I got an email last week from Rattle, reminding me to submit to their 2011 poetry prize.
It was different, though, than the usual contest reminders I receive. The contest is different than the usual contests I see:
…here’s the news: We’ve increased the number of paid finalists from ten to fifteen poets — each receiving $100 and publication in our winter issue. As the competition expands, more people deserve to be paid; that just makes sense.
Not only that, but for the first time this year YOU get to vote for the $5,000 winner. After selecting 15 finalists in our usual blind review, we’ll publish those poems in our winter issue, and include a ballot in the back. The winner will then be chosen by popular vote among all entrants and eligible subscribers.
Logging all those votes is going to be a massive undertaking. Are we nuts? Have we been watching too much American Idol? No…we just have faith in the ability of our readers to make the best choice possible. At Rattle we’ve always felt that everyone should have an equal say in what poetry is and what it should do, and the idea of one or three authoritarian editors judging which poem out of 8,000 deserves a huge prize doesn’t quite feel right.
So my question is: are they, in fact, nuts?
Part of me thinks, no, and here’s why:
1. I’ve been part of several literary journal contest selection processes before, and it can be a pain. Shifting the power to a vote seems like a great idea.
2. Only eligible subscribers and entrants are allowed to vote, so the decision is being handled by folks who know the journal (supposedly). It’s like briefly expanding your editorial staff.
3. Not only are the 15 finalists being selected internally, they are also being published before voting begins. From the email:
Having run this contest for five years, I’m absolutely sure that all 15 finalists will be deserving of the big prize. They always are. So I have no doubt that the winner will be the most outstanding poem that moves the greatest number of readers — and that’s what we’re always looking for in a poem, anyway.
I think that’s a great sentiment.
4. Again, the contest selection process is a pain.
But part of me also thinks, yes, they are nuts. Like they mentioned above, logging the votes in will be quite the process. And I wonder what the response will be like, both from entrants and voters. $5000 is a big prize, so I can’t imagine they’ll be short on submissions by any means. And judging by Rattle’s quality work, I can’t imagine they’ll be short on good submissions, either. But I wonder, are readers going to vote? Does the contest’s success even hinge on that fact?
If you’re interested, the 2011 Rattle Poetry Prize details are here. The deadline is August 1st.