Poetry Contest How-To

Last week, Common Good Books in St. Paul, MN announced the launch of Love Letters: The Second Annual Common Good Books Poetry Contest. I spoke with assistant manager and event coordinator, David Enyeart, about the contest and any advice he might have for bookstores wanting to launch their own poetry contests.

On Valentine’s Day, Common Good Books announced the contest via press release, newsletter, and this video.


Enyeart told me that the greatest difference between this year and last is the purse. Common Good Books proprietor Garrison Keillor is sponsoring the contest and is putting up $2000 in prize money. Last year they received 150 entries. This year, just days after the launch, they had already received 8 entries, and 3 were from out of state.

“It’s a rich prize for a single poem,” Enyeart says. “It gives people an opportunity to talk about poetry.”

Here’s how the contest works…

  • The contest is open to anyone living within the United States
  • Entries must be a single poem
  • The poem must be a declaration of love for a specific person, or being, or object, or place–i.e. something tangible
  • The entries must be unpublished anywhere, and the author must have full rights to the material
  • Only one entry per person
  • Entries must be mailed to Common Good Books (38 S Snelling Ave, St Paul MN 55105), postmarked no later than April 15, 2014
  • Entries must include a signed release, available here.

The timing between launch and deadline allows 2 months for participants to submit entries. And the advice from poets on how to write a good poem offered on the Common Good Books tumblr page is practical and encouraging to new poets. “It’s not off-putting, but instead shows this is something they can do,” says Enyeart.

For bookstores interested in launching their own contest, Enyeart says it’s pretty easy to do, and he has these recommendations.

  • Find a way to keep organized if you get hit with a lot of entries.
  • Find people who are confident in judging poetry.
  • Have a good mailing list for press releases.
  • Be sure to include the rules and guidelines in your publicity.
  • Use social media.

Enyeart said you can borrow their rules and release form from their tumblr page, or you can email him to request an editable version.

If you’re not quite ready to launch your own, feel free to promote Love Letters to your own customers. It’s a national contest with impressive prize money, and they’ve done a nice job of making it accessible to all.

poetry banners

Banners featuring entries from last year’s poetry contest hang from the ceiling at Common Good Books.

Beth Golay

Beth is a reader, writer, marketer and Books & Whatnot founder. Even though she knows better, she's a sucker for a good book cover and will positively swoon if a book is set in appropriate type. @BethGolay