Several people have suggested to me that I (via Middle Island Press) hold poetry chapbook contests, even charge reading fees. I have done the research to see that such suggestions are justified by an extremely high volume of poets searching online for contests. Nonetheless, it is something I will not do. I’ll give you three reasons why.
1) It’s sort of like sponsoring a raffle and soliciting for ticket sales. Everyone pays, everyone hopes to win, but the person who really wins is the publisher. Not only have they collected hundreds, perhaps a thousand or more dollars (what’s a hundred dollars back in the kitty?), but they have also gathered dozens of poets for the soft sell. To me, it might be fair and many people might enjoy it, but it lacks integrity, it lacks couth.
2) I never thought much of self-appointed judges. Judges have the distinguished position above all that they “judge,” and anyone with half of an ego will sorely abuse this opportunity to feel grandiose, even if only in private. Having said that, I wouldn’t call myself “Judge.” Don’t give others the pleasure of judging your words, because…
3) Judges are just people with opinions (none better, none worse, though experience qualifies), and contests are playgrounds on which the judge is “it,” the person tagged gets a pat on the head and a few bucks, and the rest walk away feeling lighter in the pockets and that the judge certainly must have been favoring someone, because whose words are the best? YOURS, of course. Most of us feel the same.
Poetry isn’t a game. Though many people (myself included) play with words, getting poetry published is a serious matter, and if someone asks you for twenty bucks to read your manuscript or your five poems, then they must not anticipate enjoying what they read. Save the twenty and enjoy a pizza.
(Middle Island Press publishes poets who are serious about getting published.)