Montreal Prize: amazing, innovative new contest exploits poets like never before

Have you ever worried that entering conventional fee-based contests wasn’t pissing your money away quickly enough? Have you ever looked at your “complimentary” issue or anthology or winning chapbook/collection and felt that it was too generous a token for losers like you? Ever contemplated the odds of winning one of a handful of prizes, in a field of hundreds or thousands of entrants, and wished they were even worse? Well, the Montreal International Poetry Prize has your back.

This “grassroots, non-profit”, “first-of-its-kind” contest claims to use an “innovative community funding model” to “deliver a major annual poetry prize funded directly by poets themselves, turning the historic patronage model on its head”. Okay, whatever–guff is guff, so let’s get down to brass tacks. How much would you expect to pay for a shot at its single $50,000 prize? No, not a $20 submission fee for five poems, like the Boston Review contest. Not £6 for the first poem and £3 thereafter, like the UK’s National Poetry Competition (though that’s already quite steep). Not $25 for the consideration of a full book manuscript, like the Fence contests.

Behold: the Montreal Prize charges $15-25 for the first poem and $10-15 for each subsequent one. You’ll notice that the initial fee ranges from merely high ($15) to stupidly high ($20) to ridiculously high ($25). Why the variation? Well, part of it is the early submission discount, which makes sense, and the other part is this:

The Montreal Prize is meant to be a truly global effort and so we want our fees to reflect the fact that some countries are richer than others. Therefore, we’ve decided to subsidize entries from less wealthy countries in order to encourage more equal participation.

So, say the average person in the Philippines (one of the “subsidized” countries, 135th by GNI per capita at $2,050) wants to enter, and they manage to get their shit together in time for the early entry deadline (April 22nd). It’ll only cost them, oh, two-and-a-half days’ wages to enter a single poem. If they enter two poems, they pay a bargain price of four-and-a-half day’s wages. There’s “more equal participation” for you.

The funny thing is, even at this “subsidized” rate, the Montreal Prize is more expensive to enter than lots of (flat-fee) contests already out there–contests with smaller prizes, to be sure, but much better odds of actually winning. It may or may not be the most expensive poetry contest in existence, but it’s certainly up there. What makes it really disgraceful, though, isn’t the cost itself. It’s what the money is going toward:

The first Montreal Prize has been made possible by a generous and anonymous $50,000 catalyst donation. . . . This funding model is made possible thanks to those who support the Montreal Prize directly by participating in it. Their entry fees go towards paying the editors and covering other costs associated with the Montreal Prize. Along with the support of our catalyst funding and any future sponsorship, the entry fee makes the Montreal Prize happen.

Just how much money are we talking about? According to the Montreal Gazette, “Thousands of submissions are expected. The rough edit by the international poets – 10 in all, in countries as varied as Malawi, Guyana, Northern Ireland, India and Canada – is the first step. Each has agreed to read at least 1,000 poems.” In other words, they’re anticipating a take of significantly over $100,000. Needless to say, that’s twice the pay-out.

Remember that thing about “turning the historic patronage model on its head”? Well, here it is in action. The historic patronage model involved non-poets paying poets for their labour; this prize, as advertised, involves exactly the reverse. Since the prize itself comes pre-funded, every cent of your entry fee is going towards the costs of having “an Advisory Board, an Editorial Board, a Prize Judge, directors and interns” (not that the last group is likely to see any of it), among other things. It’s not keeping a literary press alive, offsetting the cost of a complimentary copy of the anthology, producing an open-access resource, or supporting some charitable cause. It isn’t even going towards an honorarium for the 50 entrants whose work will be anthologised (unless, for some odd reason, they’re just hiding this bit of generosity). Instead, it’s going right back into the maintenance of an apparatus created for the express purpose of administering this prize. All this just to give one person in the world $50,000.

In short:

Conventional contests: Poets pass a hat around, giving all the takings to a few lucky/talented poets.

The Montreal Prize: Poets pass a hat around, giving all the takings to the administrators who bought the hat.


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Filed under Fail, Literature, Poetry

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