It’s Rock River Poetry Contest time again

It’s Rock River Poetry Contest time again

By By Christine Swanberg, Author & Poet

A good place for poets to gain recognition for their work is through poetry contests. There are hundreds of them listed in places such as Poets and Writers, Writers’ Digest, The Poet’s Market, and Grants and Awards for American Writers, to name a few.

Most of them have reading fees of $5 to $20. Generally, these fees must be rendered in order to keep the contests afloat. Prizes range from $1,000 and book publication, to $25 for honorable mentions. Beware of contests that not only charge a reading fee but also hook the poet into paying more fees once the poem has been accepted. After the contest, there should be no more fees, even for an anthology. A poet should receive a complimentary copy of any anthology that carries his or her winning poem. Shy away from glittering contests that promise huge prizes, then ask the poet to pay $40 or $50 for a copy.

Here are some guidelines for entering poetry contests: 1. Always, without exception, submit typewritten poems on clean, white paper. 2. Use standard type and standard size. 3. Always, without exception, make copies of poems you have submitted. 4. Always include a self-addressed, stamped envelope with enough postage for safe return of your poems. If you don’t want your poems returned, mark the envelope “For results only.” You can use a regular stamp; your poems will be destroyed. 5. It is unlikely that any reputable contest would steal your work, so copyright isn’t necessary. 6. Follow the guidelines for submission. They vary from contest to contest. If no special guidelines are given, type your name, address, and e-mail on the top of the poems or on a cover sheet. 7. Write a short, concise cover letter highlighting your publications. Do not explain your poems. It would do no good whatsoever. 8. Realize that your work will be read along with hundreds of others. 9. Write a good title. 10. Be sure the first few lines grab the judge’s attention. 11. Do not use a fancy binder or any other cute packaging.

Most poetry contests are judged by poets who have demonstrated a long-standing commitment to poetry. Many have readers who read the poems first, then submit the best to the judge who will make the final decisions. Bear in mind, then, that your poems may be read by a committee. Bear in mind, also, that the odds of winning are very slim and that you must keep at it. Eventually, something should come your way, and you will be creating your publishing portfolio. If you don’t win, know that usually your reader’s fee has gone to a good cause: the cost of publishing the winners, a new book by a new author, or a public reading. Most judges and editors work for the love of it or are paid modest honoraria. Since it is so hard to find sponsors and grants for literary events, even the most prestigious of contests have resorted to charging a reader’s fee. That’s just the way it is these days.

Keep these suggestions in mind if you choose to enter this year’s Rock River Poetry Contest. Rock River Poetry Contest VII is sponsored by The Rock River Times and continues with the same guidelines as last year. Submit up to 10 unpublished poems with name, address, and e-mail on each one. Send a check for $10 made out to The Rock River Times. Absolutely include a self-addressed stamped envelope for list of winners and for return of poems. Last year, several people forgot to include a SASE, and others forgot to include addresses. When this happens, poems cannot be returned. However, rest assured that unclaimed poems will never be “stolen.” Send to Rock River Poetry Contest, The Rock River Times, 128 North Church St., Rockford, Ill. 61101-1002.

The national winner will receive $100, and the Illinois winner will receive $50. It is possible for an Illinois winner to receive the national award if it is deemed the best poem submitted.

Approximately 25 poems will be selected to appear in “The Writer’s Garret” throughout 2003. We are looking for fresh, original and unusual writing, and generally we do not want to see doggerel (cutesy, rhymed poems). We are not looking to publish religious poems in The Rock River Times, though we urge you to write them and share them elsewhere. A brief bio is always appreciated. Entries must be postmarked no later than Jan. 15, 2003.

Merry Christmas and happy poetry writing.

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