You go a talk by a Leading Poet. No one you know is there, but still you sit at the back, wrapped up in your scarf and your nerves, your notebook perched on your knee.
The Leading Poet reads some of her poems. In between poems she reminds the audience of the Prizes She Has Won. Her recommendation, For What It Is Worth, is never to submit just one poem to a competition. She reads A Prizewinning Example. This one, she says, was in a batch of four, and was By Far The Worst Poem Of Them All.
The strategy, she goes on, is to show them You Are A Professional.
When you get home, you select four unpublished poems from your hard drive, ‘So I can show them my range’, you say to yourself.
One is still out at Dirty Washing. You are sure they won’t take it because they have already held onto it for eighteen months and anyway a friend of a friend told you the editor was recently seen in rehab. One is about losing a child (something you know nothing about), another a villanelle (‘they won’t get any of those’). The last is a straightforward lyric in off-rhymed quatrains which took you about half-an-hour. You feel slightly guilty about it, but this one is your favourite.
You check them. You read them ‘like a judge’. You even show them to your friend. You print them on lucky paper.
To show the competition organisers that you are not too desperate to win, you place them in the postbox on the last day but one before the closing date.
The day after you post them you notice that the last word of your villanelle has a typo. You decide to write to the competition organisers, explaining that, actually, the final word of your villanelle is ‘home’ and not ‘hime’. ‘It must be because ‘i’ is next to ‘o’ on the keyboard,’ you say.
The next night you do not sleep.
You send the competition organisers another letter, apologising for wasting their time at what must be a particularly busy time of year, hoping that your previous letter will not dampen any chances you have of winning the competition.
You spend the night worrying about that letter, incredulous that you have allowed yourself to be seen to be attempting to influence the judges’ decision. You write to apologise again.
Finally, you sleep. Weeks go by where you do not think about the competition. Your conscience is appeased.
At which point Dirty Washing write back to you saying that they very much like your monologue in the voice of Woody from Toy Story and would like to publish it.
Your fingers slippery on the pen, you write to the competition organisers for a fourth time, explaining that the poetry journal ‘Dirty Washing’ have got back to you after 18 months of prevaricating over your poem ‘Woody Talking’ (‘in the voice of Woody from Toy Story’) and that you now find you are compelled to withdraw it from the competition. You hope they will see that you entered the competition in good faith, and that this was not a decision you took lightly.
Months go by, until one day the competition prizewinners are announced. You are astonished your name is not among them.