As most of us poets know, it’s rarely cheap to enter your poems into contests or even submit them to literary magazines. Many contests come with sizable entry fees — and unfortunately, those contests often end up feeling more like scams when the prize isn’t quite worth the investment. This is especially frustrating when you’ve not only put a hefty sum of money toward entering, but also a great deal of effort into your poem, which you can’t help but feel you should’ve entered elsewhere.
That’s why, to help my fellow writers and poets out, I’ve uncovered some great contests that are free to enter — and, more importantly, that have been vetted in terms of their legitimacy! Let’s take a look at seven of the coolest poetry contests you can enter this year, free of charge.
Hosted by Winning Writers and now in its 19th year, this contest seeks today’s best humorous poems à la Dr. Seuss or Shel Silverstein. There’s a plethora of prizes, submissions are eligible from most countries, and you can submit published or unpublished work. The opportunities don’t end there — your poem is even allowed to contain “inspired gibberish” (as the name of the contest implies). Examples of winning poems are also available on the contest site, to give you some side-splitting motivation.
Prize: First prize: $1,000 plus a two-year gift certificate from co-sponsor Duotrope (a $100 value). Second prize: $250. Honorable mentions: 10 awards of $100 each. All winners will also be published on the Wergle Flomp website.
Deadline: April 1st, 2020
This prize is open to African poets — defined as those who were born in Africa, who are nationals of an African country, and/or whose parents are African. Past winners include big-name bards like Warsan Shire and Safia Elhillo. In addition to the first-place winner, shortlisted poets are also announced (because sometimes it’s nice to know you were close)! However, this prize is only for those who have not yet had a full-length poetry book published, and you must submit ten poems to be eligible.
Deadline: Open for entries between November 4th – November 30th, 2019
Are many of your poems inspired by imagery? Then this contest may be right in your “line of vision,” so to speak. Ekphrasis, by definition, is a detailed description of a piece of art. So for this monthly contest, Rattle posts an image that should inspire your poem. What’s especially neat is that two winners are selected each month, one by the artist and one by Rattle’s editors. Make sure your poem responds to the specific image listed that month in order to be eligible for the prizes!
Prize: $50 and publication on their website
Deadline: Last day of each month
Creative Writing Ink offers creative writing courses and other services online, but also runs a few writing contests. They allow you to submit one entry every month under an open theme. So if you don’t succeed, you can always try, try again with this one. And since there are so few restrictions (the poem should be written in English and up to 40 lines, but that’s it), you can take great liberties trying out that new extended metaphor.
Prize: A £10 Amazon voucher and publication on their website
Deadline: Last day of each month
Blue Mountain Arts produces warm and affectionate cards, books, and gifts. Their grassroots origin story will melt your heart and perhaps inspire the kind of poetry they are looking to award. They suggest that you elicit personal emotions and have some special person or occasion in mind as you write. You can enter as many poems as you’d like. Check out their website for past winners to get a sense of their desired tone!
Prize: First prize: $350. Second prize: $200. Third prize: $100. The winning poems will also be published on their website.
Deadline: December 31st, 2019
This contest is specifically geared towards those who have recently published a debut book of poetry in the English language, between October 1, 2018 and September 30, 2019. The substantial cash prize will be decided by a panel of judges nominated by the John Pollard Foundation and the Trinity Oscar Wilde Centre in the School of English, Trinity College Dublin. If you win, you will be required to receive the award in Dublin (which, personally, is a sacrifice I’d be more than willing to make).
Deadline: September 30th, 2019
Although this contest’s reading period isn’t until 2020, it was too interesting not to include. As the Lunch Ticket contest site emphasizes, literary translation is vital to writers across all cultures. The contest’s eponymous Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Gabo) has been translated far and wide, influencing countless writers across the globe, just as translated writers had influenced him. This contest requires original work, along with your translation. Original bilingual work also qualifies for the prize, which is awarded twice each year.
Prize: $200 and publication (alongside two semi-finalists) in an upcoming issue of Lunch Ticket.
Deadline: January 31st, 2020 for the June issue
So there you have it: a list of contests that won’t cost you a cent, but will keep you submitting until the sun sets on 2019. While you sift through whichever ones suit your poetic proclivities, make sure you adhere to the cardinal rule of submissions and check the guidelines carefully before sending anything out into the world. Good luck out there and Goethe’s speed!
Do you have something say about poetry? An essay on being a poet, tips for poets, or poetry you love? TrishHopkinson.com is now accepting pitches for guest blog posts.
Tess Patalano is a writer at Reedsy, a marketplace giving authors and publishers access to talented professionals and free educational content. In her spare time you can find her writing poetry, taking pictures, or scuba diving.