Paul Guest at his blog says he didn't win a contest. "Joan Houlihan has won The Green Rose Prize for her manuscript Cincture. Which is cool. Many sincere congratulations to Joan." Joan? Oh, yeah. Joan. Proves you don't have to have a brain to win a poetry contest. Or a sensibility. Or taste. Or be nice.
Guest goes on to grump, "But, damn it all, my manuscript was in that pile with hers. Over the last two years, its pulled in several finalist spots in great competitions: the Brittingham; the Beatrice Hawley; the Levis Prize; and so on and so forth."
Fuck that. Contests are stupid. They don't have to be corrupt to be stupid. Publishers fuss about how poetry doesn't pay for itself, that it's not unreasonable to ask poets so few of whom seem to buy poetry to help subsidize the publication of books of poems via contest entry fees, that contests give valuable publicity to an unknown press, that contests usually only break even anyway what with paying the celebrity judge(s) or whatever so entrants' fees aren't some super windfall, that contests often send out the winning book to all the losers thus the fee actually returns something of value to the entrant, that fill in your justification here. Said John Martin founder of Black Sparrow Press, "My whole thing was [that] I would publish only what I really liked myself, and there's got to be two or three thousand people in the world who would agree with me." I don't recall having heard that Black Sparrow ever ran a contest.
Is it unfair to quote a literary press success story when few presses do anything but eat from the publisher's pocket? Probably. But I wonder how publishers who can't make money off their books can push on, putting all their hearts into getting to press (& distributed & reviewed &c) books not that they themselves discovered and delighted in and drove them but books that some celebrity judge (no matter how admired) got paid to choose out of a leaning tower of payors.