What is a “Poetry Communitest”?

since this will be my last post on poetry contests and publishing, let me break it down: 1) contests are creative fundraising tools for small presses 2) contests enable presses to support their books more fully 3) contests create prestige and publicity 4) most contests are fair and ethical.

if i could do it all over again: 1) i wouldn’t have submitted to the Whitman because august kleinzahler would never have chosen my work (lesson: pay attention to the judge and pay attention to the publisher if it’s a publisher run contest). 2) i wouldn’t have assumed that i would win (lesson: submit to more than one contest–this is, of course, contingent on the set of judges in a given contest year). 3) i wouldn’t have assumed that the contest was the only way to publish a book (lesson: send your manuscript to open reading periods and query your dream publishers or even publish your own book).

yes, it is possible to send your manuscript to 2 contests, 2 open reading periods, and 2 query letters–all at the same time! that is what i shouldve done. but as we all know, there is no one path in the publishing world.

one last issue still remains (and this something a poet brought up in my facebook): what to do with the fact that those who support the contest system by submitting their manuscripts and fees are the very people that the system rejects because there can be only one winner to any given contest? what to do with that feeling of rejection?

i know some publishers try to ease the pain. some will offer the winning book as consolation, some offer any book in their catalog as consolation. even though some poets are embarrassed by it, some presses have a long list of semi-finalists and finalists–again, something to be proud of and–if you are seeking a career at university–it looks good on the CV. omnidawn publishing even publishes poems by the contest finalists on our blog to further promote their work.

admittedly, this won’t ease the pain of rejection for everyone either–it didn’t for me when i lost.

so you’re probably asking, what is a “Poetry Communitest”? Can we take the “con” out of “contest” and replace it with “community”?

A Poetry Communitest is similar to a Poetry Contest: there will be a well-respected judge, multiple screeners carefully (and blindly) reading each submission, some degree of transparency, a short list and a long list.

Moreso, a Poetry Communitest will require a different mindset. Those who submit to the Communitest will do so for two reasons: 1) to have the chance to have their manuscript published and 2) to support the press, to be part of the press’s community. This, to me, is the real test. can we transform what usually results in feelings of rejection into feelings of support and community?

no doubt it takes more than just renaming the process a “Poetry Communitest” to create this mindset. so i want to hear from you: what do you think we can do to change a “Poetry Contest” into a “Poetry Communitest”? or am i just being naive. should we, as anis shivani suggests, abolish this fundraiser altogether? i look forward to your comments 🙂

 

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