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This report is taken from PN Review 93, Volume 20 Number 1, September - October 1993.

The Competition Culture Matthew Francis

I have just finished writing a poem. I think it's one of my best, but I shall not be submitting it to PĚNĚReviw, or to any other magazine. I have set it aside for the poetry section of the annual Bridport Creative Writing Competition, first prize £1000. Of course, the odds against winning are considerable - like all the big money competitions, Bridport attracts thousands of entries. But it's difficult, too, to get accepted by the best magazines, and the winner of a major competition gets, in addition to a financial reward greater than any editor could provide, a valuable addition to his or her literary CV. For many poets, victory in the Arvon or National Poetry Competitions, the two biggest, has been the means of gaining national recognition and the publication of a first full-length collection. These two, at least, are compulsory for ambitious aspiring poets.

The bigger the first prize, the greater the number of entries. The shrewder organizers economize on the minor prizes to maximize the jackpot for the winner. Arvon, held every other year, still offers the biggest incentive, £5000. The National has had to up its first prize again, to £3000, to keep ahead of the Peterloo (£2000). Bridport's £1000 was the first substantial prize to be offered by a regional event, but now there are £1000 competitions everywhere you look. There are also £500, £100 and £50 competitions - too many, in fact, for The Writers'and Artists' Yearbook to keep up ...


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