Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Contest Woes

Let’s rest for a minute. I’ve spent the last day or so cleaning my office. I have no idea who came in and messed it up like that, but it’s better now, and I actually found some treasures that have been gone for so long I forgot I had them. Don’t sit there and smirk at me, you know what I’m talking about.

Since I’m dumping on you, I might as well continue. Have you entered any contests lately? The reason I’m asking is that I have spent the last week reading entries in two contests. In the first contest I am judging two categories, and they are poetry only groups. The last is a contest where prose was allowed with the poetry, but there were fewer entries. This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked to be a judge, and I am honored to be chosen. Now comes the big pause!

When judging I start with the format and contest rules or guidelines. If the contest says 56 characters and not more than 40 lines, why would a person send in a poem that covers two pages? Do you think that they figure that the poem is so well written or that it is such a wonderful and memorable work that the judge will swoon and say, “Let’s just throw the rules away, and give this person first place?” Maybe they don’t know how to use their word processor to find line length, and they think that the spaces between stanzas don’t count.

And what about the ones that have a paragraph written just before the poem telling why it was written, and what a wonderful story I’m about to read? And what about the poem about flowers and the sun rising that’s written in all capital letters, and I get the feeling that Little Red Riding Hood is sitting opposite me yelling at the top of her lungs?

Now you know why I drink decaffeinated coffee.

Deep Breath

Unfortunately at first read these things disqualify many poems and they go on the “NO” stack. There are other things that don’t disqualify an entry, but don’t always have a place in a serious contest, unless the rules specify otherwise.

Having everything centered on the page can be the mark of an amateur, but it can also be an important format for that individual poem, so I always take a look at format to see if it helps or hinders a poem. The poem that is shaped like a bird with the big space where the eye should be deserves no comment.

Some poems I’ve seen only prove to me that the poet was more concerned with getting something in to the contest to beat the deadline, and cared nothing about spelling, punctuation or form. It’s a shame.

Then there are the gems that come to the top of the pile, and I sit and have to turn my head to the wall, in the coffee shop, to hide the emotion I feel when reading a rare and beautiful poem. Those are why I continue to judge contests, and why it is such an honor for me to give that person an award.

If you are part of a writer’s group, encourage the writers to enter contests, and take some time to discuss what submission rules are, and what they mean. Help each other.

After all of that ranting I have no idea what poem to share with you today. Maybe this pantoum will calm us all down. Have a wonderful day, and I’ll see you here again soon.

Sacred Circle

As the medicine wheel turns
my soul walks the spokes.
Mysteries unfold to a seeking heart.
Years passing like shooting stars.

My soul walks the spokes,
while God’s hand turns the wheel.
Years passing like shooting stars
casting brief shadows on the wind.

While God’s hand turns the wheel,
mysteries unfold to a seeking heart,
casting brief shadows on the wind,
as the medicine wheel turns.

Robert W. Kimsey 2009

1 comment:

  1. I once compiled a collection of short stories for a publisher and I was astounded by people who did not follow the rules. I am a stickler for rules. Unfortunately the publisher I worked with was not. I rejected too short things or people not citizens (one of the rules)or who missed the deadline and they appealed to her, undermining what I was doing and the rules as well as all of the other writers who followed them. I'll never do it again.