Judging Poetry Competitions

Judging poetry competitions is fairly easy, the winner usually picks itself, however, there are at least 8 stages to go through before you get there:

1. Skim-read the poems

That is check all poems entered comply with the rules.  As in the big, wide world, editors impose house styles, word counts and deadlines, so competitions impose rules.  Don’t think you can sneak your 41 line magnum opus in and win. 

For the Lawson-West Poetry Competition I went easy on handwritten entries and those who’d failed to send an SAE simply because when the competition was featured in the local paper, the full rules weren’t included.  However, any poem over-length was out.

2. Read the Poems

I had a head-start as all entrants had requested a critique so I’d already carefully read each individual entry.

3. Appreciate what each poem is trying to achieve

A street dance crew aren’t going to break out into “Swan Lake”.  Entered poems can’t be directly compared but can be considered on their individual merits.  I had lovely, gentle poems on nature and Spring and a fast, rhythmic poem on gadgetry.  But were the former as good as “Swan Lake” and was the latter as sleek as hip hop?

4. Check Structure

Did the poems use rhyme schemes, if so were they consistent?  Two poems had inconsistent rhyme schemes.  In one poem it was because there were an odd number of lines, so I looked at trimming the lines to fit the scheme.  In the other, the unrhymed lines were pivotal to the poem so it was appropriate that they didn’t rhyme as it drew attention to them, which is precisely what the poem was trying to achieve.

5. Read Aloud

Do the line and stanza breaks fall naturally or do they create tongue twisters?

6. Eliminate the Flawed

A good effort isn’t a prize-winner.  I overlooked typos in judging, but didn’t overlook presentation.  Pictures are a cute distraction.  I wanted clean, readable type and a poem that showed the writer cared about it and took care writing it.

7. Take a Magnifying Glass to the short list

Four poems made the short list, but there can be only one winner.  Judges are always hardest on the poems that nearly made it because they have to justify why they didn’t win.

8. The winner selects itself

It’s the one that did what it set out to achieve, used the right tone, right vocabulary, right rhythm, right line and stanza breaks.  Doesn’t have to shout or draw attention to itself as it is the one poem that the judge wants to go back and read and read again.

Congratulations to the winner.  Results of the Lawson-West Poetry Competition will be circulated to the entrants during week commencing 21 June with the results announced on 28 June.  Will be on Sunflower FM on 23 June to talk about poetry and maybe reading a couple of poems.

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