Posted by: Viola | August 26, 2014

Submitting poems to poetry prizes

Earlier this year, I was on the shortlist for a poetry prize, the Brunel University African Poetry Prize (BUAPP). This year was my second time being on the shortlist. I was on the BUAPP shortlist in 2013 and 2014. So twice, I was a finalist. And twice I did not win. 

Not winning the prize–twice!–hit me hard. I wondered: if I come so close twice but keep failing, what does this mean? Does this mean I am good but never good enough to win? What else can I write, how else should I craft my poems, what else should I do to make my poems prize-winning poems? 

This line of questioning was very depressing. I gave my best poems in my prize submission of ten poems, both years. And I felt overwhelmed trying to figure out ways to change the way I write, just so I could win a prize. I grew frustrated because I know there are thousands of good poets in the world, and I cannot compete with them. I am guaranteed to fail if I try to beat them at a game called “poetry” that is meant to be fun and isn’t meant to be a game that is won or lost. 

I made a decision to not enter into any more poetry prizes. I hate contests, and I avoid them religiously, as a general rule in life. I just won’t fight anybody for a prize. It stresses me if I try.

But fast forward several months down the road, and here I am submitting my poems to several poetry contests. How did this happen??? I think it began with seeing some posts on Facebook about poetry prizes with deadlines this fall. Invitations to submit. Hard to resist those invitations.

The process continued with me doing some research on poetry prizes, trying to figure out if there were some I might be eligible for. I did find a few. And though it has been incredibly stressful thinking about them and preparing my submissions, I am making myself do it. It feels like torture. I feel like I am wasting my time. I feel sick over the idea of competing with anyone. I feel even sicker when I think of losing, of failing again. 

I think I am making myself go through this pain because there is a part of me that is hopeful, that thinks even if I do not win, something good will come of all this heartache. Perhaps, opportunities might come my way to publish poems, to share my poems with others through literary journals that might publish finalists and poems they like that did not make the cut as winners.

I suppose, too, that on some deep level I am also trying to overcome my fears of putting my poems out in the world, my fears of being rejected, my fear of failure. Yes, I suppose that is what I am trying to do, transcend my fears. I hope I accomplish that, at least. Otherwise, all of this just feels like self-flagellation for no good reason. 😦



  1. Don’t worry. You are far braver than the rest of us who do not attempt it at all. The fact that you are short listed is a testament to your talent. Hope is a good thing and always comes with doubt which is natural. You will never ever be a failure. You’ve already won by competing. It is us self-doubters sitting in the corner hoping to be noticed that have failed. We should be taking a page out of your book and trying to compete! Good luck with your new submissions. I’m sure something good will come through. 🙂

  2. Reading your poems give me great pleasure. Win or not, they are beautiful & must not be locked away. Keep up the good work.

  3. I really do admire your resilience. I did also entered the contest the previous year but I didn’t even get shortlished and I can’t begrudge the jury’s choice. You’re already a step ahead being shortlisted and I know that good moments are ahead of you poetry-wise. Keep on entering poetry contest !

  4. […] month for me but also very exhausting. This month, in addition to reading and writing almost daily, I also filled out submissions to several writing contests. I submitted my work to one essay contest and five poetry contests. So I filled out a total of six […]

  5. […] I submitted my poems to several poetry contests. I didn’t have to give myself that extra heartache, but I decided to try anyways. And I am proud of myself for trying. It motivated me to put together […]

  6. […] took on the poetry contest submission machine and sent my work out to about seven different places. I started over the summer and continued into the fall. As the months went by, I heard back from contest after contest. My […]

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