Friday, June 29, 2012
Two Judges Say Go Deep - Don't Play It Safe
I have note entered a lot of contests - I maybe average one to two entries a year so I'm one one who has a lot of personal experience with the contest circuit.
One of the two pieces that I'm talking about was an interview in Ploughshares of Mary Biddinger by Victoria Chang. I've met Victoria at a reading in Kansas City I believe in 2008. I've read two of her books Circle and Silivinia Molesta. I enjoyed both but was much impressed by Circle as a first book. Biddinger I've never met or heard read but I have her book Saint Monica which I was so in love with I I can hardly contain myself in wait for her next book O Holy Insurgency. She is the queen of Catholic poetic culture.
The second piece that I read was a blog post by Susan Rich. I've never met Susan either but have her book The Alchemist's Kitchen. One thing that I've appreciated about Susan is that she is a poet who not only has a strong social consciousness but will on occasion allow it the gently permeate her work.
So insight of interest did I glean from these two sources? Rich pointed out, "...all the poems that were sent on to me were quite competent. However, competent is not enough to win a contest. The poems that startled me, that made me want to read then and re-read them, the poems that could not be nailed to a chair in terms of their meaning." Her advise specifically was to, "Choose to send your poems that take risks."
Mary Biddinger said she loves "Poems with teeth... poems that aren't afraid to use their teeth." For Biddinger, she would rather see "a manuscript that makes a few missteps, but dose so with bravery, versus a highly-polished competent, yet safe collection."
If you take to heart what these two poet/judges have to say on the subject, it comes down to being willing to take the risk. I suppose this really should come as no surprise because it really is the poem that stands up and dares to be different that gets noticed. I can recall shuffling through pages of work in the past and pulling from it the pieces that seemed the most polished. I will try to not make that mistake again.