News: Contest (Schmontest?)

2012-06-18 21:33:PM ago by jen.spruit

I’ve been going through old issues of the magazine as part of the process of creating a digital archive, and I came across some contests and their winners. In the premier issue of fS, Kathryn Peet won runner-up for this poem:

It Doesn’t Taste Like Mint

When I was in grade two I knew a girl who drank white glue out of a squeeze bottle, as though it was a baby’s bottle. Her name was Sheila Kelly. In kindergarten she’d sit alone eating paste. She said it tasted like mint. I tasted white glue once. I was thinking about chocolate syrup and let some glue drip off my finger into my mouth. It didn’t taste minty. I don’t know why Sheila drank it. Sometimes Mme. LaFramboise would tell her not to drink glue. Mme. LaFramboise was our teacher. She came from Belgium and used to eat bananas so she’d get bigger. Her name means raspberry. I guess raspberries make you small.

Shelia still drank it anyway. She’d keep a bottle of Elmer’s glue in her desk. I saw her eating dried glue off a table top once. I tried some. It was chewy but it still didn’t taste like mint. Every once in a while at recess my friend Matthew would come running up to me and say, “Sheila just threw up again!”

And we’d all follow him to go and see.

Contests help little mags keep their delicate budgets intact, but other what other purpose do they serve?

In Arc’s Poetry Annual 2012, Anita Lahey has written an honest and thought-provoking editorial on contests and the competition they invoke upon writers. She argues that there are two sides of this story: the writers themselves, who cannot escape competing against their peers and the masters of yesteryear for emotional resonance with readers; and the all-knowing selection committee who must test each work by submitting it to the highest standards of subjective reasoning. Is this idiosyncratic? Yes, but choosing what to put forward for the public is not arbitrary. The system isn’t perfect, but that doesn’t make contests a bad thing. Contests can urge writers on, push them into new territory. Awards and prizes, while they may not always pay the rent, are affirmations that what you are doing does matter, even if your family members with real jobs have never heard of that magazine you got published in. Perhaps most of all, contests produce snapshots of the writing landscape, items that the writing community can collectively digest and incorporate into the ever-changing definition of what we are writing about and how we are doing it.
In that vein, what do you think? Should fS resurrect the contest? Do we like the idea, as writers and readers, or are we better off without?

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