Poetry Competition or lottery?

As well as working on a new novel I’m working on the occasional poem. Here’s a not very good found poem. (For non-poets a found poem is one created using ‘found’ words and phrases.)

Life Story
Buses replace trains from
Please check your balance

The next train for
All services are running on time
Bus stop moved to
Please check your balance

The next station is
will depart from platform 8 at
Follow the instructions of
Scheduled departure
Please check your balance

We apologise for the delay
Stopping at all stations from
This is an express service to
Please check your balance

Clickety clack down the track
red light
green light
Last stop
Please check your balance.

There’s a dilemma around posting poems here; if a poem has been ‘published’—anywhere, in any format—it’s not eligible for most poetry competitions. That’s fair enough. And possibly irrelevant, as I think about entering poems in competitions much more often than I actually do it.

I’m a tad cynical about competitions. There’s almost always a fee, something from $5 to $20 in the currency of the country involved, which I guess creates the prize pool, and allows for a payment to the judge/s. I’m all for judges being paid and prizes being money, but: a) who hasn’t entered because they can’t afford the fee, and, b) how often do the organisers pocket the money and choose a random winner?

I know, that’s not fair to poetry journals and societies and so on whose judges genuinely read all the entries and ponder and even argue about the winners. And I can’t suggest a better alternative and those of us who write stuff can be pretty desperate for any kind of acknowledgement that we’re not just, um, pissing into the wind.


I won a competition once, in 2007. It was run online by a woman in Australia who I suspect made a small living from it. The website’s gone now. I paid $5 to enter three poems and won $100 and had the poem ‘published’ on the website. I’ve subsequently published it myself in my ebook prose and poetry collection, Stones Gathered Together http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/stones-gathered-together It’s also on Kindle.

Here’s the poem:

Paint me in dull flat colours today

Grey, like the pre-rain sky.

Use a wide brush, and work
with long, torpid strokes.

Have the light fall from outside
the frame, casting long shadows.

Hang me in a dark corner, and go
quietly, leaving the door ajar.

Now for an example, that just happened, of how so much of my reading occurs. I was looking for a book of Mary Oliver’s poetry to send to a friend and her (Mary Oliver’s) book Rules for the Dance, which I bought in 1998 , leapt out at me. It’s subtitle is, “A handbook for writing and reading metrical verse.” It’s succinct, full of examples, and just what I need to re-read right now. I recommend it for a reminder of some technicalities and how form carries meaning.

Mary Oliver