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Teen poetry contests are a good way for teens to practice their writing skills, and possibly even get their work published. It is common for schools to host poetry contests for students to enter. Teen magazines, whether they are entirely devoted to poetry or simply feature a poetry section, will also frequently include contests. Another common place to find teen poetry contests is at local libraries, to encourage community involvement and participation. In most cases, any type of poetry contest, including ones for teens, should not require a fee to enter; this might indicate a scam in which everyone who sends a fee and their poem gets it published.
In general, teen poetry contests do not include many rules regarding the length or type of the poems submitted. This is done to encourage the greater creativity among the kids writing the poems. Teen poetry contests hosted by schools may place restrictions on grade levels that may submit poems to the contest, or may divide the contest into different judging sections by grade level to make it fair. Some schools may place limits on the subject matter that can be addressed in the poem; it must be appropriate for school, for example. Winners of school poetry contests may have their works published in a school newspaper, or receive another type of simple prize.
Teen poetry contests hosted by magazines also generally feature age limits and occasionally limits on length as well, though subject matter may be less restricted. Winners will generally get their poems published, or might win other things such as a subscription to the magazine or even a small cash prize. The same is true for publishers who create books of teen poetry each year, though these can be much more competitive, and are sometimes only open to individuals who have published poetry before.
Local community libraries are another common source to find teen poetry contests. Not only do they frequently host ones of their own, but they can also direct teens to other places to submit their writing for possible publication. Winners of library teen poetry contests might also find their work published and displayed at the library, or in a local newspaper. Other prizes may exist but will certainly vary based on the size of the contest, and the library. Teenagers interested in writing, or who want to get their name on published works as early as possible, might find that poetry contests offer prime opportunities for this.
I was once asked to judge a teen poetry contest, and I had to narrow 759 entries down to 10. The school's administrators would eventually select the winners from that list of finalists. I had little to no problem eliminating 90% of the entries during the first week. They were clearly written by writers who hadn't had any formal training in the art of poetry whatsoever. I was also shocked to see how many entries contained violence, sexual content and other graphic imagery. Unless it was handled especially well, I eliminated all of those entries.
There were perhaps 25 solid entries that I felt could have been on the final list. The school administrators actually chose the one I
felt was the absolute best, and I found out later the contestant was an English major who had already been published in several literary magazines for young writers. My advice to teen writers who want to enter a poem for a contest is to send their very best work and pay attention to what good poetry actually looks and sounds like. If the entry doesn't look like that, don't submit it until it does.
I have to disagree with one point in this article. Some legitimate poetry contests do charge a nominal fee to enter. This fee can serve a number of purposes. It may be used to fund the cash prizes for winners, or to offset the costs of publication later. Sometimes an entry fee serves to discourage frivolous entries, too. Many poetry contests for money are not rip-offs, but entrants need to be prepared to lose that entry fee. These contests can receive hundreds or thousands of entries, and the judging can be tough.
I have actually seen more teens get burned in so-called "free poetry contests" that promise a large cash prize. Everybody who enters this sort of online
poetry contest will be included in a future vanity press collection, but copies of that book are generally expensive. I would prefer that a teen poet submit a poem to a contest with a small entry fee than to one of those free teen poetry contests that exploit him or her later.
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