It’s been a while. I have been MIA for a bit to pursue some non-fiction but don’t fret, poetry is still my heart and soul.
Which is why I am posting this little tidbit.
I recently (yesterday) submitted some work to Best New Poets for their contest ending on May 20 (no time like the last minute). They want pairs of poems and the price is $4, which is nothing really. Unlimited submissions… it’s a pretty cool gig. So it got me thinking that there are some contest rules I kept in mind that I should share with my audience (hi mom).
So think three F’s: Free, Feel, Final
Free: This one is Kill Your Darlings, a quote from William Faulkner which I live by. In his legendary literary advice he warns authors to make sure that they do not put their favorite elements above the overall power of the piece. In other words, if you are the only one who thinks it’s clever or charming or if you are the only one who gets the joke it should probably go. Free the piece of the things that steal its loveliness. Make peace with your authorial control and let the poem be as it wishes, smooth, thoughtful, sage, not contrived of your genius. It’s a humbling but necessary step. Don’t ever submit poems you have not given a thorough looking over… darlings have clever camouflage.
Feel: Take a seat in your arm chair, sip your coffee and read your poem. How does it leave you? Satisfied, pensive, restless? Is that what you intended? Poems are mostly out of our control. I will admit that there are more poems that I wrote in a state of trance than poems I sat down to write intentionally. But in the end, we, as poets, have the power to dictate the tone. So really feel it. Does this poem represent you as an artist? As a poet? As a controlled writer, or is it just a poem you wrote that sounded good. Those are fine, but in a contest, especially one that ends up in an anthology, you need to think about the tone first and foremost. What if this is the only piece you get published for a while? Does the feeling represent you?
Final: Let it go. These people reading the submissions, somewhere on the other side of your computer, don’t know anything outside the document you submit. That’s all. You get one shot. You better make sure that final is perfect, and complete and free of errors of course, but more than that make sure your final is all the best of every draft. If you meant something, make sure that comes across. If you imply something unintentional you had better work it out. They don’t have you beside them making anecdotes to explain away hiccups in the poem. That’s it. You get your submission, so make the final as finished as possible.
And please oh please don’t be one of those poets who wrote something that morning and sent it in. That drives me crazy; you’re not a poet at that point, you’re just a guy with a pen and a random arrangement of language. Poetry contests deserve the respect of polished pieces.
The fourth F?
F*** It! Don’t over think it. If you like a poem it’s probably a good poem. If you feel weird about a poem it’s probably not your best. Listen to your gut, do your homework and then F*** It, send that sucker in.
If you submit to Best New Poets, good luck. If you are thinking of other contests, good luck as well. The world needs your work, so put it out there! I bet it’s better than you think!
Keep Writing and Start Submitting!