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.