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"Shall I Compare Thee..." - How to Read and Judge Poetry in Poetry Contests

Updated on September 4, 2014

"Shall I Compare Thee..."

Sonnet 18 - Shakespeare
Sonnet 18 - Shakespeare | Source

When I first received the email from Simone Smith, the Community and Marketing Manager for HubPages, inviting me to be part of the poetry judging panel in the first HubPages HubPatron of the Arts contest, I wondered how I could possibly judge something as creative and personal as poetry. Creativity comes from within, an inner space, which most artistic people find to be a part of who they are as an individual. That’s a tough assignment, I thought; but art critics do it everyday, and after reviewing the four elements of criteria to be judged, I knew it would be a fascinating and challenging experience.

I responded and let her know I would love to participate and started reading some of the current poems being published. The contest had not been announced as yet. I was familiar with quite a few of the writers and found poets of which I hadn’t read before. What I love about the arts community at HubPages is the supportive writing environment and interaction with one another. Needless to say, there is a lot of talent and some exceptional writing taking place at HP.

How To Read A Poem: And Fall In Love With Poetry/Edward Hirsch

How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with Poetry (Harvest Book)
How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with Poetry (Harvest Book)
Edward Hirsch is a distinguished poet and describes why poetry is important and how to read for feeling and meaning.

Judging Criteria

Each panel of judges will be evaluating the entries in its section based on…

  • The quality of writing or photos
  • The originality of writing or photos
  • The emotional/aesthetic impact of writing or photos
  • Good, attractive formatting

Judges Criteria: What Was I Looking For

I was asked to answer some interview questions to be posted on the HP blog to give some background and insight on what I would be looking for in the poetry category of the competition. I published a hub about poetry and the heart of a poet. I reviewed a book by Edward Hirsch on How To Read A Poem: And Fall In Love With Poetry (which is an excellent book), and jotted some notes on a notepad. I had a notebook with the four judging criteria written down, and made my own four categories of what I was looking for.

The first was Outstanding, which meant it topped in each requirement. The poem had to WOW me. The second was Awesome. Awesome poems are almost outstanding, but miss it by some small margin, but they would still be considered. Beautiful was the third category. These poems were generally more personal, but had an immediate beautiful response after reading. My final category was Like, which meant I really liked the poem, but it was lacking in some element of the four judging criteria.

Week 1 - The Contest Begins

Once the contest began and some of the entries were posted on a separate forum thread, I began reading some of the entries. I saw that some eager hubbers were forgetting to add the tag, contest, or were forgetting to add an attributed photo before submitting. This was noted in the official forum thread because if not, hubs which did not follow the contest rules were not eligible. All contests have rules, so that was an important part of the submission.

Week 1 was finished, and we received our first batch of eligible entries. There were 224 poems! I figured out a system by which to read and judge each entry. I first looked at the overall format of the hub. There were times when some poems didn’t make it past this first review. Good, attractive formatting was one of the requirements. I also looked for originality of writing. Originality, meaning it wasn’t something I could google and find elsewhere. This eliminated some very well written hubs because some of the content was not original even though the poem itself was original.

Quality of writing included the form and structure of the poem. Word usage, expression, flow of writing, grammar, creativity and crafting of words were all elements I looked at while judging for this criteria. The words had to communicate a poetic sensibility. Finally, did the author emotionally reach the reader (critical). Did the poem evoke something from within. Putting all of these four criteria together was the deciding factor on how an entry was judged. Believe me, it wasn't easy, and at times was extremely difficult.

Poetry in Nature

Life desperately wants to live and renew.
Life desperately wants to live and renew. | Source

A Poetic Dreamscape

Life is full of beauty in the most unexpected places.
Life is full of beauty in the most unexpected places. | Source

Week 2 and 3 - Life in a Poetic World

Week 2 passed with less eligible entries, 99. I still hadn’t completed the previous 224, (I work outside the home full time). I averaged 5 minutes per entry, and rated each one with the HubPages ratings at the end of each hub. Week 3 was the final week, and I already had a list of some very impressive entries. But I knew a winning entry could be written in those last hours (of which one was; Pearldiver’s, And All The Time That You Are Alone: A Tribute to an Ancient Tree: A Life Cirlce), so I left a post in the forum thread encouraging poets to continue to submit. At the end of week 3, we received our final batch of entries, 154. I averaged my time spent reading all the entries and couldn’t believe it was almost a full work week, 39.75 hours! This did not include the final evaluations and composing the top ten list.

My life had pretty much been given to work and reading poetry and doing essentials of everyday life during the contest. My family was very supportive. I felt like I was living in some poetic dreamscape. Lines of poems would float through my head or I would remember an image I had seen, or a particular hubber would come to mind at any time of day. I was amazed at the personal level of which some entries were written. The readers had been invited into the very private world of creative writers. There were poems that made me cry, one in particular made my soul weep. I rated it in my top 3. There were poems that made me get up from my desk and walk outside. I had to breathe fresh air. There were poems so tender that tiny tears of happiness would escape from my eyes. I felt close to these writers. I wanted to reach out and hold them, or share a walk on the beach, sit at a cafe and talk about everything. It was more rewarding than any prize or compensation. I was, and have been touched immensely by this experience.

My Final Top Ten - (Not In Particular Order)

The Final Judging - My Top 3 Choices

The final judging was the most challenging part of the contest. Now we had to narrow our choices down to 10. The top 3, (with the most points), among the 5 judges would be declared the First, Second and Third place winners. Each choice had points, our #1 choice being worth 10 points. I found it quite remarkable that we, unknowingly, had chosen many of the same poems to make the top 10 list. (We chatted towards the end to compare top choices.) After making my top 10 list, which was taken mostly from my Outstanding choices, we had to submit. It was very difficult and emotional for me, as I know it was for the other judges as well. I changed some places before hitting submit.

My top choice was, Divesting the Self, by Tom Rubenoff. Second choice was tough. I still can’t recall if I changed it at the last moment. It was the poem that made me sob and quit reading for the night, Trail of Tears and Blood, by Vinaya Ghimire. My third choice was, And All The Time That You Are Alone: A Tribute To An Ancient Tree: A Life Circle, by Pearldiver. These are magnificent poems of heart and beautiful word placement and meaning behind the words, and the mysteries of life are between the spaces and line breaks.

Thank you fellow poets for the enriching, rewarding experience of being part of your lives. Thank you HubPages for the privilege and honor of being a member of the Poetry panel. It has been a beautiful, meaningful experience for me. Poets and creative writers, keep composing, and congratulations to the winners!


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