Across the map and spanning the globe, poetry contests are a growing phenomenon. Poetry slams, contests, and competitions are a 'must-do' experience. The audiences drawn in are incredibly versatile - you might see kids age 10 or folks in their 60's. The racial barriers have been snapped so all cultures are attending in harmony: guys, gals, foes, pals; it even makes a great date night that's not so typical. In fact, I took a special girl to a slam one night for our first date - I'm married to her now!
There will always be skeptics out there who say that the idea of a poetry competition or a contest takes away from the culture and tradition, takes away from what a poem is. I understand where they are coming from. But I don't agree. All this does is add a twist.
At a personal level, competitions are a motivator to be more creative, produce more art, and really show what I can do. The justifiable part of the argument is that each poem is its own separate entity - how can it be compared to another that is completely dissimilar in structure and topic? Well, that's not the point of a contest. The point of a poetry contest is to see who can best make their topic of choice one that is so poetic it sweeps you away. It's to see who can use the right poetic devices and tools to produce imagery and moments that resonate and evoke emotion.
The point of the poetry slam or contest is not who picks the best subject, but who best captures their subject!
One recommendation if you do enter a poetry contest or poetry slam - do not let the output get your spirits down should the results not be in your favor. Much like the Rorschach Test (ink blot test), perception is in the eye of the beholder. There are tons of wonderful poets out there, but because everyone views and hears prose with different context it will always resonate differently. Similar to having a basic conversation, always remember that two people can walk away with varying interpretations of what was actually said.
My favorite kind of poetry contest are slams - these are live in-person events where artists perform for an audience of judges and vie for the evening's title. Poetry slams are meant to intrigue. You never know what you're going to get. One poet could share a sonnet about their baby brother who gets all the attention and she just hates it; then the next might share their favorite experience about eating watermelon at a barbecue; and both of them could be succeeded by the dark goth slammer who speaks the truth about drugs and sadness. All this to say (although I hate cliche) - expect the unexpected!
One thing that pushes poetry slams up a notch is the simple fact that there are less poetry readers in the world today, as cited by Poets.org. Today's society is notably lazier than ever - so I entertain them from the stage because I love it! Other types of poetry contests are written submissions. Here are some resources on poetry contests and slams - so whether you prefer to ghostwrite or jump in front of an audience, there should be something here that entices you...
Poetry Contests For All
Poetry.com is probably the biggest repository for poetry online. You can almost always submit a poem here that could win you a prize!
The Boston Review runs a poetry contest every year with a nice prize pool. You can submit your work online for this one - good luck!
If you're a bit younger, Creative Submissions is always on the hunt for young talent. They run the Poetic Power poetry contest.
Another one for the younger up-and-coming generation is Teen Ink - they publish poetry monthly so there's always a chance to get recognized!
One of the most prestigious, well-known and accoladed poetry contests out there is the National Poetry Series. The contest lives in the legacy of the late Nobel Prize winning poet Octavio Paz - hence the name of the award, its sought after "Paz Prize".
Poetry Out Loud is an organization that will help you set up a poetry contest at your school - they do it in every state, so be sure to check them out!
The Walt Whitman Birthplace Foundation is also a highly dedicated and renowned poetry organizations. They boast festivals and contests plus they recognize outstanding individuals involved in the art and culture of poetry.
Poetry Slam Competitions
Poetry Slams in New York
NYC boasts some of the biggest, baddest, hardest hitting poetry slams around! This is where I shed my training wheels and started to blossom. If you live here or if you're visiting, find a local slam and don't miss out!
Poetry Slams in Seattle
Poetry Slams in Chicago
Chicago is the birthplace of slam poetry. When Marc Kelly Smith (oh yeah!!!) brought his hard hat and rugged hands to the other side of the rainbow, he opened up a pot of gold that us slammers are all still basking in - oh rejoice! If you visit Chicago, you better find a slam around town!!
Poetry Slams in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston