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.


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

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