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Success With Poetry Competitions

October 18th, 2019

Let me be clear from the outset, whether or not you win a prize in a poetry competition is entirely down to you and your creative acumen. However, there are definitely ways to increase your chances of success. Picture that moment when you are staring at a list of poetry competitions with generous cash prizes and affordable entry fees, deciding which to enter. It is so tempting to dust off a decent poem (usually no more than 40 lines for maximum opportunity) and then send it in to a zillion competitions, scarcely noticing how much you are spending on your dream. This approach generally results in a tumbleweed return and financial misery! It is even more frustrating when you read the winning entries and conclude that your poem was far superior and must have been overlooked somehow. Sadly, this is unlikely to be true.

The good news is that you are in no way a failure, you just need to target competitions that offer a realistic chance of success. I really enjoy writing rhymed poetry but I know that of all the competitions out there each year virtually none will even consider an entry that uses rhyme throughout as a potential winner. Rhyming couplets do have their place though and will be looked on far more favourably in a competition that is looking specifically for rhymed or humorous poetry.

For those preferring to dabble in free verse it is wise to look, at least initially, for competitions that have smaller cash prizes, in order to avoid competing against the international ‘big guns’ of the poetry world. Target those that ask for entries around a specific theme. This sets a level playing field, gets your creativity buzzing and gives you a deadline for completion. Even if your new poem doesn’t win a prize initially, it can still be worked on and improved over time. This is exactly what happened with my poem ‘Hotline to Heaven’, which began life as an entry for a competition with the theme of ‘numbers’. Just changing one or two words or lines can rapidly restore confidence.

Putting it simply – patience, perseverance and a little pruning can definitely lead to success.


Sim Smailes is married to Sarah, has four cats and teaches at an independent school in Essex. Originally from Yorkshire, he enjoys writing poetry and short stories, mainly for children. He won the Children’s Poem category of the Plough Prize in 2011 and he has also won several poetry and short story competitions in Writing Magazine.

Sim particularly enjoys using rhyme in his writing and this works well in humorous poems like ‘The Hotline to Heaven’.

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