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How to Enter a Poetry Contest

Share your work with the world (and win prizes!) by learning how to submit your best poems to poetry competitions.


There are lots of great reasons to enter poetry contests. A contest gives you a goal and deadline, so it may motivate you to finish a poem and make it the best it can be. Sometimes judges provide feedback to contestants, so you might receive constructive criticism that can help you improve your craft.

If you win, the organization may publish your work and make it available to a wide audience (bonus: instant fame!). Plus, you could win prizes that are worth up to thousands of dollars. Entering a poetry contest is fairly simple—all you have to do is follow these steps.

  1. Find the right poetry contest for you. Poets & Writers is a magazine for writers. If you go to the magazine’s website, click on “tools for writers” and then “contests,” you’ll find a searchable database containing thousands of magazines and journals that hold poetry contests. The database clearly lists the name of the contest, the cost of entry (if any), the prize, and the deadline. Quick tip: The contests that charge entry fees tend to award larger prizes but you’re likely to face greater competition. A similar tool can be found on Poets.org.
  2. Read the contest guidelines. Sure, it’s tempting to skip reading the fine print—snooze alert!—but it’s important to learn how to enter a poetry contest so you don’t get disqualified. For example the guidelines may request that you send the poem in a specific way (i.e. by mail along with a self-addressed stamped envelope, by email as an attachment, or through a form on a website). Pay attention to the details so you can find a contest that suits your style of poetry. The guidelines may ask for a certain form of poetry (i.e. haiku, sonnet, free verse) or they may ask for poems about a particular topic (i.e. nature, people, school).
  3. Write and revise your poem. Once you know what kind of poem contest organizers are looking for, write up a first draft well before the deadline—you’ll want to leave some time for revisions. Ask a mentor whose opinion you value (such as a friend, sibling, neighbor, teacher, or parent) to read your poem and offer feedback. Ask the person what he or she thought the poem was about to see if it matches your intention. Then ask if he or she can think of ways to make the poem even stronger. Once you feel like the poem is the best that it can possibly be, submit it and cross your fingers!
  4. Keep your head held high. No matter what happens, entering poetry contests can only make you a better writer. If you lose the contest, read the winner’s poem and see what you can learn. Remember, there will always be more contests. It’s probably going to take some time to write critically acclaimed poems, so don’t get discouraged. If you’re patient and keep working on your craft, you’re bound to eventually wow readers and win prizes from poetry contests!

Image via DC SCORES

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