Category Archives: Submitting Your Work

This Contest and Your Poem: a primer for novice poets

Image by graur razvan ionut

Image by graur razvan ionut

by S.J. White
published poet and Poem-A-Day poetry judge (2008)

I wrote this piece for the Cambridge Libraries after judging their Poetry Month, Poetry Contest, in 2008. It seemed that there were some difficulties experienced by contestants who were new to medium that could be eased by a few pointers. The hope was that it would improve the quality of entries and also make judging easier.

Most of us start by writing rhyming poetry. It seems as though it might be the easiest to write but it has its pitfalls. On any given subject it is surprising how few English words will rhyme. In consequence, we find the same old words used over and over. Too often the rhyme takes over the poem. The poet cannot get away with a line that would otherwise not have been used, except to satisfy the need to rhyme with a word in a previous line. Furthermore, rhyming poems must scan, that is to say, there must never be the feeling that one line is too long or too short. The experienced reader will quickly spot a line with an extra adverb or adjective that has been included to pad out its length. These tricks serve to trivialize the poem so that at best it becomes doggerel.

If you do write in rhyme, then try not to emphasize it. A slant or approximate rhyme will be less obvious than a perfect rhyme. Rhymes three and four lines apart will be less obvious than rhyming adjacent lines. Not every line needs to rhyme. The poet is free to begin and end a line anywhere; run-on lines can de-emphasize the effect of rhyme because a rhyme within a line is less obvious than an end rhyme. Keep in mind that the words are your slaves: you must never become a slave to your words. The poem should never exist for the rhyme. The rhyme should exist for the poem.

An alternative to rhyming poetry is free verse. Most contemporary poets write in free verse. This is poetry that doesn’t rhyme or have fixed rhythmic scheme, but is distinguishable from prose because of its subtle rhythm.

Blank verse is another poetic form. It is non-rhyming poetry but with a rhythmic scheme. Just as in rhyming poetry, the rhythm of each line is important. Whichever approach you take, ask yourself: do you have something novel to say, or do you have a novel way in which to say something? Whatever you decide to write, when it is written, this is one of the aspects it should have achieved.

Some poems do not lend themselves to being widely advertised, especially in contests. You may be going through a difficult time and by all means write about it. But poems of such a personal nature belong in your journal or your diary, perhaps to be shared with intimate friends, but they have no place in a poetry contest. Remember that your poem has to be judged on its merits as a piece of creativity.

Your poem is a sound bite. It is committed to paper through the technology of writing. When it is read aloud, it is resurrected and once more becomes a sound bite. Hey diddle diddle/The cat and the fiddle/The cow jumped over the moon, once had a meaning but what it once meant is now irrelevant. It has lasted through hundreds of years because it describes an intriguing nonsense event but more importantly, it has lasted because of the delightful sound and rhythm of the words. Not all poems need meanings and in those that do, the meaning may not be the primary reason why the poem works. Never underestimate sound.

“My love is like a red, red rose,” is a simile. “You are the promised touch of springtime,” is a metaphor. Not all poems need simile or metaphor but these powerful associations are more strings to a poet’s bow, and this is a reminder that we should avoid clichés at all costs.

The traditional way to write poetry is to capitalize each line but that is often disregarded in contemporary poetry. Some is written as prose would be written. Some is even written completely in lower case. In some poetry, grammar needs to be precise and correct, but in other styles it need not. Some poems need to be punctuated exactly like prose, others are not punctuated at all. All of this is left to the poet.

The worst person to vet your poetry is you. Before you submit it, give it to somebody with a good grasp of language to edit it for you. Spelling mistakes are unforgivable. If you have a computer, it helps if your poem is set in a legible type like Arial or Times Roman. And do not centre the lines unless you have good reason. Not withstanding the above, keep in mind contemporary poetry may be anything. Sometimes all the rules are broken successfully.

And to the very young poets we would say, disregard all this and write in any way you choose, for you have the advantage of us all: you are not burdened by experience.

Digest these guidelines but don’t be put off. If your poems are rejected don’t be discouraged. Remember that judging is subjective. Rejection is part of the game. It happens to the best of poets all the time. Successful poets just keep plugging away, for poetry is good for the soul.

And advice to all who write: read, read, read, read and read.

Stan White has published three books of poetry and numerous chapbooks. His poems have been published in the usual literary journals and anthologies. He is retired and lives with his wife in Brantford, Ont.

How Do I Count Thee? Let Me Count the Ways!

by Becky Alexander


I enjoy submitting work to various poetry contests: this is a way of ‘getting my work out there’, and also gives me the opportunity to win a bit of glory, and maybe even some cash! One thing I have learned is to check how the poem lines in such contest entries are counted.

The usual standard is that the actual lines in the body of the poem are the ones counted: the title and the space underneath are not usually considered in the line total. But sometimes they do! Some contests count the spaces between lines as well, and some contests do not.

I recently prepared work for a poetry contest of which I was not familiar. The rules stated ’25 line max.’ per category. But did that include the title, the space underneath the title, and stanza line breaks? There was no clarification for this, so I emailed the contest chair and asked directly. In this case, the lines in the actual body of the poem were the only ones counted.

Entering contests is an interesting and worthwhile activity for poets, but if your line count is wrong, your poem will be turfed, no matter how good it is. The first and foremost rule that all contest judges are asked to first check is that all rules were followed. I have judged many poetry contests in North America, and I can tell you firsthand that there is nothing harder than having to disqualify a brilliant piece of work because the lines were not counted correctly.

So do your homework. If the rules for a potential contest do not directly state how that group or society counts lines for its contests, find out, before you send.

Becky Alexander is a Cambridge writer. Her work has been published in five countries, and has won hundreds of awards. She runs Craigleigh Press with her husband Dave Allen.

Writers Donating Their Talents

by Elizabeth McCallister

Some of you might remember how I discussed in the blog a while back about how writers can speak the truth to power. I thought that I’d expand on that idea.

The most famous way of doing this is by becoming a member of the national PEN organization. PEN is a worldwide association of writers working to advance the rights of writers to free expression and for readers to have the right to read whatever they please. PEN champions writers who are attacked for what they write or the positions that they hold. PEN hosts benefit readings. PEN Canada published a fundraising travel anthology in 1994 and PEN America publishes a journal. If you are interested in joining this organization, their website is:

Writers also participate in benefit readings for a variety of causes. I participated in one of a series of readings held in London England to benefit the homeless. There was a small admission fee for the readings and poets submitted their work for publication. Cinnamon Press published the best of the submissions in an annual anthology. I checked their online catalogue and there is also an anthology by young writers benefiting Oxfam.

Those of you who write prose might think that aside from PEN that I’m not giving you any examples of prose writers working toward any greater good. However, this winter I read an anthology that had both prose and poetry. The anthology was titled Shine On: Irish Writers for Shine. It was published to support people affected by Mental Ill Health. One of the best pieces in the collection was the short story at the beginning “I Have Only Ever Loved” by Alex Barclay.

There are so many issues out there that many of us feel strongly about and we have the talents to try to make the community that we live in a better place. The old adage, “the pen is mightier than the sword” is certainly true. We can wield that sword to work for positive change in society. I did try googling poetry benefits in Canada but I just got a bunch of pages of how positive it can be to belong to certain organizations or to write poetry. I’m sure some of our more web-savvy members can find events out there where we/they could donate their time.

Writing can be a curiously ego-driven endeavour. We all believe that we have something worthwhile to give and yet we can all be sensitive about that gift. It’s a strange mixture of egotism and shyness. Perhaps that’s why it’s good to remember that what we have to offer can be used to highlight causes and benefit others.

Elizabeth McCallister is currently a member of the Cambridge Writers Collective and the Brantford Poetry Workshop. Her poetry has appeared in Streets and Ascent Aspirations Magazine Anthology Four Fall 2007 – Borderlines. She was also one of the judges for 2010 Cambridge Libraries’ Poem a Day contest.

Writing a Cover Letter for Submissions

by Stella Mazur Preda

Image: digitalart /

A well-written cover letter is the publisher or editor’s first introduction to you, the author, a way for you to get noticed and most importantly – to get your work read.

As a publisher, I would like to suggest the following tips to keep in mind when writing a cover letter for submissions to anthologies, journals, magazines, etc.

  1. Keep it short, to the point and professional, even if it is only a small press publication. Your cover letter should be no longer than one (1) page.

  2. The cover letter, as well as all submissions, should be typed. DO NOT HANDWRITE OR PRINT. This makes your work look very unprofessional. If you don’t have computer, use a friend’s or visit the public library. You have free access to computers there.

  3. All poetry submissions should be typed single spaced using a legible standard font such as TIMES ROMAN, 12 PT. Prose submissions are always double-spaced. Never use fancy fonts. Publishers and editors are not impressed by these. If they have to struggle to read your work, they will most likely discard it without reading.

  4. The writing and formatting of a cover letter should be similar in style to that of a business letter. Aligned left, start with the date (fully written out); then 2-3 spaces and your address; spaces and the address to which you are sending; then spaces and the salutation (if you know the publisher or editor’s name, use it here).

  5. Next is the body of your letter. Open with a sentence similar to this “Please find enclosed the following poems – (list the titles here) to be considered for publication in your journal _______”.

    Do not forget to include your contact information such as phone number or email address … e.g. “Should the need arise I can be reached at (phone number) or (email address).

  6. Signature block at end of letter … close with “Best Regards” or “Thank you for considering my work” or something along that line. Leave about 4 spaces down for your signature and then type your name. Sign your name in ink just above your typed name.

  7. Place all your submissions in a full size envelope (9” x 12”) and if at all possible type the address and return address labels. Remember, your work looks more impressive and thoughtful on your part if it arrives without all the folded creases of using smaller envelopes.

Please remember these are suggestions. Use them or alter them to suit your own needs.

Best of luck with all your submissions!

At a later date, I will follow with suggestions for submitting manuscripts to publishers.

Stella Mazur Preda’s poetry has appeared in many Canadian, and some US, literary journals and anthologies. Her first book of poetry, Butterfly Dreams, was published in 2003. Stella is owner and publisher at Serengeti Press. She is a current member of several poetry groups and serves on the Literary Committee of the Hamilton Arts Council. Her 2nd poetry book, The Fourth Dimension, will be released in the spring of 2012.

The Spelling & Grammar Police

by Diane Attwell Palfrey

In today’s world of social networking, it would appear that proper grammar and correct spelling have flown out the window. This fast-paced lifestyle, and perhaps the speed of delivery, is what causes all the errors in many blogs, texts, tweets and/or other forms of media. Many people don’t bother to correct their errors. Or perhaps they don’t realize they have made an error in the first place.

Although more prevalent today, the need for good editing has always existed. Last week I was reading a newspaper article from July 28th, 1932. It depicted all the details of my great uncle’s fiftieth anniversary party. In those days, it was important to note who poured tea, who wore what, and how the tables were decorated. I was only one sentence into the piece when I read the text: “Firty years ago, Mr. Carey, then a youg man of 29 summers. . . “. This was published in a major newspaper. So maybe times haven’t changed too much after all.

When I went to elementary school, (and I’m not saying when) teachers watched for every mistake in word usage. Spelling was paramount, and just as important as good grammar. There was no such thing as “creative spelling”. We had spelling bees, and when we handed in work, it would come back heavily red-inked if not perfectly executed. Every comma and period had to be in its proper place. Sentence structure was clear and concise and heaven forbid any dangling participles.

By the time my own children started school, curriculums had changed
drastically. The teaching of phonics was no longer encouraged. It was a sad day for me. I had become obsessed with language over the years. I had come full circle and now I was the spelling and grammar police. When my children brought home journal entries from the teacher, I would red circle her errors before I sent my response back. I did that several times with one teacher until she started sending error-free notes.

I’m a firm believer in reading the written word a few times before you publish anything. Make sure that there are no spelling errors (conveniently now called typos). Write in clear sentences and use punctuation. Sentences that go on and on and on. . . are really annoying. I am too lazy to decide where someone wants the emphasis or decipher what they are really trying to say. Some people don’t seem to notice that there is a difference between using they’re and their. And for others, misnomers are commonplace.

Yes, I began that last sentence with “and”. It is now acceptable to start a sentence with conjunctions. Did I make unintentional errors in this article? Some are positioned, but maybe some are not. You decide. Become the spelling and grammar police especially for your own work!

Image: Salvatore Vuono /

Diane was born in Toronto and has lived in Cambridge for the past twenty-two years. She is a poet and prose writer. Diane is a member of the Cambridge Writers Collective and has poetry published by the Waterloo-Wellington CAA, Serengeti Press, Craigleigh Press, Hammered Out, The Ontario Poetry Society, Cruickston Charitable Research Reserve/RARE, & Ascent Aspirations Magazine. Diane is also the first place winner of the Cambridge Arts Festival Poetry Contest for 2009 and 2010.

Hints on Writing for Anthologies

Guest Post by Donna Clark Goodrich

Image: taesmileland /

DO use correct format—for prose double space, no extra line space between paragraphs, no justifying right margin, 1 space after period, 12 pt. New Times Roman or Courier. For poetry single space with line space between verses.

DON’T use borders or put submission in box.

DO include name and complete mailing address and e-mail address on submission— not just your blog or web site address. Make it easy for the editor to contact you.

DON’T clean out your files and send everything you have.

DO stick to the theme.

DON’T ask for an extension on the deadline, saying how busy you are.

DO include a suggested title, and capitalize only first letter of major words in title.

DON’T send in a manuscript longer than stated requirements, telling the editor they can cut it down if they want to use it.

DO keep bio sketch within the requested length. Write it in third person, and leave out adjectives such as “loving husband” or “beautiful grandchildren.”

DON’T tell the editor “feel free to edit.” If it needs it, they’ll do it. That’s their job.

DO omit underlines and bold; italicize sparingly any words you want to emphasize.

DON’T write a few days after the deadline, asking if they’ve made a decision.

DO let the editor know if you change e-mail address or other contact information.

DON’T send your submission on Facebook.

Now, start writing and good luck!!

For more information about Donna, author or “A Step in the Write Direction–the Complete How-to Book for Christian Writers”, please check out her website –>

This post was submitted by CWC member Stella Mazur Preda.

Stella Mazur Preda’s poetry has appeared in many Canadian, and some US literary journals and anthologies over the last several years. Her poem My Mother’s Kitchen was purchased by Penguin Books, New York and published in an anthology entitled In My Mother’s Kitchen, which was released in May 2006. Stella’s first book of poetry, Butterfly Dreams, was
published in 2003. Stella is a member of the Cambridge Writers Collective, the Canada Cuba Literary Alliance, The Ontario Poetry Society as well as member and past-president of the Tower Poetry Society, Canada’s oldest ongoing poetry group. Stella is owner and publisher at Serengeti Press. Her 2nd poetry book, The Fourth Dimension, will be released in the spring of 2012.