Should I Send My Poems to Magazines or Competitions?

Issue 87 (January 2017) of Acumen has just appeared including Shanta Acharya’s interview with Indian poet and short story writer, Keki Deruwalla, plus reviews of books by Alice Oswald, Carol Rumens, Liz Lochhead, Tony Curtis and the first tranche of books from Little Island Press. There are also poems from Tony Curtis, Norbert Hirschhorn, Harry Guest, Duncan Forbes, Deruwalla and many others and translations of Verlaine, Tsiakos and Catullus. As well as this, Acumen editor, Patricia Oxley asked a number of poets (myself included) to comment on the relative importance of publication in magazines and winning (or placing) in poetry competitions. Which of the two is most important or advantageous?

 

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Keki Deruwalla

 

In his piece, Christopher North feels poems go to competitions first as the rewards of winning are greater than a mere appearance in a magazine. But for himself, he prefers to read poems in “gangs” or small portfolios (most likely to be found in magazines or chapbooks). North voices a common concern that the isolated poem (in a competition) is not always the best guide to a poet’s true worth. Hilary Davies’ piece suggests much the same thing, strongly praising the role of the magazine and its editor for having an eye not for the spectacular one-off, but for the longer term: “they have a stake in bringing on and nurturing new poets . . . there is a depth to the activities of the editor”, she argues, in stark contrast to the competition judge however thoroughly they do their job.

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Davies also regrets the existence of the ‘competition’ poem that we are all so familiar with – the 40 lines, any subject, the successful mostly with a powerful narrative drive or end-of-poem punch. None of these elements are bad in themselves but Davies argues persuasively that “competitions unintentionally reinforce a formulaic and limited understanding of what constitutes a good poem”. Evidently, she sides with the magazines (see my recent review of Davies most recent collection). In contrast, Martin Malone confesses he’s not so sure where he stands though he acknowledges that competition wins “do provide a fast-track means of ‘getting-on’ in an age besotted with instant success”. The imagery he uses to express this – that we live on Planet Gadget and how we cannot but love our bells and whistles – makes clear his scepticism about the ultimate value of such winning poems. But Malone is clearer than most about the importance that winning competitions can often have on a poet’s career these days.

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Caroline Carver’s piece is rather more celebratory in tone, suggesting the modern world of poetry presents writers with an “increasing choice” of outlets in terms of publication in print, or on-line or via competition entry. But the ease of the mouse click also means that the competitiveness and crowdedness of the market increases. Nevertheless, sounding admirably un-angsty about the topic, she says (assuming one has enough material available) a mix of both magazine submissions and competition entries is the safe way ahead. And for those who suffer repeated set-backs she refers us to the newly-launched website Salon of the Refused.

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Michael Bartholomew-Biggs is both poet and editor of the on-line magazine London Grip. He puts forward what I think is the generally-expressed view here that “a publication record reveals more about a poet’s consistency and range than a prize – or even a few prizes”. Following the logic of this, he squares the circle by suggesting that the type of competition (which seems ever more common) that offers prizes and publication for a “portfolio” of poems seems to be “a distinct and valid route to recognition”. My contribution argued something like Bartholomew-Biggs’ view though rather more cynically suggested that winning prizes, in part through the likely resulting prominence through social media, might well weigh more heavily with a more commercially-driven publishing house. Overall, these six writers seem to feel a track record of publication in magazines is still the best guide to a poet’s quality and worth, though there is equally a clear anxiety expressed that competition-winning is becoming (or has already become) more used as a means of sifting through the submissions of collections for publication.

To read this discussion in full go to the Acumen website and subscribe!

6 thoughts on “Should I Send My Poems to Magazines or Competitions?

  1. Thanks for summarising this article, Martyn. I wonder if the issue is not just whether to enter comps or send to magazines. There’s also a problem with generally spreading oneself thin with submissions of all kinds. I’ve started to think lately that rather than sending to a wide range of magazines (even if they are all ‘well-respected’) maybe it’s better to focus on writing consistently within a small range of subject matter and developing a consistent style, and sticking to that. It’s a shame for those of us who have no recognisable USP. For every type of poem one writes there’s usually a magazine it will suit. So it’s very tempting to keep moving on and trying new things. But developing a wide-ranging publication record does not necessarily lead to publication of a collection, nor does it even mean a magazine editor will remember one’s name from one submission to the next.

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    • Hi Robin – as Martin Malone also says in his piece, I’ve never been able or inclined to write for specific purposes whether mag or comp. Equally I don’t know if I could focus my efforts as you suggest on a specific subject matter or style. It sort of just happens and I think I prefer to let it alone, let it happen. It’s often the case though that in retrospect (or maybe as suggested by somebody else) the poems produced have a ‘focus’. I think I believe in that – a sort of post-dated realisation that there is a coherence in what is written, simply because they are written by the same person. Perhaps better writers can ‘focus’ deliberately, I don’t know. I think Patricia Oxley has struck on quite a concern amongst poets and that’s surely because most of us have a finite number of pieces to be farming out anyway. As to where any of it leads . . . I only half frivolously suggested in my little piece that being prominent on FB and twitter was at least as useful as a publishing record.

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  2. Interesting… I personally am unable to enter lots of competitions at the moment due to lack of funds. Submissions to magazines now cost nothing (unless you subscribe to the magazine, which does help) due to the fact that it is generally online. Ten / fifteen years ago the process was far more time-consuming, with stamped addressed envelopes and the postage costs of sending poems off in packs…

    I also wonder whether, statistically, you’re more likely to be published in a magazine than to win a competition?

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    • Hi Rachel – you make a really good point about costs which none of the contributors raised at all. Competition entry is expensive and mags in UK are almost always free (though it’s much more common now to have to pay for ‘consideration in the US poetry magazine scene). You are definitely more likely to appear in a magazine (especially if you consider what they usually publish) than winning a comp. The discussion was a sort of cost/benefit analysis of the two paths – one a slower but perhaps more reliable route; the other more meteoric. But see Billie Holiday: “too hot not to cool down”. It’s hard to generalise.

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  3. Dear Martyn, We’ve now put out Issue 3, but would still like to use your good posting for the next issue. Your 14 modes of ekphrastic poetry (“14 ways of….?”) was a fine listing — I’ve circulated.

    Kindest regards, Norbert  Norbert Hirschhorn MD 115 Greencroft Gardens London NW6 3PE UK +44 (0) 20 7624 2394 / +44 (0) 776 778 3611 http://www.bertzpoet.com

    Language is a tailor’s shop where nothing fits. Jelaluddin Rumi(1207-1273)

    From: Norbert Hirschhorn To: Martyn Crucefix Cc: Jacqueline Saphra ; Norbert Hirschhorn Sent: Sunday, January 29, 2017 12:22 PM Subject: Re: [New post] Should I Send My Poems to Magazines or Competitions? Dear Martyn, Many thanks for the ‘shout-out’ for Salon of the Refused!  We are now up to Issue 3, much sooner than we’d expected.  Jacqui and I would like to reprint your good essay for Issue 3 with your permission.  If okay, perhaps you could send it as a Word file. Kindest regards, Norbert  Norbert Hirschhorn MD 115 Greencroft Gardens London NW6 3PE UK +44 (0) 20 7624 2394 / +44 (0) 776 778 3611 http://www.bertzpoet.com

    Language is a tailor’s shop where nothing fits. Jelaluddin Rumi(1207-1273)

    From: Martyn Crucefix To: bertzpoet@yahoo.com Sent: Saturday, January 28, 2017 4:10 PM Subject: [New post] Should I Send My Poems to Magazines or Competitions? #yiv3087575079 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv3087575079 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv3087575079 a.yiv3087575079primaryactionlink:link, #yiv3087575079 a.yiv3087575079primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv3087575079 a.yiv3087575079primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv3087575079 a.yiv3087575079primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv3087575079 WordPress.com | martyn crucefix posted: “Issue 87 (January 2017) of Acumen has just appeared including Shanta Acharya’s interview with Indian poet and short story writer, Keki Deruwalla, plus reviews of books by Alice Oswald, Carol Rumens, Liz Lochhead, Tony Curtis and the first tranche of books” | |

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    • Hi Norbert – did I reply to your earlier request – I thought I did but things are a bit hectic here – of course I’d be happy to have the earlier post included in your next Issue. Many thanks.

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