Having previously given thought to the issues involved withpoetry competitions, and then failed to make the final shortlist for the Buxton contest that sparked this adventure into poetry itself, I recently found the time and inclination to prepare a couple of new entries. The competitions I deemed worthy of my attention (!) were notable ones – notable in the sense that they offered some excellent prizes (£5000 for the winner of one!) – though I don’t await the results with any eagerness because I almost certainly won’t win.
Despite the apparent prestige of these competitions (I say apparent because, in respect of one particular competition at least, for a novice like me there is only the scale of the prize and the presence of a few testimonials as evidence that success might lead somewhere), one thing remains unchanged – the requirement to send Stamped Address Envelopes (SAEs) if one wishes to be provided with a receipt of entry or a list of winners.
Where a small operation is concerned – my mind immediately thinks of the one-man-band poetry magazine that is Quantum Leap, and a remarkable achievement it is too (it’s even agreed to publish me!) – SAEs are vital to their continuing viability and ability to keep costs reasonable. But where a larger operation is concerned – like a competition offering five grand as a first prize – you have to wonder just how efficient a system utilising SAEs is.
Maybe it could be argued that all the SAEs simply get piled in a corner ready to be filled with, say, the yet-to-be-decided list of winners – straightforward enough, if a little labour intensive. But it still smacks of being the brainchild of someone who fondly remembers a world before the internet existed, and where Blue Peter used to send out factsheets for ‘How To Build Your Own Tracy Island’ in a similar manner.
Which begs the question – is it the publishers and administrators influencing this ‘old-fashioned’ method, or the poets? For example, are all the amateur writers out there modelling themselves on Roald Dahl, sitting in garden sheds with a pencil in hand and writing on paper supported by a soil-encrusted plank of wood?
Is ‘new’ technology so rare among poets that the Royal Mail is the only feasible medium by which competitions can be conducted? I would find it hard to believe if you answered ‘yes’ to that question. After all, there are enough people (of more advanced years than me) attending the Poetry Stanza in Burslem who are able to type and print their poems, and keep abreast of Stanza news via e-mail. One woman does an internet radio show for pity’s sake! You can’t tell me any of them would struggle adapting to entering competitions online.
Contrary to where this argument might seem to be going, however, I am not one of those people who advocate an ‘all or nothing’ policy and seek to penalise those who are unable – for whatever reason – to take advantage of the benefits offered by the internet. I don’t seek to condemn people who prefer using stamps to enter competitions, and I also acknowledge that probably the biggest stumbling block to these contests becoming entirely electronic is the issue of fee payment. Just because someone can type a poem and send it by e-mail doesn’t mean they can grasp online payment systems. Moreover, they may not want to pay for things online, a sentiment I can relate to much more easily given my own (seemingly limitless, at times) potential for paranoia.
That does not excuse the fact, though, that a competition asking for my e-mail address on its entry form does not then utilise said e-mail address to provide a list of winners without the need for paper, ink or envelopes. If I am not to be the winner then I certainly don’t care about the result enough to waste a stamp so the result can drop on my doormat like a lead weight on my soul. Just this once, I would be happy to shout at them, “Put me on a mailing list and keep me up to date with news, special offers etc!!”
I am not sufficiently brave or well informed to declare that the poetry world should embrace an electronic and online revolution. But in an age when so many other forms of media and creativity have embraced a ‘non-print’ alternative (even if it is in tandem with traditional publishing), poetry – or the poetry I have thus far been exposed to – seems determined to tread its well-worn path. I can’t decide if this is admirable or stupid, but it does make one wonder whether there is anything to be gained from starting to push a dedicated online agenda.
If you have any ideas or thoughts on the matter, why not write to me? And enclose an SAE, so I can reply to you…