Competition review: Poetic Republic

First in an occasional series in which I review some of the competitions I enter.

Competition
Poetic Republic. Annual since 2009. Poetry only. [in 2014, they added a short story competition which is run along the same lines.]

My history with this competition
I entered one poem in 2013. It didn’t make it past the first round.

General information
I love the concept – in essence, it’s a crowd-sourced competition. You must judge at least one set of twelve other poems, in each of the first two rounds, in order to have your own poem eligible for the final. (Apparently you can email them if you are unable to do this and they’ll waive that requirement.) Then everyone judges the final dozen, but this is optional.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t quite work in practice. I don’t just mean that only two people placed my poem in the top four out of twelve of that particular judging round (sob), but throughout the competition, organizers seemed pretty much absent. The news page wasn’t updated at all during the judging period, over a period of a few months, and although participants were able to submit tweets which were automatically published in the PR twitter feed, there were never any responses – except one which snidely informed us that ‘The short list comprises specific poems with specific merits. The time for discussing the shortlist is after the judging has closed.’ Really? We’re expected to pay and to judge but not to comment and discuss? Way to smack down your entrants. (For the record, there were all of five tweets commenting on the shortlist, only two of which had any hint of negativity, and both of those were disappointed that the shortlist was entirely free verse. No specific poems were mentioned in any way.)

I mean, normally you would have great whopping silence from the organisers during the judging period, so I wouldn’t ordinarily comment, but this competition is rooted in community and interaction.

Also, one of the big draws of the competition is that you get comments on your poem, but there’s no guarantee of this happening. I only got two, and based on the final email sent out after the competition ended, it sounds as though many people get none at all.

Entry fee vs prize money
Entry is a pretty steep £7 per poem. I can’t think of any other competition, apart from the mighty Bridport, which asks for so much. [Of course, 35 minutes after I posted this, I found one that charges £8 per poem....] The only prizes are the top ones, which is £1000 for the best single poem and £2000 for the best portfolio (two poems). Appalling value for money, unless you win. (I do realize poets are not supposed to be In It For Money but many of us balance the cost of entering with the potential rewards.)

Acknowledgement/announcement of winners
PR kept in touch pretty well – far more than most competitions, though that was primarily due to the nature of this one (which, as noted above, required the entrants to judge two sets of poems). They also sent a long ‘Thank you for taking part’ email.

Shortlist/longlist/publication
Eleven poets are shortlisted (in addition to the winner). Forty-eight poems will be in the eBook, so that seems to be 36 on the longlist. There were 1346 poems entered, so about 3.5% of the entries will be published.

Final judgment
I pretty much felt as though I’d paid a whopping entry fee to do the competition’s work. PR emphasises a community-based approach to creative writing, which I am all in favor of, but community needs to go both ways.

Would I enter again?
I really doubt it. It was a fun experiment and I did enjoy reading and commenting on the other poems, but that’s nothing I can’t get in a workshop. And £7 will get me three poems in the Mslexia competition, which is a far better deal.

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Published in: on June 20, 2013 at 12:27 pm  Comments (12)  
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12 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I wouldn’t enter it again. Either I was given twelve dreadful poems to judge and had to choose my ‘favourite’ four, or I was given twelve great poems to judge and had to ditch eight really good ones. Not one if the poems in the shortlist had rhyme or rhythm, which I would have expected; not just prose.

    • That’s a shame. I think I generally had enough decent poems to make a good shot at choosing four, but it was far more uneven in the second round than I’d expected.

      • Hi Tracey. It must be the luck of the draw. I was lucky enough to get comments on all six of my poems, and one is going to be in the e book, so that was nice.

  2. I agree with your blog. I had a mixed experience, with some very encouraging comments on my own stuff but poems to judge that were all free verse, with authenticity but little prosody, which seems to be the fashion now. How can one criticise prosey poems if they are full of apparent integrity? It seems churlish, but clearly others had the same feeling as me.

    • Belated thanks for your comment, Paul!

  3. I agree with you, Paul. The lack of prosody seems to be the fashion, but I think it’s a cop-out, as there is a certain skill in achieving rhythm and pattern. I had a lot of people criticise the last two lines of all my poems, but it’s my style to make them longer and of different rhythm to the other lines in a kind of winding down way. Maybe if they had read more than one they would have got this. I think my poems are too lighthearted to be taken seriously by the poetry world, if that is not a contradiction in terms;

    • Belated thanks for your comment, redskelf!

  4. Interesting perspective.

    I’ve done this competition 3 times now (never had a poem go beyond the first round) and particularly last year I was surprised and disappointed with the poems that got to the final round compared with some amazing ones I’d judged in earlier rounds that just disappeared without trace… It makes me think a lot about what kind of poem people like! Are they mad?! Or is it a flaw in the filtering algorithims?

    I keep entering every year because I think it’s a fascinating process.

    Poetry competitions generally: For anyone who enters conventional poetry competitions it’s a good insight into what it must be like for the judges – all the dross they must have to wade through! Never again will I send off something I haven’t crafted to within an inch of its life.

    Comments/critique: I always make a point of doing proper comments on every poem I select – and as a consequence, apparently, I’ve had comments printed in the ebooks – though I’ve not bought them to see. I’m disappointed with how few comments I’ve received, I thought people would be entering this competition partly for the opportunity to critique as well as to win! I think it’s a shame to see how many of the winning poems just got screeds of comments consisting of ‘love it!’ or words to that effect. This competition has the potential to be a valuable development process for both budding and more experienced poets, but on the whole, it’s not because of the lack of engagement in well thought through comments.

    Price: Yes, £7 is steep for entering a single poem into a competition. I look at it that not only do I get to enter a poem (which I’m learning to accept isn’t going to get anywhere), but I also get to read and think hard about at least 36 other poems of wildly varying styles and quality, which gives me tons to learn from.

    I think anyone who enters poetry competitions on a regular basis should have a go at this one at least once. It’s a learning experience.

    • Thanks for commenting, Katie! You make some excellent points, and I like your comment about what it must be for contest judges. I’ve only judged one competition myself, and I was given a shortlist, but I’ve heard from people who have been sifter judges that so many poems are sloppy or simply not polished, and that taking the time to work on your poem will frequently get you into later stages of the competition for that reason alone. So that realisation alone is probably worth your entry fee. :)

  5. I was very interested to read your blog about the Poetic Republic poetry competition and the comments that followed. I too entered the competition for the first time last year, attempting to increase my chances of being short listed by entering five poems! (Yes, I extravagantly invested £35 in my chances!)

    I too was extremely disappointed by the standard of the first two batches I was asked to judge. (I finished judging the first batch of 12 fairly quickly and took up the offer of a second batch, partly, I must admit, to see if the second batch of 12 was as dire as the first one! It was!)

    What worried me particularly was the terribly low standard of written English in so many entries, quite apart from the dreadful poetry I was being asked to judge. People seemed to have just copied and pasted their first un-crafted, un-redrafted outpourings, and some of their attempts actually made me cringe.

    The only thing that kept me going was the high standard, I thought, of the winning poem and the Portfolio Prize winners in the previous three years, the former, extraordinarily, being written by the very same person in all three competitions.

    It only just kept me going though: in the first round particularly I felt as if I was being asked to declare several pieces of utter drivel as being worthy of a place in the rank order of 1 – 4. The random grouping and constant reshuffling that the director, Peter Hartey, describes on the Poetic Republic site means that it seems to be just as likely that we will get 12 poor poems to judge as 12 worthy ones. I did actually email Peter at one point and ask if I could be sent a new group, as none of the ones in my current group was worthy, in my opinion, of a top ranking. I was told that the poor writing gradually falls away as the competition proceeds and just to rank what I had in front of me.

    As to my own poems, I got some very positive comments about my sonnet (one of the few formally structured and rhyming ones amongst the nearly 1400 entries) and a few positive comments on all but one of my other efforts, but, looking at the dates of the comments, only the sonnet possibly got through into the second round and all fell before the final post.

    I liked some of the final shortlist of 12, but felt that a few of them had arrived there by some sort of fluke, as better ones in the second round had sunk without trace.

    I have not been put off entirely though, because I have entered the inaugural short story competition with Poetic Republic this year (only one story allowed, so only an outlay of £12 this time!) and have already paid for five poems to be entered in the 2014 poetry competition. Hope springs eternal!

    However, I have already started judging the prose competition – two batches of seven stories each in the first round – and you perhaps won’t be surprised to hear that my main complaint is that far too many of these 14 stories were uncorrected, un-redrafted and sometimes completely ungrammatical outpourings. I find it hard to believe that competitors have been quite happy to throw away £12 on entering something which they didn’t appear to have looked over even once. Some stories had several words which had run together without spaces to create nonsense words, which would have been underlined in any word processing programme that I know of, and some were completely bereft of paragraphs and, in one case, almost bereft of full stops.

    Before I took up writing (as a hobby: one can’t earn enough from this pursuit to think of it as anything else) I was a teacher, and most of these stories would have achieved a Grade D or below at GCSE. No student expecting or hoping to get a C or above would have dared to give me a piece of writing where clause after clause was spliced together with comma after comma.

    However, Peter Hartey has assured me (I emailed him again about various concerns, including one poem that had slipped through into this prose competition) that there would definitely be some stories of a high standard in the competition and to judge whatever I had in front of me, including the poem, for its story-like qualities. I am therefore carrying on, vainly hoping that the prose will indeed get better in the second round. I am also looking forward with nervous anticipation to the start of judging for the first round of the 2014 Poetic Republic poetry competition!

    I’d be interested to know if anyone here has 1) entered the poetry competition again this year and 2) like me, joined in the inaugural short story competition.

    • Thanks for your extensive comment, Viv! I won’t be entering again, but it looks as though this post does attract people who are interested in the competition, so perhaps we can get some opinions on the new short story contest.

    • No, I would not enter again, for the reasons you have outlined here.


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