Reflections from a poetry contest

For few years now, I have organised international poetry contests through Heptagrama, and I think I have learned a couple of things about people and culture. The first and most important is that we need to pay attention.

We need to pay attention

If you were to organise a poetry contest, it is usually not hard, but it is time-consuming. You receive many e-mails with contestants' submissions, but you also receive many e-mails with a variety of questions. What is not so pleasant is the fact most of the times the answers to the questions people ask are already printed in the call page. What happened? Don't they read the call? There are two possibilities, actually.

The first possibility is, indeed, that they didn’t read the call. If this was the case, I would wonder what they did not read. I think that trying to take part in something without even reading its instructions, terms or conditions is serious. The consequences of not reading the call of a poetry contest might not be a big deal, yet if you don't read a labour or business contract before signing it, the consequences may be disastrous. You must always read what you are up against before making the decision of going forward. If you don't, you are like going 100 miles an hour in the wrong direction.

Which takes me to the second point: What if these people actually read the call? In theory, those who read the call should have been able to make their submissions perfect in the first attempt, yet experience has proved me wrong. Only one or two out of forty contestants do a successful submission in the first attempt. The other thirty-nine had to make corrections and submit again.

I think this proves something: That people out there have become pretty irresponsible with regard to their own lives. As a matter of fact, not reading a paper, or not paying attention to what you read can have awful consequences for an adult who is responsible for what he does. Sure, a poetry contest might not cause you a season in jail, but other things will.

Even if you think it is human to make a mistake when following a procedure, and that those things happen, I invite you to think again. If more than two hundred people make exactly the same mistake, we are either talking about collective idiocy or become recklessly "self-confident".

Is it that we have become recklessly self-confident?

The poetry contests I organise work over the Internet. There isn't any payment to make to sign up: all you need to do is to publish the poem you want to compete with in a public web page —any page—, including your name and nationality, and copying the participation code I post in the call of each year. There is one thing to add only (and I really hated to include it): given that during the first poetry contest I organised I received really a lot of submissions with spelling mistakes, I added a fourth requirement to take part of the contest: presenting a poem with perfect spelling.

To my astonishment, the submissions have had a poor showing: 19 out of every 20 submissions do not pass the requirement of perfect spelling in the first attempt. What is going on with writers? I asked to myself. I think I have an answer.

If you have ever used a search engine and used it, you may have found there are billions of web pages out there, covering a huge variety of topics. You can usually find "everything" in the virtual world. What is really hard to find, however, is something good about what you are looking for.

This happens because most people do not use the Internet to get informed from serious sources. Most Internet users either use the Internet to have fun (namely watching porn, some videos, or read what they find in their favourite social networking site) to do it to get out of a jam and solve something quickly. The common Internet user does not care about the fidelity or veracity of the information he is reading. He just tries and sees whether it solves his problem or not, and if it does, he closes the page to continue.

I find this careless. If that same page had a warning, the common Internet user will not even notice it. Which takes me to an interesting point: are blogs to blame?

Are blogs to blame?

With, certainly, thousands of exceptions, most blogs are written by a non-professional enthusiast. I am starting to think that the fact people received such a magnificent way to express themselves publicly (and even anonymously) through blogs has caused a serious quality decline in what you can find online.

I think this because these individual publications bloggers "post" online are never reviewed. Millions of them are written carelessly and published full of mistakes. What's worse, they go online crowded with errors while the writer thinks is flawless from the very first draft. Unlike professional writers, who have their texts reviewed as many times as necessary until being able to achieve the quality they need to achieve.

In a way, we have become recklessly self-confident. In another, we seem to have forgotten we are human beings.

A crowd of Supermen

When I think about blogs these days, and specially about poetry blogs, I shudder. These poetry contests have helped me realize I am surrounded of hundreds of Supermen. They can write. They can edit. They do not need to reread. They do not need to follow instructions. The organizer of the contest must understand they are not the typical poets but innovators, rare specimens of perfect imperfection. If I told them their poems have spelling mistakes, they get offended. What's worse, they reply saying that there must be a mistake because they cannot find any error in their own writings.


A few suggestions

I think that what I have learned with the poetry contests I have organised during the last few years is an opportunity to help us all become more responsible and less "enthusiastic" individuals (in the wrong sense of the word).

+ We need to accept we are not perfect, the very opposite: We seldom do things right the first time. We do need reviewers.
+ We need to stop thinking we can do it all by ourselves. Heptagrama wouldn't be what it is with a little help of some friends (my coeditor, my accountant, my sister and my readers, who are very important for me). I may be able to do anything, but I certainly can't do everything.
+ We need to stop our childish individualisms. If we don't form teams to have content of good quality, we will never grow. If we cannot do something, we have the right to ask to find out. There isn't anything wrong in accepting there is something you don't understand. Conversely, if you admit it, you can learn how to do it.
+ Lastly, we need to learn this lesson fast. The immediateness of the Internet cannot fool us to believe everything in life is just a few clicks away. Real life is not like that.

Arts and expression + Opinion