Much of this exchange of wood-sourced communication was de trop, but it reflected at least a patina of civility as gatekeepers in the world of letters – agents, publishers, administrators of competitions – dealt with those who thought they had something that merited admission to their wordy universe.
Of course demand and contact has changed substantially in all areas of life and nearly all of those dealing with authors, at whatever stage of their career, have eschewed the acknowledgement card, personal letter and rejection slip. The only news is good news. Advice that if you don’t hear from someone within a period of time is sufficient to tell the aspirant that their work has not hit the mark. No indication that it ever arrived, let alone was read and found wanting, never mind the reasons.
Which means my recent return to poetry competitions has been, in part, a journey into the past. Some – not all – of the administration of these contests have a nostalgic feel: fill out a form, place it in one envelope with your name and the title of your poem; in another fold in your verse, with only the title, never your name; enclose a specified number of stamped addressed envelopes which should be marked with their possible purposes – acknowledgment, shortlist, results. And this is to be put into one large envelope with the cheque, usually for a sum in a single figure.
In one way it is quaint. In others it can create an unduly messy office for whoever is overseeing the process. Many competitions are overseen in the e-world. Does it create a smoother process? Probably. Does it attract a different kind of writer? I wonder. Are the pieces of better or lesser quality dependent on the procedures used? That is a question only the judges can rule on. However they decide to communicate their choices.