Is "A Win Is a Win" the Only Way to Win?

To enter contests or not. To pay to submit poetry or not. These are serious and debated questions among serious and debating poets. The truth is money and poetry don’t mix well in our culture, yet they are, of necessity, bedfellows. I can see both sides and, as a result, sometimes I enter contests and sometimes I pay to have my work read by a publication that I particularly admire. And sometimes, usually after a string of painful rejections, I rebel.  Decide “it’s bad enough to be highhandedly dismissed with a generic form rejection, but to pay for the experience—no, thank you.” The only exception is for book publication, where entering contests is de rigeur, unless you are only interested in posthumous publication.

But let’s say, you bite the bullet, research the market and find a so-suitable contest, submit your best work (as requested), and pay the required fee and months later, receive the excellent news that you are a finalist, semi-finalist, have received Honorable Mention or some such accolade. I say “excellent,” rather than “most excellent,”  because you have not actually won and therefore you don’t know what kind of victory you can claim.  You know that bridesmaids cannot say they are married. Yes, they attended the wedding in a rather prominent position, but the day does not remain on their resumé.  

I’m into this conundrum at the moment, because I just received a “happy to report” email that my poem “Zeitgeist” has been selected as a 2015 Rash Award in Poetry finalist. The contest was sponsored by Broad River Review and judged by David Kirby, Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of English at Florida State University in Tallahasee. As an aside, I love the blend of wit and compassion in Kirby’s poetry, so to have him select one of my poems raises the honor exponentially. “Zeitgeist” will appear in their upcoming 2016 issue.  

Other also-rans of which I’m proud include a piece on then candidate Barack Obama’s rhetorical style which was a finalist in the 2009 Special Contest on Obama, New Millennium Writings

and “Sail On, Silver Girl” which was a semi-finalist in Naugatuck River Review’s 2010 Narrative Poetry contest .

and my prose poem, “Soft Skills for Today’s Market,” which received an Honorable Mention in The Binnacle 8th Annual Ultra-Short Competition 2011, housed at  the University at Maine, Machias. 

Perhaps I’m spliting hairs here. Not to worry—it’s all good. Just part of the Zeigeist.