Skip to main content

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
magazine
Santa Fe Literary Review. Her blog is Miriam's Well. She has won a few poetry contests
in her time.

Image placeholder title

*****

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.

*****

Image placeholder title

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.

From Our Readers

What Book Ended in a Way That You Didn’t Expect but Was Perfect Anyway?: From Our Readers (Comment for a Chance at Publication)

This post announces our latest From Our Readers question: What book ended in a way that you didn’t expect but was perfect anyway? Comment for a chance at publication in a future issue of Writer's Digest.

From Script

A Deep Emotional Drive To Tell Stories (From Script)

In this week’s round up brought to us by Script magazine, read interviews with filmmakers Wendey Stanzler and Maria Judice. Plus a one-on-one interview with Austin Film Festival’s executive director Barbara Morgan.

Paul Tremblay: On Starting With the Summary

Paul Tremblay: On Starting With the Summary

Award-winning author Paul Tremblay discusses how a school-wide assembly inspired his new horror novel, The Pallbearers Club.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: An Interview with Steven Rowley and Jessica Strawser, 5 WDU Courses, and More!

This week, we're excited to announce our interview with Steven Rowley and Jessica Strawser, 5 WDU courses, and more!

Writer's Digest Best Everything Agent Websites for Writers 2022

Writer's Digest Best Everything Agent Websites for Writers 2022

Here are the top websites by and about agents as identified in the 24th Annual 101 Best Websites from the May/June 2022 issue of Writer's Digest.

Ashley Poston: On Love, Death, and Books

Ashley Poston: On Love, Death, and Books

Author Ashley Poston discusses how she combined her love of ghost stories, romance, and books into her new romance novel, The Dead Romantics.

Choosing Which Movements To Put in Your Fight Scene (FightWrite™)

Choosing Which Movements To Put in Your Fight Scene (FightWrite™)

Trained fighter and author Carla Hoch discusses how much of a fight's details to actually put into a story, and how even with fight scenes sometimes less is more.

5 Research Tips for Writing Historical Fiction, by Piper Huguley

5 Research Tips for Writing Historical Fiction

Author Piper Huguley shares her five research tips for writing historical fiction that readers love and writers love as well.

Announcing 40 More Plot Twist Prompts for Writers!

Announcing 40 More Plot Twist Prompts for Writers!

Learn more about 40 Plot Twist Prompts for Writers, Volume 2: ALL NEW Writing Ideas for Taking Your Stories in New Directions, by Writer's Digest Senior Editor Robert Lee Brewer. Discover fun and interesting ways to move your stories from beginning to end.