How Not To Win A Poetry Contest

For you Arkansas Poets who would like to win a poetry contest, here is a blueprint of how NOT to do it. Kate Lacy, Poets Northwest, submitted it to inspire fellow Arkansas poets. The next meeting of Poets Northwest is scheduled for Saturday, May 19, at 1 p.m. at the Springdale Public Library, 405 S Pleasant St, Springdale, Arkansas.

The list was compiled by Miriam Sagan, director of the creative writing program at Santa Fe Community College in New Mexico. As a long-time poetry contest judge, Sagan has read thousands and thousands of poems submitted to a variety of national and local poetry contests over the past decade. She postscripts the list with this advice: “If you follow all these steps I can guarantee you will never win a poetry contest. On the other hand, if you avoid these steps you just might win!”


  1. Write your poem in total isolation. Don’t read contemporary poetry–after all–you don’t want to be influenced, even by the greats.
  2. Don’t revise. Don’t bring the poem to a class, or critique group, or ask a friend. Who cares what anyone thinks, it is your poem.
  3. Don’t read the poem aloud to see if it is finished. Why disturb your napping cat?
  4. Ignore the craft of poetry–feelings don’t need images or metaphors.
  5. Use a hackneyed one word title like “Death” or “Autumn.”
  6. Content? What is that? Isn’t a poem supposed to be obscure?
  7. Disregard the specified rules of the contest.
  8. Go over the line or word limit–after all, it is your favorite poem!
  9. Heck, send whatever you want–a novel chapter, a non-rhyming poem to a rhymed contest, a cycle of poems when you only paid for one. How uptight can these judges be?
  10. Use teeny tiny type (maybe no one will notice it is over the line limit) or gigantic cursive or handwriting or attach a photo of your puppy.
  11. Submit something pornographic
  12. Or a wild-eyed religious rant or
  13. Spew hate.
  14. Include a note telling the judge why you really should win.
  15. If you don’t win, curl up in a ball and absolutely decide to stop writing.
  16. Never enter another contest again.


Maeve Maddox writes about English usage and public education at Her most recent publication is The Fabergé Flute, a cozy mystery novel set in 1980s London.

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