I have an undergraduate student this year whose work is playful, lyrical and surprisingly tender, given its edgy nature. So I thought I would nominate him for the Best New Poets Anthology. Apparently, it's not as easy as one would hope.

On their website, they offer the following information:
Best New Poets is an annual anthology of 50 poems from emerging writers. This year's guest editor is Mark Strand, and he will select 50 poems from from nominations made by literary magazines and writing programs, as well as an Open Internet Competition. All poems are submitted online through That system will begin taking entries for Best New Poets 2008 between April 15 and June 5, 2008.
Each February, we contact writing programs and literary magazines with instructions on how to nominate their writers. By April 15, we contact the nominated poets and ask them to upload their work. So, if you've just had a poem published in a magazine or are enrolled in a creative writing program, you might consider asking them to nominate you.
However, there's also the Open Internet Competition, which is open to all writers who have not published a book-length collection of poetry, and takes nominations from April 15 to June 5 each spring/summer. Unlike the magazine and program nominations, the Open Competition requires a reading fee of $3.50. Click here for details.

Since I teach in a creative writing program, I figured there'd be some form on the website that would allow me to nominate the student. The form turned out, instead, to be designed to only take entries for the "Open Competition" (meaning: pay customers only). Once I saw that I was using the wrong form, I aborted the operation and wrote an email to Meridian, the magazine which seems to sponsor the anthology.
Well, I didn't receive a response from Meridian, but meanwhile I received a very polite note from somebody named either "James" or "Jeb" at

Our system shows you tried to submit work to Best New Poets 2008, but did not quite complete the transaction--it is still unpaid.
We hope this e-mail does not come across the wrong way. If you've decided not to enter, we aren't trying to change your mind.
However, sometimes a writer forgets to pay or their credit card charge does not go through. If this is the case and you want to
submit payment again, do this:
- Log back into
- Click on the blue "Unpaid Submissions" link in the upper-left-hand corner
- Click the gray "Pay Now" button.
If you've decided not to enter, you can delete the entry this way:
- Log back into
- Click on the blue "Unpaid Submissions" link in the upper-left-hand corner
- Click on the "Cancel" checkbox and then click "Cancel"
(or you can do nothing and we'll delete the entry for you in a few weeks).

I wrote back (politely, too, I thought) that I teach in a creative writing program and that I was trying to nominate a student. I received the following response:
I'm sorry, but the deadline for program/magazine nominations was April 15, 2008. I've already solicited all the nominees and provided them with instructions on how to do their free upload.
I went back and looked at their homepage. No where does it say that the deadline for nominations is April 15th. In fact, it says "takes nominations from April 15 to June 5 each spring/summer." Granted, the homepage does say that it contacts nominated poets by April 15th, but that's not quite the same as saying that April 15th is the deadline for nominations. It turns out that that particular bit of information is on a separate page. In order to get to that page, you need to click on a link that says "Writing Programs" (which may not be very intuitive—I ignored that particular link, thinking "I'm not looking for information on Writing Programs"). Maybe the link could have been labeled "Nomination Form" or something that would make it a little clearer. If you click instead on the link called "Eligibility," you'll get the "Open Competition" form (the one that asks you for money). And if you click on the "FAQ" page, you'll get no information to help you make a nomination—the assumption seems to be that only folks interested in the "Open Competition" are the ones who are frequently asking questions.
Poetry competitions are always undergoing scrutiny from various critics. It would be nice if the deadlines and the nomination instructions on this one were made clearer.

Originally Published: June 1st, 2008

Born in Albany, Georgia, D. A. Powell earned an MA at Sonoma State University and an MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His first three collections of poetry, Tea, (1998), Lunch (2000), and Cocktails (2004), are considered by some to be a trilogy on the AIDS epidemic. Lunch was a...

  1. June 2, 2008

    Snowman-building league.

  2. June 2, 2008
     J. Livingood

    I apologize for any confusion caused by our Web site. However, if I tried to list every contingency on the first page, it would quickly become unwieldy, and, I suspect, even more confusing ... which is why information specific to writing programs is on a separate page.
    My understanding is that D.A. Powell teaches at the University of San Francisco. For what it's worth, back in February-April 2008, I e-mailed the director of USF's MFA program, Aaron Shurin, at least twice, soliciting nominations from that program. No response. It's possible I have a bad e-mail ... but my records match Shurin's current listing on the USF web site. As much as I'd like to follow through on every program that does not respond, it's impossible. It's also not feasible for me to hunt down other faculty who might want to nominate a student. I have to rely on one contact to spread the word.
    Some 150 other programs and magazines made the April 15 deadline and completed their online nominations, just as they did in 2005, 2006, and 2007. Perhaps I'm being inflexible by not making an exception for D.A. Powell's student at this late stage, and I regret that a good poet is not getting a free upload to BNP2008; however if I start making exceptions now, I have to make them for everyone.

  3. June 2, 2008
     Rich Villar

    I'm not expecting the series editor to respond publicly to this entire comment. Indeed, it may be inappropriate to do so. But if I'm reading the site's FAQ correctly, nominations from the "open competition" and nominations from writing programs are mixed in together, and the competition readers do not know which is which.
    I don't see why Mr. Powell's student can't be afforded the opportunity to submit under Mr. Powell's recommendation, with or without the waiver of a modest $3.50 reading fee, since the open competition ends on June 5th and there is no additional weight given to program nominations.
    A well-placed backchannel email might be the best solution here. Nonetheless, while I am finding out the hard way about the difficult business of editing, I still think this system creates an unnecessarily tiered process for submission. If all manuscripts are created equal, then why not make the whole thing open?

  4. June 2, 2008
     D. A. Powell

    Hi J.,
    Thanks for your response. I'm not trying to get an exception made. I was legitimately confused by your website, the homepage of which appears to invite nominations before June 5th. My frustrations were compounded when it seemed that my inquiry was met with dismissal.
    I just received your third email to me, offering to mail info to me next year. I appreciate the offer, and I'll send you my USF address. Meanwhile, it really would be helpful to others if you could reword your homepage. I hope you see, for example, that the very first paragraph on the mainpage seems to lump information about "nominations" and open competition "entries" into the same hopper, so that, when one arrives at the date range "between April 15 and June 5, 2008," the date range seems to be applicable to both the "nominations" and "entries." All of which is to say, in the most helpful way I can say it, you really should try to revise for clarity as regards the all-important 1st page of your website. If I was confused, I imagine others were as well.

  5. June 2, 2008
     Jeb Livingood

    Okay, I reworded the main page.
    In response to the other writer's "If all manuscripts are created equal, then why not make the whole thing open?": In a perfect world, commercial sales of the book would offset all expenses and all entries would be free. However, despite good 2007 sales for a poetry book, BNP is still not enough of a money maker to allow for that. So, I have to charge a small fee for the Open entries to "prime the pump." That income is enough to cover a good portion of the print bill, and commercial sales cover the myriad other expenses such as paying the guest editor and readers, mailing costs, promotion, etc.
    So why not ask magazines and programs to pay, too? Wouldn't that be fair? But the problem is that magazines/programs are 1) generally broke, or 2) so encumbered by university bureaucracies that paying an entry fee for their poets is difficult. Actually, that kind of model was the "first draft" of Best New Poets -- take only magazine and program nominations, but ask them to make a donation to the project to support new poets. Every editor and program administrator I approached about this thought my motives were noble, but my assumptions naive. They projected a few dozen nominations at best.
    So, the book turned into the strange hybrid it is today ... part free nominations, part open competition with a $3.50 fee.
    Here's the tougher question to answer: Let's say the book starts selling enough copies to cover all its expenses. Should it then take just magazine and program nominations? Or should it remain open to all? The former makes for an easier editing job. Magazine nominees tend to have our greatest chance of selection, which makes sense: their poem has already been screened by an outside journal. BUT, if there is no entry fee, zero, then you're going to face herds of "open competition" entries ... thousands upon thousands. It's more democratic, but it also means you need a huge reading pool, that you're truly wading through overwhelming numbers of submissions.
    I guess it could be a good problem to have.

  6. June 3, 2008
     Rich Villar

    Dear Jeb,
    I think you misunderstand my point. No one would suggest making a book for free.
    When I say "why not make the whole thing open," I mean, why not make everyone subject to the same deadline, and make everyone pay the same entry fee, regardless of whether they've been elected by a magazine or a writing program? Why create a system of free nominations and a tiered selection process for nominated writers if your series readers don't get to see who the nominations are from anyway?
    I'm a grad student myself, but I think I can budget for the entry fee. And even if my program nominated me, there's no guarantee I'd get in. So why should I get a free ride? And why should my ride have a different deadline? I guess it's the assumption that there absolutely must be journal editors and program directors involved in the process that I'm challenging here. Why not simply trust those blind reads and guest editors to make the choice for you?

  7. June 3, 2008
     Jeb Livingood

    I have considered asking everyone to pay the $3.50 fee, but I also like the idea of rewarding magazines and writing programs for supporting new poets. Magazines especially, since they have little enough incentive to publish new writers. So I give them the free nominations, a little plug in the book. It's not much, but it's a small bit of recognition for all the work they do, and I think they appreciate it.
    The hybrid stucture of some free uploads and some paid uploads definitely makes the process more complicated ... makes my life more complicated. So far, though, it has seemed worth it.