Slice of Life 2 of 31

Poetry Judging – A Reflection

Someone asked me today “How do you judge poetry when it is so subjective?”  Somewhere in my mind I could hear T.S. Eliot yell the word “Tradition!”  I replied that poetry has a Tradition and we judge according to the rules of that Tradition: figurative language, imagery, musicality, originality, and depth of subject are among the top categories to judge a poem by.

The questioner was right though – poetry is subjective – especially if you align your thinking about poetry with the Personism Manifesto of writing poetry.  Personism is like a pocket attached to the coat of the New York School, and one of my favorite poets from that school, Frank O’Hara, wrote the Personism Manifesto. I enjoy the Beats, and the New York School poets the most, but even though Personism hints at freedom from Tradition like the Beats do, O’Hara’s and Ginsberg’s work is laden with Tradition, so I find myself questioning Personism’s claim when I read the plethora of allusions in O’Hara’s work.

When I judge high school or middle school age poetry I want to score them all high – I want to toss out the rules of Tradition and look at them through the lens of a Beat or a Personist, but according to the guidelines of the contest I am judging for I have to be wearing my T.S. Eliot New Criticism hat, and that’s ok – it makes sense we want to showcase highly academic poetry.  Poems about mommas and hamsters are not winners.


6 thoughts on “Slice of Life 2 of 31

  1. I can’t imagine how hard that is, wanting to give credence to those thoughts and feelings and passions of young writers, but having to narrow your scope in order to judge effectively. On the other hand, how blessed to be able to share in that creativity, when so often students are hesitant to open up and share!

    • Hey Christine! You could find a local chapter of the Council of Teachers of English – maybe FCTE has a list of local chapters: and your local chapter might be involved in a district wide poetry contest for you to participate in 🙂 It’s a great turn out – we have over 200 poems we published each year, along with money awards. It wasn’t so hard in the end – I had a great partner.

  2. Oh wow. I don’t know if I could judge poetry. I hope you’re allowed to give entrants feedback! (Something tells me that it might encourage all of them to keep at it. The world needs more poets.)
    BTW, I replied to your comment on the TWT post for today with the direct link to this post since you had shared your main page link.

    • Hey! Thanks for your message 🙂 Some of the poets get feedback, I doubt all will get feedback, as there are over 200 – the ones that make it to the final judging all get published except if there is a really bad or inappropriate one that we couldn’t publish due to our integrity as an organization.

      The world does need more poets ❤

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