poetry contests

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Of Masks, Poetry Contests, and the Quarantine Fifteen

It seems I’ve been missing dates with this blog lately. You’d expect that in the busy season of summer, but not in a Covid Summer where one is supposed to be holed up in the heat (or ac) more than usual.

Thing is, summer this year is conflicted in its way. On the one hand, a lot of people are doing the same things they do every summer. “Bubbles” have expanded to Herculean size. Friends and family are considered safe by dint of the simple fact that they are friends and family. This is less science and more Fox News in logic, but it’s part and parcel of “Covid Exhaustion,” which takes more chances than its more reticent cousin, “Covid Fear.”

On the other hand, going to the supermarket is strangely unique from past summers. Everybody looks like they’re ready to stick up a bank or perform open-heart surgery. Masks, masks everywhere. There’s a certain comfort to wearing a mask when everyone else does, too. After a few minutes and the usual confusion of “choice fatigue” in the cereal aisle, the masks become invisible.

I live in a Jekyll-Hyde state and travel between the personalities fairly regularly. Maine has but two districts — the heavily-populated small one to the south (color it blue) and the sparsely-populated one to the north (color it red). In the southern towns, you can expect near universal compliance to the governor’s rules regarding Covid. In the more conservative, Trump-friendly north, the record is spottier.

District 2 compliance depends on the store. Many smaller ones do not require masks, so if you walk in, some folks are belligerently mask-free so you can better see their belligerence (they’re like walking, all-CAPS Tweets in that sense). For all I know, some of them think Covid-19 is a hoax and fake news, two of their fearful leader’s favorite terms. If anyone has masks in these stores, it is more likely women, the fairer and more intelligent sex. The men, apparently, feel threatened by it, as if wearing a mask were akin to donning a tutu.

So, yeah. Similar but different. Meanwhile, waiting for a vaccine is like waiting for Godot, at least for now, no matter how¬† you pronounce the word “Godot,” which apparently sounds different in French and English.

Poetry-wise, life goes on. Are the markets slower to respond? Yes. This summer, I’ve also pondered the merits of poetry contests. I’ve tried a few, but am beginning to see them as mirror images of the regular submission process.

Make that fun-house mirror images of the regular submission process. You’re more likely to be rejected, as is true with competitive markets that attract the work of established poets (who have a scorched-earth policy when it comes to taking up bandwidth in paying-market presses), but the contest game is more expensive by far.

What does this mean? It means you’re really making a charitable donation. You’re supporting the purse which will eventually¬† go to the winner, and you’re paying the poor staff that has to wade through all of these submissions, many of them poor.

Do you feel noble doing this? Maybe you do, but do it enough and you will no longer be a member of the noble class. At $25 to $50 a pop, these contests will bleed you like George Washington’s doctor (who many think killed the father of our country — and you thought the butler did it).

What you want, then, is a contest with less competition. One fewer poets have heard of. But just try finding one. You put your ear to the ground to hear its hoof beats and all you get is crickets. If a little-known, well-paying poetry contest falls in a forest, does it make a sound? That is your koan for the day.

Finally there is the issue of weight. Everyone keeps talking about the “quarantine fifteen,” the trouble being that quarantines seem forever ago yet the fifteen remain quite current. I’m lucky in this sense, only carrying around a no-longer quarantining (or rhyming) five. Getting rid of it is doable, if more difficult during ice cream season.

Did you know that New England is the number one ice cream consuming area of the country? You might expect the South or the Southwest, but if you did, you’d be sadly mistaken. This is the place to be if you are addicted to ice cream and have a phobia about bathroom scales, so enjoy.

Then write a poem. Then write a weighty poem about it. Just don’t enter it in a contest. Your wallet will lose a quarantine fifteen. Or twenty-five. Or fifty. Ipso fasto.