The Plough Poetry competition based in Devon UK has just announced its results. This is, in my opinion, one of the best organised poetry competition I have come across. The main problem I have with such competitions is the difficulty in finding out the results. The Plough people email all entrants with a comprehensive report on the competition, all the results, short and long lists etc. Most of the same information is available on their website. In these days of electronic communication surely it's not too much to ask that all competitions do likewise for entrants who have supplied an email address.
The Plough competition also accepts online entry which saves having to find a sterling method of paying fees. They also offered free check list critiques to all entries received early.
Last year's competition attracted two and a half thousand entries. This was down slightly on the previous year. There were more entrants overall but the average number of poems entered by each was down. This they attribute to the recession/economic downturn or whatever it's being called at the moment.
Below are two extracts from the report on the competition with pointers perhaps on what not to do if you want to be successful in a poetry competition.
"This year's trends
Fruit (mainly apples) was a recurrent theme in 2007, with angels closing on seagulls in the popular symbolism stakes. Perhaps unsurprisingly though, these and many other hugely popular subjects for poetry (bereavement, cats, the seasons) were eclipsed in the 2008 entry by what might be termed 'what is the world coming to?' poems. War, street crime, corrupt and uncaring government, failures of the system to look after the vulnerable - these were overwhelmingly popular subjects this year in poems often heavily laden with rhetorical questions, and a general feeling of hopelessness and doom made for some pretty depressing reading at times. Happy poems have always been in a minority, probably because without a leavening of sadness and a suggestion of impermanence they can seem rather bland --but the least depressing of the doom and gloom poems turned themselves around with messages of hope and empowerment, usually at the end. On the brighter side, there were fewer 'shards' about, and archaisms (O'er, thou, 'twas) were not as much in evidence as in previous years.
Layouts were more conservative this year, compared with the explosion in regularly or irregularly indented layouts in 2007. Centred poems seem as popular as ever, and our free critiques always warn poets that judges and editors generally dislike them. Fewer poets are making extensive use of odd spacing within lines, and correctly used punctuation seems to have made a bit of a comeback - though exclamation marks are still overused (and brackets seem to have become inexplicably popular).
Last year saw a dramatic increase in titles ending in question marks or enigmatic ellipses. That trend seems to have passed, though there were still some among the 2008 entry. The words Autumn (always popular), Granny/Grandad, last, old , waiting and of course the ubiquitous I cropped up a lot in titles this year, and there was a long list of titles beginning with Winter. Words, Time and Spring were the most popular one-word titles. Among the 'B's, there were a great many titles beginning with beneath, beyond, behind and below, and the poetic form most often named in a title was the sestina.
If you're in any doubt about the importance of titles, have a look at the long and short lists and imagine that you are an editor needing just one more poem to fill a space in your magazine. Where would you start?"