I'm going to start with some good contest/submission experiences. In 2010, I won a Discovery/Boston Review Prize. Receiving a prize always makes it a nice experience, admittedly, but I also like the purpose of this prize and the way it was run.
It used to be the Discovery/The Nation prize and it has a nice list of winners from its past- John Ashberry, Marilyn Hacker, Mark Strand, Katha Pollitt, and Mary Jo Salter were all through there at some point as winners and I know that's just a partial list. And that's it's purpose- to find good, emerging writers and put them in front of a slightly larger audience, give them a boost.
That's a huge help as an unknown poet. Having someone stamp you as "authentic" like it or not, helps other contests, residencies, and competitions take you more seriously. Whether that's the way it should be is a great question. But that's the way it is.
I also really liked the way it was run. There was no notice of who the judges were so you couldn't choose to enter because you had a connection with someone. And I think it really was blind judging, at least my year. They choose 4 each year out of between 800-1000 entries and I had no connection to any of the 4 folks. I suspect it was true for all 4 entrants, but I know I was pulled out simply because of what I submitted.
Even nicer was the treatment we got. We had a reading at the 92nd St. Y (exciting enough) and got put up at a swank Manhattan hotel down the street, the Hotel Wales, which even gave me a free upgrade to a suite. I bet the 92nd St. Y puts a lot of folks up there so they treated us very well. Before the reading we gathered at the Y and met the judges- Nick Flynn, Susan Howe, and Claudia Rankine, as well as Timothy Donnelly who is the editor of the Boston Review, as well as the author of the outstanding The Cloud Corporation. Each winner got introduced by a judge.
And honestly, that was probably my favorite part. Nick Flynn had insightful, thoughtful, kind and accurate ideas about who I was as a writer. It's the first time I've ever had an introduction beyond "Tanya lives in Durham, blah blah blah." To hear someone talk about your work as if it were, well, real work, was so moving. That made me feel like a real poet more than hanging out backstage at the 92nd St. Y ever did. And it was a thrill to meet all 4 folks, but particularly Susan Howe, whose work and career I admire. We are very different kind of poets, but I love her work and love the way she goes about her work.
And that's how they treated us. We may have been emerging, but they acted as if the work we did mattered, that our work was important, and that we, and our work, and poetry in general was to be treated seriously. It was beautiful. A contest I highly recommend entering.