want to be influenced, even by the greats.
  2. Don’t revise. Don’t bring the poem to a class, or critique group, or ask a friend. Who cares what anyone thinks, it is your poem.
  3. Don’t read the poem aloud to see if it is finished. Why disturb your napping cat?
  4. Ignore the craft of poetry–feelings don’t need images or metaphors.
  5. Use a hackneyed one word title like “Death” or “Autumn.”
  6. Content? What is that? Isn’t a poem supposed to be obscure?
  7. Disregard the specified rules of the contest.
  8. Go over the line or word limit–after all, it is your favorite poem!
  9. Heck, send whatever you want–a novel chapter, a non-rhyming poem to a rhymed contest, a cycle of poems when you only paid for one. How uptight can these judges be?
  10. Use teeny tiny type (maybe no one will notice it is over the line limit) or gigantic cursive or handwriting or attach a photo of your puppy.
  11. Submit something pornographic
  12. Or a wild-eyed religious rant or
  13. Spew hate.
  14. Include a note telling the judge why you really should win.
  15. If you don’t win, curl up in a ball and absolutely decide to stop writing.
  16. Never enter another contest again.


If you follow all these steps I can guarantee you will never win a poetry contest. On the other hand, if you avoid these steps you just might win!


And if you’re interested in contributing a guest post of your own, please click here to find out how you may be able to make that happen.


Enter a contest today!
Writer’s Digest runs contests frequently for all genres of writing, including fiction, writing for children and teens, poetry, and more!

Click here to learn more.

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60 thoughts on “16 Ways to Not Win a Poetry Contest: Guest Post by Miriam Sagan

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  7. PKP aka Pearl Ketover Prilik

    Dear Miriam … what a delightful "sweet 16." I especially enjoyed the last.
    Heading over to read a bit more at your site. Robert, thank you for this introduction to guest posting and to Miriam for being a wonderful first guest poster! Does this make her a ‘poster child?" (Mhmmm was that on the list?)

    Thanks again

  8. Colette D

    Thanks Miriam, for this advice — it is so funny, and I know I’ll remember it with much more ease than a non-sarcastic, go-by-the-numbers how-to list of suggestions. Plus, it’s a lot more fun your way! ;D
    Thanks Robert for this great and fun idea of guest posts!

  9. Karen Bonner

    This was great! Number three really made me laugh. I know I have a lot of things to learn about writing poetry. I think the first one you listed is the main one I should work on. Must read more poetry to write poetry! Thanks for the post 🙂

  10. Bruce Niedt

    Right on the money! An entertaining way to convey good advice with bad examples. How many "poets" have I met – or heard at open mics, or read as an editor or judge – that fit this profile? More than I care to count.

  11. Michelle Hed

    Can I just say, "ha ha ha ha"! This was excellent! I enjoyed it very much! Nine and ten really had me going. 🙂 I don’t think I do any of these things, except perhaps the tacky title, I might be guilty of that one. 🙂
    Thanks again!


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