One fun way to challenge yourself as a haiku poet is to enter contests. However, there are a great number of contests out there. How do you know where to begin? Here are some tips for getting the most out of the haiku contest submission process:
See who is sponsoring the contest. Some haiku contests are simply looking for poetry written with a syllable count of 5/7/5. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t enter, but they might not appreciate good haiku. My best recommendation is to pursue contests that are sponsored or endorsed by groups that are familiar with haiku. Marion Clarke manages the Contests and Awards Bulletin Board in The Haiku Foundation Forum. The New Zealand Poetry Society maintains a comprehensive list of haiku contests; this list is regularly updated throughout the year, with new contests added on a rolling basis. I love both of these sources and refer to them regularly. (I’ve also been known to search Twitter using the hashtags #haiku and #contest, but this leads to results that are quite variable!)
Read the instructions thoroughly. I know, this goes without saying, but I’ve still been caught off-guard by contest rules. Sometimes, a topic is embedded in the fine print, you need to email the submission to more than one person, or there’s some other tiny detail that winds up being very important.
Pay attention to the way haiku is described in the contest announcement. Some contests stipulate that your work has to be in three lines. Others want 5/7/5 haiku. Some may welcome senryu, others won’t. This is just my working philosophy, but the less a contest seems to be familiar with modern English-language haiku, the more likely I am to send them a haiku with a 5/7/5 syllable count, just to be on the safe side.
Enjoy the prompts. Some contests are themed, and while that might pose a challenge, it can also be fun, interesting, and lead you to write haiku about topics you may not have tackled before. For example, there was A Little Iris Haiku Contest held recently with the theme of “crude oil.” This was not a topic about which I ever envisioned writing haiku!
Know your rights. Most contests expect that your work has not been previously published, although there are some exceptions. Also, please double check that the contest does not require “all rights.” If it does, you lose all rights to republish your work in the future. You may decide that this is worth it, but I don’t want to see you caught unawares.
Check the fees. Not all haiku contests have fees. For those that do, it’s useful to look at the ratio of contest fees to contest awards. A contest with high monetary fees and low monetary awards requires scrutiny.
Note the time zone of your contest deadline. English-language haiku has an international following, which I am happy about 99.9% of the time. But I have been known to submit very close to the deadline! Some contest organizers will honor the date of the time zone that you live in, and some won’t. I remember once when submissions closed a few days before the deadline — I was so upset. Don’t let this happen to you. Submit early!
Keep good records. Always keep track of which of your haiku are out in circulation. Trust me, having to withdraw a poem because you’ve forgotten that you published it elsewhere sucks. (And it happens to most of us at one point or another, so don’t feel bad if this happens to you. A polite apology goes a long way.)
Celebrate your wins! Haiku can be a lonely place when you don’t have anyone with whom to share your latest publications or contest wins. This is a terrific use of social media — thank the contest organizers and show off your award, whatever it might be. Once you have built up your personal haiku community, find little ways to celebrate each other, be it going out to lunch or sending happy emojis by text.
Try not to take it personally if you don’t win. As my friend Susan Burch reminded me recently, if you don’t win, it doesn’t mean your poem is bad. If you love it, someone else might love it too.
Hold on tight and have fun! Okay, this last one is actually what I was told as a child, riding my favorite roller coaster at the local amusement park. But this saying holds true here as well. As Susan likes to tell me, you can’t win if you don’t play!
Have you placed in a haiku contest? Do you have winning tips and tricks to share? Tell us about it in the comments!
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My thanks to Susan Burch for brainstorming with me and to John Kelsey for proofreading. Any remaining errors are mine, sadly.