Competition review: Poetic Republic


June 20, 2013 by Tracey S. Rosenberg

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

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.

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.

18 thoughts on “Competition review: Poetic Republic

  1. redskelf says:

    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.

    • Tracey S. Rosenberg says:

      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.

      • redskelf says:

        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. Paul Nash says:

    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.

  3. redskelf says:

    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;

  4. Katie says:

    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.

    • Tracey S. Rosenberg says:

      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. vivcooper88 says:

    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.

    • Tracey S. Rosenberg says:

      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.

    • Eve says:

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

  6. cmack102 says:

    If your poem makes it into the e-book, are you paid royalties, or any other form of payment?

  7. E says:

    I’ve only ever written one poem in my life, I entered it into this competition some years ago and it won a prize. Clearly a fluke. Or perhaps the readership liked to see a poem with rhyme and rhythm. Either way, I was highly surprised to see the biographies of the other top-ranked poems, as they were all (apart from me) people who either write for a living or had been on writing courses.

    I found this blog because I recently wrote my first and only short story. I entered it into the 2015 version of this competition and am struggling through the dross of stories in the first two rounds. I’m fairly sure none of the authors are writers!

    • vivcooper88 says:

      You certainly seem to have been very lucky in gaining a prize for your first and only entry; I would be interested in reading it! I was very dejected by the whole Poetic Republic process last year, for many reasons, and decided not to enter either competition this year.

      My reasons were as itemised above: the terrible standard of the poems and stories in the first rounds; the fact that I commented on every poem and story I read, as I knew how gratefully such comments would be received, and then got hardly any comments in return; the fact that although I entered, amongst others, a very tightly crafted sonnet and a villanelle, only free verse poems got into the final shortlist. It seemed ironic, then, that this very aspect was bemoaned and criticised in subsequent tweets.

      “Where are the sonnets in this shortlist?” cried one tweet.

      “I entered one!” I answered querulously, to myself.

      Another complaint, not addressed above, is that I got many, many of my comments into both ebooks, the poetry and the short stories, but, for the first time, none of these were credited by name. This felt wrong to me, as, word for word, my contributions possibly made up a greater proportion of both ebooks’ contents than any other contributor. I have not yet written to Peter Hartey (the director of Poetic Republic) to question his decision not to credit any of the comment contributors by name, as I was too depressed by the whole process, but I do intend to do so soon.

      To sum up, my abiding impression from entering both competitions last year was that the general standard of entries was extremely poor, with entry money wasted by people who did not appear to have looked over their entries even once, let alone re-drafted and crafted their piece ‘to within an inch of its life’ (Katie: 30/03/14). The lack of any thanks, credit or come-back for the commentators, let alone a hint of any royalties, is my other major complaint.

      I would be interested to hear any comments from people who have decided to enter the competition again this year, despite its many flaws and failings.

      • E says:

        Thanks for your reply. It’s a shame to hear your experience, I can see why you feel disheartened, I get the impression that the competition is still being tweaked, so I’m sure Peter Hartey would welcome feedback. As you say, you’ve put a lot of work and thought into crafting comments which have made it into the books, so it’s a shame not to be credited for them. You should write to him about it.

        You can see my poem on the poeticrepublic website if you’re interested, it came 4th in 2010 and it’s one of very few rhyming poems to make it into the prize slots, which I think is a great shame. Prose can be really really good but it’s not quite poetry, in my book. Writing a poem which means something AND has rhyme and rhythm is much more of a skill. Kudos on the sonnet – I’ve tried writing sonnets but never really succeeded!

        I’m interested in seeing the short story shortlist which is supposed to come out today, and in a few weeks time hopefully some feedback on my own story.

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Tiny bio

I live, work, and write in Edinburgh. I travel to other places as much as I can. To contact me, email writingmostly at gmail dot com.


CURRENTLY READING (September): Magazines and poetry.

RECENTLY READ: Dubliners by James Joyce; Travels with Loreena McKennitt (2nd edition) by Niema Ash.


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