The Annual Tom Howard Contest for Poems In All Styles and Genres is one of the very few poetry competitions which consistently awards cash prizes to poems in all categories, subjects and genres. Most poetry contests do not. True, they will accept entries across the board, but prizes are often awarded within a very limited range.
Let's take subjects first. I discuss this at length in Chapter Twelve of my book, "Write Ways to WIN WRITING CONTESTS". Briefly, although often writ large in a contest's rules, there is actually no such animal as "open theme" or "subject matter at contestant's choice". For example, if there's a mention in the rules that winning entries will be published (either on the net or in traditional print format) steer well clear of Adults Only material. The last thing contest organizers want is that access to their site or publications should be restricted in any way.
For the same reason, if you are submitting to contests other than the Tom Howard Contests, political and religious subjects should also be given a wide berth. The Tom Howard Contests will accept these subjects (Mike Billington's "The Water Carrier", in which the central character was a disliked Protestant missionary in Mexico, actually won First Prize), but most other contests will not.
Although this is never stated in their rules, many of the world's best-known poetry contests number among those that will only award cash prizes within an extremely circumscribed range of themes and categories. David Harsent, the Chief Judge of an extremely popular competition that attracted many thousands of entries, has posted his comments on the web. Third Prize in the 2008 contest went to a poem the judge lauds as "a study in melancholy". Second Prize was won by a poem of "invocation" and "lament". The voice of the poet, the judge describes as "anguished and darkly lyrical". The First Prize, on the other hand, was destined for "a sort of Post-It Note poetry of brevity and abruptness."
David Harsent is certainly a distinguished poet and I greatly admire much of his work, such as "At the Bedside" but in my own writing I do not share his concerns, his conceits or his methodology. Nor does he share mine. This is as it should be. So there is no way in the world I would submit any of my own poetry to a contest of which he was Chief Judge.
So which contests are worth your time and money? As implied above, one way to ascertain if the contest judge will look kindly on your submissions is to explore the sort of poetry he writes himself. My own modest book is titled ANYONE FOR LOVE? and this link will take you straight to an Amazon page where you can learn more about it.
Another way to discover if your verses are suitable for a particular competition is simply to read that contest's past winning and commended entries. Contests rarely break with tradition. If they have never commended a humorous or descriptive poem in the past, they are unlikely to do so in the future, let alone award such entries a cash prize.
Tom Howard Poetry Contest's winning and commended entries are represented in four printed anthologies. The most recent is SAILING IN THE MIST OF TIME and this link will take you to Amazon.
The previous anthology was published in both hardcover and paperback editions. This Amazon link will take you to the hardcover page, from which you can link to the softcover if desired: ACROSS THE LONG BRIDGE: An Anthology of Award-Winning Poetry
Anthology number two, published back in 2005, is fortunately still in print. This book contains some of my favorite poems, including "The Dark Room" by Elaine Winer, "Weather Report" by Guy Kettelhack, and "Mason City Ladies' Sewing Circle" by Mary Ann Wehler; plus the title poem by Tina Richardson: TRAVELING: An Anthology of Award-Winning Poetry
Finally, the very first Tom Howard Poetry Contest Anthology has recently been reprinted. Unlike the previous books, however, it is not on sale everywhere, but good old Amazon have it in stock. Here's the link: End of Season: Award-Winning Poems
That's the lot. Don't forget my own book of helpful advice: Write Ways to WIN WRITING CONTESTS: How To Join the Winners' Circle for Prose and Poetry Awards, NEW EXPANDED EDITION
And the sites for the Tom Howard Poetry Contest itself: http://tomhowardpoetry.bravepages.com and http://www.winningwriters.com