Our Annual Fiction and Poetry Contest
Dear Writers and Poets of Baltimore:
In years past we've used this space to congratulate and honor the many, many contestants in our annual fiction and poetry contest just for showing up. And show up you did--we received slightly more than 250 poetry entries and just shy of 200 short-fiction entries. And it is great to see so many people putting their minds to the literary efforts.
But, people, y'all can be some glum folk. Apparently the poets and short-story writers of Baltimore--at least those who enter our contest--are some forlorn misanthropes. You hate other people, especially those who sell drugs or carry STDs or hustle their bodies or neglect their children or run the city/state/country. Or, you sympathize with one of those people who sell drugs or carry STDs or hustle their bodies or neglect their children, and you hate everybody else. People are dying in Iraq, people were displaced by Katrina, and people are getting killed in East and West Baltimore by their own hand--be it alcohol and drugs or the drug trade.
Now, we're not saying that these observations are false nor that they don't deserve creative treatment, but if all you know of them is what you see on TV, your readers are going to see right through you. Conversely, if you are reporting from the front of your life, remember to put some of yourself into it. In the maxim "write what you know," it is always true to mine extensively what you know, but such truth means nothing if you don't put any effort into the writing part.
Consider this year's contest intro some friendly words of constructive criticism, some hard/fast rules we'd like to share with the aspiring young scribes of today. Poets, wacky formatting doesn't make up for the fact that you have nothing to say; fiction writers, everyone has, at some point, written or thought of writing a story that takes place around last call at the bar. Everybody, big words don't make you sound smart if you don't know how to use them. Don't use "u" for "you" or "2" for "to" or "too." If your piece is supposed to be a metaphor for something, don't overplay it. Spell out the swear words; we're an alt-weekly, for fuck's sake. Eerily specific pro-drive-by shooting stories tend to make your readers uneasy. Far be it from the half-assed neologism-prone writers over here to cast stones, but if you're Frankensteining a word as if English were German, please let the context of the sentence offer some suggestions as to what it might mean. Writing Black American English isn't merely dropping the final g's off gerundives; for the love of anything resembling self-respect, don't assume you can write a variety of American English if you've never actually spent time with the people who speak it.
And, once and for all, just because you don't know--or choose to ignore--the customs of grammar or spelling, that doesn't mean they can't do your writing any favors. Don't care how gifted and smart and cute you think you are--you have to know the rules to break the rules, and by some estimates the English language is more than 1,000 years old: Who the hell are you to change it?
And yet, y'all still wow us every once in a while with your verbal panache: Witness the sentence "Though I was nestled in the fluorescent ass crack of retail's microcosm, I believed me and my girlfriend walked through the same valley of death" and the short-story title "Klaus Kinski Amongst Alabama Sacred Harp Singers." In the end, though, there can be only three. The editorial staff read the first pass of both fiction and poetry entries. The poetry finalists were judged by City Paper's very own Wendy Ward, contributing writer Petula Caesar, and Narrow House poetry hive's Justin Sirois and Jamie Gaughran-Perez. Fiction finalists were judged by contributing writers J. Bowers, Petula Caesar, Emily Flake, and Violet Glaze. And in addition to being published in this very issue, the winners take home something much better: cash. In fiction, the first-place winner takes home $350, second garners $250, and third gets $150. Poets pick up $150, $100, and $50, respectively.
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Baltimore, MD 21201