The Hermit Poet

January 23, 2007

Boxcar Poetry Review – Peer Awards and Year-End Prize

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 11:44 pm

After careful consideration and review, I have decided to move away from my original plan of offering an open submission / fee-based poetry contest.


Simply put, as I did the math and considered the staff and administration required to run an open contest, I realized we were just not equipped to do so — or at least, not equipped to do it justice and within a reasonable time frame. Rather than take time away from making Boxcar Poetry Review a quality journal, I felt that it was more important to find a way to bring the efforts and goals of the “contest” and the journal together, and to do so in a way which was both manageable for us and respective of our readers’ and contributors’ feelings.

To be perfectly honest, the original contest was guaranteed to be a headache. By the time all the entries would have arrived, I would knee-deep in my first semester of a PhD (at least, that’s my hope). Juggling the selection of work for the regular issues with reading and winnowing contest entries, while simultaneously working on a PhD just seemed like a bad idea. Perhaps if I had really deep pockets and could afford an army of readers… but even then, there’s the problem of ensuring good poems are not being lost or misread.

And then there’s the problem of trying to pick one winner — either through an external judge or by myself. The traditional model seems unsatisfying in some respects — while I’m not a full-on Foetry groupie, I do acknowledge that there are problems with the way things often work out in a contest. Contests (like lotteries) often prey on people’s need for validation and approval, often drawing the most submissions from people whose work stands the least likelihood of being selected.

The New Model

The new contest isn’t a contest — but rather a way to reward exceptional work published in Boxcar Poetry Review. Rather than an external judge or the editor making these decisions, the power to select the best poem of each issue will be placed in the hands of the past and present contributors to the journal (ie. anyone who has published work up to and including the current issue).

Here’s how it works.


    1. Each contributor (past and present) can nominate 2 poems from the current issue as the “best of the issue” (it’s easy, just pick your two favorites). If you have a poem in the current issue and are using one of your votes for yourself, please nominate one additional poem (for a total of 3).

    2. Votes are tallied at the end of the month and the poem with the most votes is announced the first week of the following month (in this case, February).

    3. The author of the winning poem will be awarded $25 and the poem will be indicated as having won a Peer Award.

    4. The top three poems from each issue will be added to a list of finalists for the yet-to-be-named year-end prize. This means, that even if your poem is not chosen for a Peer Award, there is still a possibility that it could win the year-end prize. By the end of the year, there should be 18 finalists total, not including possible ties.


At the end of the year, the list of finalists and Peer Award winners will be handed off to a respected external judge who will choose the top three poems of the year. The judge will read and make his/her decisions through a blind reading — all personal information will be withheld. After coming to his/her decisions, the judge will notify the staff of Boxcar Poetry Review who in turn will contact the winning poets and arrange for the prize moneys to be sent to them.

1st Place – $500
2nd Place – $250
3rd Place – $100

So, if you do the math, you’ll see that we are still giving away $1000 (including the $150 for 6 Peer Awards) — but following this format, we can reward more poets and give each contributor a voice in the process.

I’m excited about this format because I feel that empowers poets, artists, and reviewers and allows them to reward and recognize the work they admire.

What do you think?

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