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The Size of a Poem

The Size of a Poem

I said, Oh wow, look at me now
I'm building up my problems to the size of a cow
The size of a cow
You know it would be strange to live life in a cage
And only believe the things you see that are written on the page
(lyrics from The Size of a Cow, by Wonderstuff)

It takes all kinds, as they say, to make the world go round. The poetry world holds just as much variety in shape and size as any other world, and there are a whole lot of different worlds out there, the majority containing sentient life. There is no one-size-fits-all template that will work for everybody, and it's a richer world for it.

Eyes on the Prize

As a former resident of Bristol, my brain often sparks when I spy Tweets or Facebook posts relating to the creative scene in Bristol and the southwest. At the end of January 2016 (hey, I didn't suggest my brain always sparks with any great speed!) I noticed Stokes Croft Writers asking on Twitter, “@SCWriting With so many #writingcompetitions out there, how do you choose which to enter?

That article looks at short story competitions, but the pointers are equally valid whatever competition genre covers your work. I have read many interviews and blog posts from editors and judges imploring entrants to PLEASE read the entry requirements. My first understanding of this came in my day job as a civil servant with central government in London, back in the early 2000s. We had produced a guidance document on one particular aspect of Government policy that city and county organisations needed to follow. Within a week of launching the guidance document a new acronym had been coined, RTFG — ‘read the fucking guidance!’

Interesting Times

In theory, if you're submitting your work to a magazine or a competition, your aims are broadly similar to those of the publication you are submitting to — you both want to get your words in front of eyes. Naturally there are differences between publishers just as there are differences between individual poets. The majority of competitions that result in some form of cash or publication prize to the winners, are going to charge an entry fee to cover the cost of the prizes and the time of the sifting panel and the judges who will be reading hundreds of entries.

I guess my civil service background ingrained a value for money / cost-benefit-analysis mechanism into my thought processes because, if I'm going to part with £9 per poem, as is the fee for entering a poem to The Bridport Prize (the 2017 deadline is 31 May so get your skates on with that!) then I expect to have the idea of a decent amount of prize money possibly heading in my direction once the battlefield of the poems has quietened to leave a handful of successful poets still standing; first prize in the Bridport is £5,000 for poems. I have however seen competitions with a £5+ per poem entry fee for a £100 or £200 prize, which would trigger me to wonder if the time and money I've spent writing and entering a poem is reasonable.

Money for Something

My favourite poetry competitions are ones that support charities. The entry fee isn't always being turned into a prize pot for the winning poet(s) to divvy up, although sometimes there is a prize as well as the proceeds supporting charitable concerns. In 2016 I entered competitions that supported Maggie's Centres, Galway Rape Crisis Centre and Magic Oxygen, whose annual competition helps reforest an area of Kenya: ‘We also plant a tree for every single entry we receive in Bore, Kenya and we’ll email you the GPS coordinates of it once the contest has closed’.


To me it's important to understand the attitudes of the presses and competitions to which I send my poetry. My choice will always be to resist submitting to a magazine if I've made polite enquiry about buying a PDF format copy of their magazine or book so that my screen reading software can read it aloud for me, if they have not bothered to reply after a chase-up email. Sometimes print magazines do already also publish in PDF, which warms the cockles of my heart — it saves me having to email and explain about being blind and how I can read a PDF when I can't read a print copy. Very rarely, I'll find a publisher really digging their heels in on the matter. Although the Equality Act 2010 doesn't require a publisher to make their print material available in alternative formats, where a performance venue is supposed to be doing whatever they can to improve accessibility for disabled audiences, the majority of times I've asked the publishers have done their best to help me out.

I had an interesting conversation with a poetry friend the other day, about how some editors voice their opinions about other poets publicly and sometimes in very strong language; yes, there are times for strong verbs, but I think sometimes the strongest words come in the ones that don't get stated. It's not been a position I've found myself in personally, because all the magazines and publishers I've had the good fortune to cross paths with have been first-rate, but I'm curious how often other poets have decided not to submit work somewhere because the publication has felt a touch volatile. Does there come a point where you think, yes I want my poem in print, but not at that price?

#BridportPrize #MagicOxygen #GalwayRapeCrisis #MaggiesCentres #StokesCroftWriting @SCWriting @MagicOxygen @MaggiesCentres @GalwayRCC

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