11 Poetry Contests To Enter… And How To Win Them

Posted on Aug 1, 2023

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A great way for poets to gain recognition and showcase their talent is through poetry contests. Contests offer an opportunity for poets to get more eyes and feedback on their work, exposure to a larger audience, and a chance to win some pretty sick prizes.

Whether you’re a seasoned poet or just starting out, there’s likely a poetry contest open for submissions within your experience level and genre. Let’s look at what poetry contests are, a list of ones you can enter right now, and a few tips for upping your chances of winning.

What is a poetry contest?

A poetry contest is a competition in which poets submit original poems for a chance to win a prize, publication, or some sort of recognition. Poetry contests may be organized by journals (online or physical), literary magazines (ditto), publishing companies, independent publishers, scholarship and grant funds, universities, and other organizations.

The rules and requirements for poetry contests will depend on the host. Typically guidelines can include the length, format, and theme of the poem, as well as guidelines for the poet themselves, such as age, gender, orientation, race, region, and other factors.

Contestants may be required to pay an entry fee to participate, but many are free. The poems are typically judged anonymously by one or more experts, while others might be voted on by a larger community.

Poetry contests can be a great way to get some publication clout, exposure, and sometimes cash prizes!

Poetry contests to enter

Here are 20 open poetry contests you can enter now! Some are ongoing, some are limited (so jump on it), some are free, some are paid. Pick your poison.

1. Academy of American Poets: First Book Award

If you have your first whole book of poetry, try this one out!

Prize: Publication by Graywolf Press, a six-week residency at the Civitella Ranieri Center in Italy, and a $5,000 cash prize.

Submission deadline: September 1, 2023.

2. Frontier Poetry: Open Prize

This one is for poems from new and emerging poets.

Prize: Publication on the Frontier Poetry website, plus $3,000.

Submission deadline: September 17, 2023

3. The Moth Poetry Prize

This is an international poetry competition judged by a whole panel of poets.

Prize: €10,000 and publication in The Moth magazine.

Submission deadline: December 31, 2023.

4. Poetry Society of America: Four Quartets Prize

This is awarded for a unified, complete sequence of poems published in America via print or online journal, chapbook, or book.

Prize: $21,000 

Submission deadline: December 31, 2023

5. The New Yorker: Poetry Submissions

The New Yorker accepts poetry submissions year-round by mail or online.

Prize: $350 per poem

6. The Bridport Prize

This is an international poetry competition. 

Prize: £5,000

Submission deadline: November, 2023

7. The Sunken Garden Poetry Prize

This prize is awarded annually to a book-length collection of poetry.

Prize: $1,000, publication by Tupelo Press, and a reading at the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival.

Submission deadline: December 1, 2023

8. Cave Canem Poetry Prize

This is awarded to a first book of poetry by an African American poet.

Prize: $1,000, publication by University of Pittsburgh Press, and a week-long writing retreat.

Submission deadline: September 1, 2023

9. Glass: The Poets Resist

This contest is for poets of color who reside in the US or its territories.

Prize: $500 and publication in Glass: A Journal of Poetry

10. The Black Warrior Review: Annual Contest

This contest is open to all writers, but the Black Warrior Review gives priority to writers from underrepresented communities.

Prize: $1,000 and publication in The Black Warrior Review

Submission deadline: September 1, 2023

11. Blue Mountain Review: Winter Contest

This contest is open to all writers, but the Blue Mountain Review gives preference to writers from marginalized communities.

Prize: $500 and publication in The Blue Mountain Review.

Submission deadline: December 1, 2023

If you’re looking for even more poetry contests to enter, check out this list of 23 poetry contests to enter this year.

Tips for entering poetry contests

In order to win poetry contests, you obviously have to be a strong poet and submit your best pieces. But there are a few things you can do to tip the scales in your favor. Here are three steps to take if you want to give your poems and yourself the best shot at some of that prize money!

1. Aim for smaller submission pools

The fewer poets you’re going up against, the higher your chances of winning (obviously). Determine if you fit into any special groups, then find competitions that only allow permit people in those groups to enter.

Here are some examples of special groups:

  • Regional: look for contests that only allow submissions from people who live/were born in your region
  • Age: if you’re a younger poet, look for competitions that only accept submissions from your age group. This could also mean your grade in school, if you are an undergraduate, graduate, or recent graduate
  • Orientation: if your sexual or gender orientation land anywhere outside of cisgender-heterosexual, you can definitely find competitions that only allow submissions from your marginalized group
  • Race/ethnicity: Likewise, there are very many competitions that cater specifically to marginalized races and ethnicities

Submitting to those limited pools of poets can up your chances at success.

2. Read the guidelines

Be sure you understand the theme, style, format, and length of piece the organizers expect.

Additionally, many competitions have other specifications they’d like applicants to follow, such as formatting, file type, and cover letter rules. Be sure to check your application and make sure you follow the guidelines—ignoring the guidelines is an easy way to get your poems tossed out in the first round.

3. Write unique, original pieces

Many poems are good, but kind of run-of-the-mill. In order to stand out from the crowd, your poems need to stand out, too. Try to avoid topics that might be too cliche, and take a fresh, original spin on your content. Don’t be afraid to play around with format, if the guidelines allow!

Poetry contests can be a fun, valuable learning (and earning) experience for writers. Try to challenge yourself and enter a few of these! You’ve got nothing to lose, but lots of cash, recognition, and writer retreats to win.

Good luck, and happy writing!

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