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John Howard Reid

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Popular Writing versus University Prose and Poetry
by John Howard Reid   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Saturday, May 15, 2010
Posted: Saturday, May 15, 2010

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Are you wasting your time and money sending off great work to contests that neither want nor appreciate your superb entries?


Welcome to Tom Howard Contest News. These Newsletters are issued twice a month and are also posted on and for easy reference.

For general writing advice you can send me questions by using the "ask for advice" form at

I'll answer a number of questions right now:

What is the difference between popular prose and poetry and the sort of writing in favor among academics?

If you don't know the difference, you really don't need an answer to this question. Take it from me, it's 99% certain that the prose and poetry YOU write is POPULAR prose and poetry. So why then are you wasting your time and money sending your stories and poems to contests in which they have no chance of success? Absolutely no chance whatever! The reason is of course that very few contests openly identify which variety of prose or poetry they are actively seeking.

So what type of poetry will win favor with the judges of the Margaret Reid Prize for Traditional Verse and the Tom Howard Poetry Contest for Verse in All Styles and Genres? 

In theory, all types. But it must be admitted that in 97% of cases the judges favor popular verse. For example, of the 108 winning and commended entries included in our anthology that Amazon calls SAILING IN THE MIST OF TIME: Fifty Award-Winning Poems (despite the fact that it contains 108 poems from the Margaret Reid and Tom Howard contests) only THREE could be described as university verse. (See my account of "Spinning Pearls" in the next answer).

What else can you tell us about previous winning Margaret Reid and Tom Howard entries in the above anthology?

I guess people need to read these poems themselves to judge their quality. All I can do is to share my feelings: Kristopher Smotherman won Second Prize for "Papa Bill" (poem 7 in "Sailing..."). The poet dares to compare his favorable impression of his grandfather with the denigratory comments of his sister. This is certainly an unusual approach but it ultimately serves to reinforce the poet's and the reader's view of the grandfather as "a great man." 

The following year's Margaret Reid Second Prize went to Sally Odgers for "Spinning Pearls" (poem 89 in "Sailing..."). This is one of the three poems in the anthology that would undoubtedly win favor with both the academic establishment and the general reader. Mind you, the poet uses few of the devices currently held in high regard in university circles. There are no lower case personal pronouns; and although the atmosphere is definitely outre and disaffected, it is not overwhelmingly encephalitic or cancerous. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, you'd do well to steer clear of contests sponsored by universities, foundations and the poetry establishment).

Second Prize in The Tom Howard Contest was awarded to Noble Collins for "Old Hawk" (poem 57 in "Sailing...). As the title implies, this is a descriptive poem, detailing the hawk versus a field mouse. Guess who wins this alluringly described encounter?  

This year, as you know, the prize pool for both our poetry contests has been increased to $5,550 (including a First Prize of $3,000). Entry fees have not been raised.

To enter your poems in our current poetry contests, you will find full information at OR You will also note that although the prize-money has been increased, entry fees do remain at $7 for every 25 lines. 

The Margaret Reid Contest closes on June 30, so time is running out for this much-easier-to-win Prize. We usually receive only a third the number of entries the Tom Howard Contest attracts, yet entry fees and prize money are exactly the same! 

Unlike almost all other poetry contests, we impose no limits on the number of lines or number of poems you may submit.

For full details, you can also visit the home page of and click on the contests at the top left of the screen.

The latest poetry anthology by Margaret Reid herself is Love & City Dreaming: Poems by Margaret Havill Reid. Margaret's range and versatility in this book provide an excellent guide to the verse we are seeking for the Margaret Reid Prize. For instance, free verse is most acceptable. Despite what some people think, FREE VERSE IS A TRADITIONAL VERSE FORM. The Ancient Egyptians wrote free verse. The famous English poet, Christopher Smart (1722-1771), wrote free verse. True, free verse did go out of fashion in the 19th century, but so did many other verse forms such as sestinas, villanelles, roundels, etc. All these forms are acceptable for the Margaret Reid Prize.

You'll also find plenty of rousing titles and attention-getting poems in our previous anthologies of winning entries from both the Margaret Reid and Tom Howard Contests. In addition to SAILING IN THE MIST OF TIME, other recommended anthologies are ACROSS THE LONG BRIDGE: An Anthology of Award-Winning Poetry (this is also available in a very attractive hardcover edition) which contains 133 winning and commended entries from both contests and TRAVELING: An Anthology of Award-Winning Poetry which contains 58 winners from the Tom Howard Contest, plus 10 additional poems.

Finally, I'd like to mention my own book, Write Ways to WIN WRITING CONTESTS: How To Join the Winners' Circle for Prose and Poetry Awards, NEW EXPANDED EDITION. Ever entered a contest, taken a look at the winning entry and said to yourself, "How on earth could they give First Prize to that thing? The judge must have bats in his belfry!" No way! The truth is that particular entry was awarded First Prize because it was the sort of entry the judge was actively seeking. Your entry, on the other hand, was one he automatically rejected. So, if you've been wasting your time and money sending out great stories and magnificent poems to Contests that immediately place them in the reject basket, here's an essential book to help you select the RIGHT CONTESTS. While it's principally a matter of identifying if the contest is seeking University Poetry or University Prose versus popular verse and/or popular stories and essays, there are other considerations to take into account.

For example, a number of well-advertised Poetry Contests NEVER award prizes to traditional rhyming verse, even though they imply in their rules that such forms are acceptable. So how do you separate a suitable contest for your work from one in which you'll just waste your time and money? One of the key recommendations in my Write Ways to WIN WRITING CONTESTS is, as implied above, that you take a look at some of the entries that have won prizes in previous years. This will give you some idea of the types and varieties of poems and stories that have won prizes in the past. Judges may change from year to year for some contests but the sponsors always remain the same. These sponsors always appoint judges who are in complete sympathy with their ideas. So if the XYZ Poetry Contest has never awarded a cash prize for traditional rhyming verse, it's not going to do so this year, even though the judge may be a new face!

Keep writing on, and don't lose heart if you seem to be getting nowhere! It may simply be the fact that you are sending your work to the wrong people!

All my very best wishes!


Web Site: Poetry Contests

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