Getting Lost: A Poetry Essay for The Lonely Crowd

‘To enter a wood is to pass into a different world in which we are transformed. It is no accident that in Shakespeare’s comedies, people go into the greenwood to grow, learn and change. It is where you travel to find yourself, paradoxically, by getting lost.’

Roger Deakin, Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees (Hugo Hamilton, 2007)

 

At poetry workshops, when a writer has finished reading their work and the rest of the group are still re-reading and processing, four words are often blurted into this space:

‘And that really happened.’

Perhaps it has to do with the discomfort of a silence, the unease of waiting for a response and a need, conscious or unconscious, to reinforce the credibility of the work. To me, factual basis is irrelevant in a poem. The rendering of events as they occurred may be good journalism or memoir, but a poem requires something more. To become a poem, the facts must pass through a crucible, they must be transformed.

 

This month, I have four new poems published in The Lonely Crowd, a wonderful literary journal based in Wales. To mark the occasion, editor John Lavin invited me to write a short essay about these poems – you can read the full essay at The Lonely Crowd website, along with lots of other writers discussing their work, and also listen to me reading the poem, ‘Root’.

The journal is beautifully produced, a surprisingly hefty tome packed with great poetry, fiction and interviews including new work by Irish writers Caitriona Lally, John McAuliffe, Kevin Cahill, Meadhbh Ni Eadhra, Arnold Fanning, Kevin Graham, Kathleen MacMahon, K.S. Moore, Grahame Williams and Paul Whyte, plus gorgeous cover photography by Jo Mazelis. Lavin is zealously active in his sharing of the work on social media and I’m hugely grateful for all his hard work in selecting and promoting exciting new writing from the UK and Ireland.

From a writer’s perspective, The Lonely Crowd is such a generous and rewarding place to be published – I’d highly recommend getting a hold of a copy and considering them for your work when they open for submissions again in 2019.

You can buy this and other individual issues of The Lonely Crowd or a yearly subscription at their online shop.

And if you’re looking for places to send your work right now, check out the current list of poetry competitions, submissions and opportunities open or with deadlines in November.

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Featured Images © Jo Mazelis, 2018.

Submitting to Poetry Competitions: Which Competition?

I’m struggling with the flu right now but the general BLEUGH has been tempered by some good news on the poetry front.

I’ve had a couple of pieces accepted for a new women-led anthology on bodily autonomy, edited by poet and academic, Kathy D’Arcy, and due to be published by New Binary Press in the Spring. We have a historic referendum coming up in 2018, to repeal the 8th Amendment which compromises women’s healthcare in Ireland, and I’m proud to be among a chorus of voices writing about this important issue.

I’ve also had poems shortlisted and commended in a couple of competitions – the Doolin Writers’ Weekend Poetry Competition and the Gregory O’Donoghue International Poetry Prize 2018.

A writer recently asked me, ‘What makes a good competition poem?’ As many of you read this blog for the monthly poetry competitions and submissions list, I thought it might be useful to talk a little bit about submitting work to competitions. I’m no expert but there are certain boxes I like to tick when deciding whether to enter a competition and what poems to send.

Why Submit to Competitions?

For me, it started with not being very confident and wanting to get a sense of whether the poems were any good – did they stand up to scrutiny? I submitted to competitions rather than journals because they are anonymous. I didn’t want to be submitting work over and over to an editor who (in my mind) would roll their eyes and exclaim, ‘Not this eejit again!’. Rejection is a big part of the process of writing and the competition route seemed a gentler introduction to disappointment.

I was very lucky to bag a win early on – a micro-poetry competition – word for word, my best pay-day to date! That early success encouraged me to keep writing and to keep submitting.

I do think it’s a good idea to ask yourself what you want to get out of the experience. It rarely leads to wealth or glory but don’t despair – I have a few ideas about why it might still be worth your while!

Which Competitions?

This is a tricky one. Some competitions are hugely prestigious and attract thousands of entries from around the world. As a rule of thumb, the higher the prize money, the bigger the draw. It means your work will be read alongside – and have to hold its own against – established and extensively published writers.

These competitions are highly competitive. It doesn’t mean younger writers can’t win, especially if they have been writing seriously for a few years and have established a track record of good work, but if you’ve only written a handful of poems then these competitions are probably not a good bet. The idea of winning a major prize as a novice writer is seductive but, generally, they go to writers who have been working at their craft for years.

If you’ve yet to publish a full-length collection of poetry, look out for competitions that specifically target unpublished writers. Your work will be part of a smaller pool and be read alongside writers with a similar level of experience.

What About Competition Fees?

I also see a lot of debate online about the cost of submitting to competitions (and some journals) and how it can be a bar to lower-income poets putting their work forward.

I don’t believe competitions are money-making scams intended to exploit writers. They have legitimate costs that need to be covered – prize money, judge’s fee, administration, technical costs (eg. Web Hosting, Submittable, Paypal). Many offer discounts for multiple entries or membership. If there is a profit, generally it is being plowed back in to activities and publications that support writers. No-one is buying a yacht and retiring to the Caribbean on the back of a poetry competition!

That said, there are always exceptions. If a competition is hosted by an organisation you’ve never heard of, who doesn’t have a strong or transparent online presence and who charge an exorbitant sum for entry, then proceed with caution. Check out a few comparable competitions to establish the going rate.

I know it can seem hard that everyone pays and only a handful benefit, but I like to take a wider view. Nobody owes you anything as a writer – not publication, not prestige, nothing. When I trained as an architect, I had to absorb the cost of tools, equipment, wardrobe, membership fees – all the things I needed to present myself as a working architect. Same goes for writing. Paying to enter competitions and submit to journals is just the cost of doing business. It also helps support organisations and journals that in turn support writers – you’re contributing to a healthy literary community.

I am a low-income poet. I don’t have full-time income to rely on and this means I have to pick and choose the opportunities I pursue. I’m serious about building a body of work, so I set aside an affordable sum to invest in myself as a writer and I only enter competitions when I have work of a suitable standard.

No writer should enter every single poem they write into a competition or enter every competition out there! In one year, I might write 50-100 poems – only a handful of these will be competition standard.

IF I’M LUCKY.

With limited funds and a limited number of suitable poems, I pick my targets carefully. The odds are always against winning but there are better odds on valuable side-benefits. I look for competitions that are democratic, offering the largest number of rewards to the widest group of people.

Poetry Competition Checklist

  • Is the competition run by an established organisation or journal? Making the long/shortlist of a competition held by a reputable literary organisation or journal, eg. The Poetry Society / Magma, builds credibility and increases the chances of your name/work being noticed by other editors, publishers and literary organisations, festival committees etc. It also looks good on a writing CV, if applying for literary jobs, grants or bursaries.
  • Is the judge an established writer? Does the competition publish the judge’s comments? It’s an opportunity to have your work read and possibly selected / commented upon by a writer you would never have access to normally. Having a blurb about your work by an established writer can be helpful when approaching publishers and, again, it’s good for the writing CV.
  • How many principal prize winners? Does the prize money go to a single winner? Look out for competitions that spread the wealth among several winners and offer acknowledgement to runners-up.
  • Is there a published long/shortlist? It’s not feasible to give everyone a prize but it doesn’t cost organisers anything to publish these lists when they are an integral part of the judging process. If a competition attracts 2000 entries, your poem making it to the last 50 puts it in the top 2-3% – that’s no small achievement. Being included on a longlist, or going from the longlist to the shortlist in successive years, gives writers a boost in confidence / credibility and costs the organisers nothing. When writers pay good money to support a competition, I believe organisers should spread the love and offer as much value as possible in return.
  • Will the winners / runners-up / shortlist poems be published? If the competition is run by a reputable journal, it may also offer publication/payment to the top entries, eg. Mslexia Women’s Poetry Competition, Gregory O’Donoghue International Poetry Prize. Some competitions offer publication in an anthology. Publication in a reputable journal is always good. I’m warier of competition anthologies. Some are highly regarded and widely read within the literary community, eg, The Forward Prize annual anthology. Others feel like another way to exploit writers, using the writers work without payment and then expecting the writer to pay for a copy of the anthology to have a record of their published work. I’d watch out for the latter. If a writer has paid to enter a competition and the organisers want to use their work for publication, the very least they should do is provide the writer with a copy of that publication. I also have a bit of a bugbear about competitions publishing the entire shortlist without paying for use of the work. Most competitions exclude poems that have been prize-winners in other competitions but if a poem is commended or makes it to the shortlist, it might easily do better in another competition with a different judge or be submitted for publication to a journal. The only thing that would prevent it being sent out again is publication.
  • Will there be a prize-giving or reading? Many competitions are held by literary festivals to coincide with and help promote their main event, eg. Ledbury Poetry Prize. If prize-winners and runners-up (sometimes even the shortlist) are also invited to read at the festival, it’s an opportunity to meet and thank the judge, and have the work heard by a literary audience.

Sometimes, I’ll forego one or more of these. For example, if it’s a judge whose work I particularly admire and it would mean a lot to me to have my worked chosen by them. As a writer, it’s up to you to decide what’s important to you and hold yourself to that standard.

All of this is conditional on the poems being good enough to hold their own in a competition. I’ve written more than I intended about the competitions themselves, so I’ll save what makes a competition-worthy poem for the next post.

In the meantime, is there anything I’ve missed? What things do you consider when deciding whether or not to enter a competition? Please leave a comment below.

NB. I live in Ireland and these thoughts are based on my experience of the UK/Irish literary scene. I’d also love to hear thoughts about submitting to competitions in other parts of the world.

Photo by Gratisography

The Revival Tour: Poet Bloggers 2018

The Revival Tour Poet Bloggers 2018

When I started this blog back in 2014, I posted fairly regularly about poetry, and writing in general, but gradually life took over and the posts slowly whittled down to the monthly competitions and submissions list.

It’s been on my mind for a while that I could be writing more here and when I saw the call-out on Twitter at the end of last year for poetry bloggers to post weekly for a year, I jumped on board (I’m sneaking this post in under the wire for Week 2)!

The Revival Tour Poet Bloggers 2018 comprises almost 100 poetry bloggers across the world, covering everything from writing, reading and reviewing poetry to interviews to writing successes and failures – anything and everything to do with writing poetry. A big thank you to Donna Vorreyer and Kelli Russell Agodon for getting the tour off the ground!

For my part, I’ll be drawing from my 10+ years of writing and submitting poetry, two years as a poetry editor, an enormous To Be Read book pile and other creative interests, including art and design. I also have a particular interest in social media and how writers present themselves online.

If you have questions about any of the above or there are other areas of poetry that you’d like to see articles about, please leave a comment below. I’d love to know what aspects of poetry you’re interested in!

In the meantime, check out the full list of The Revival Tour bloggers and discover a new favourite read.

 

#WeMadeHistory

The people of Ireland have voted YES for marriage equality — regardless of sexuality — in a public referendum, with one of the largest turnouts in voting history; we are the first country in the world to make this choice by popular vote.

I’ve never been prouder to be Irish.

The escalating momentum of #hometovote, over the past couple of days, with Irish men and women abroad pouring back into the country by train, boat and plane, to ensure their voices were heard, has been extraordinarily moving.

The public outpourings, the crowds at Dublin Castle this afternoon — both in the courtyard and bringing the streets to a standstill outside — as the results were announced, and the inevitable celebrations carrying on well into the night, signal something else: national pride and a return to joy. Continue reading

Double Shot @ Books Upstairs: New Poetry Event in Dublin

This week sees the launch of Double Shot – a series of poetry readings at the new Books Upstairs premises on D’Olier Street, which pairs an emerging poet with a more established peer, to provide reading opportunities for poets who don’t often get to read in Dublin. The first of the series takes place this Wednesday, 25 February from 7pm and features Kate Quigley, Graham Allen and Jessica Traynor, who is also the event organiser.
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Poet, writer and dramaturg, Jessica is on a bit of a roll at the moment with a new position as Literary Manager at The Abbey Theatre and her debut collection, Liffey Swim, nominated for the Shine / Strong Award 2015.
I had a quick chat with Jessica to find out more about Double Shot and her latest role at the Abbey.

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Cork Spring Poetry Festival 2015: Poetry Bus Showcase

Cork Spring Poetry Festival 2015 - Poetry Bus Showcase

Cork Spring Poetry Festival 2015 kicks off tomorrow (12 Feb), with a fantastic line-up of local, national and international poets over 4 days. Guests include Don Share, Jo Shapcott, Lavinia Greenlaw and Peter Fallon but, as well as the big names, the festival includes debut launches from the winners of the Fool For Poetry chapbook competition, a focus on independent literary journals in Ireland – The Penny Dreadful, Poetry Bus & Southword – and the Prizegiving for the Gregory O’Donoghue International Poetry Competition, won last year by Breda Wall Ryan.

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The Irish Writers’ Centre in Dublin – I’m on the Team!

I’m delighted to announce I’ll be joining the Admin. team at the Irish Writers’ Centre, in Dublin, from the beginning of February until the end of October, to assist in running the Centre and to learn about Arts Administration & Management. The Centre runs an extensive programme of writing classes across all styles and genres, literary and publishing events, along with an increased focus on professional development for writers.

The Irish Writers’ Centre is particularly dear to my heart, as it is where I took my first creative writing class in 2007, it is where I returned to focus on writing poetry, under the tutelage of Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill in 2009, where I’ve attended workshops with Dermot Bolger, Ciaran Berry, Theo Dorgan and more, where I’ve read on Culture Night, the Centre’s 20th Anniversary and Poetry Ireland’s Introductions Series as part of the Dublin Writers’ Festival, and where I’ve met and worked with my fellow Words on the Wind poets, every fortnight for the past 5 years.

I can’t wait to get started!

Poetry Ireland Introductions 2014 Redux: Angela T. Carr

The Poetry Ireland Introductions Series – a showcase for emerging poets working towards a first collection and with a track record of publication in journals and magazines – is open for submissions until 31 Jan.

Introductions mentors new writing talent in Ireland, providing the opportunity to workshop poetry with an established, published poet and perform work to a live audience at a showcase, hosted by Poetry Ireland; the showcase is recorded and published on the Poetry Ireland web-site.

As an alumni of last year’s series, 2014 was pretty busy for me on the writing front, and I’ve been asking my fellow emerging poets to share their experience of taking part in the Introductions series. I thought I’d round up today with my own feedback: what it was like to take part in Poetry Ireland Introductions, how I benefited and where I am now with my writing.

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