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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!

Thank You For Reading.

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    • rebekahELLE profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Tampa Bay

      Thanks Rayne. It was a wonderful experience reading so many great poems. There are many talented poets publishing on HubPages.

      I can't really give the best places to enter online at the present time. It's constantly changing. The best way to find them is to go directly to established, reputable poetry sites like, and do a lot of reading, looking around. Good luck!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Must be an honor to judge poetry.

      Since I also write poetry, this leaves very good tips

      I have been given many different places as to where to enter ones poetry for free. A hubber actually had a hub on contests entries and dates.

      Could you please let me know the best places to enter that are not a scam and are free.

      thank you


    • rebekahELLE profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Tampa Bay

      Nice to see you, Lost Dutchman! I love your poems, and this one especially is so well crafted, along with the video. I'm glad to hear it made your day. You deserve the recognition!

    • The Lost Dutchman profile image

      Patrick Bernauw 

      8 years ago from Flanders (Belgium)

      I've been some time away from the Hubpages... but now I'm back... and see: there was my poem in your top ten. I'm really honored, you made my day!

    • rebekahELLE profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Tampa Bay

      Hi Pearldiver, Congratulations on your winning poem. It is a well deserved win. Thank you for writing and submitting such a beautiful tribute to this ancient tree. I have always loved your poems and enjoy reading them. Your layout is always creative and attractive with amazing images.

      I very much enjoyed writing this hub and felt others may want to get a glimpse of what it was like. I remember telling one of the HP staff, towards the beginning of the contest, that I felt a bit 'crazy' about accepting the challenge as I knew I would be part of someones joy and someones disappointment. I hope in writing this that others can see how difficult it actually was in choosing the final 10. I am proud of so many of the writers here, what a great community of poets and creative writers.

      Your words are kind and generous, PD. As always, I appreciate your visit and taking the time to leave a heartfelt comment.

      Happy Christmas to you also!

    • rebekahELLE profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Tampa Bay

      TK, thanks again. The contest introduced me to some great poets at Hubpages, such as yourself! You definitely have the poet soul. I enjoy your work. :]

      @Vinaya, thank you for submitting such an incredible poem. One particular aspect of the contest that I truly loved was the global input from all around the world. It was fascinating to read of different cultures and issues and how the poet was able to put them into poetic form. Your poem broke my heart and I mourned for these people. Your heart in the poem lifted the poem to a higher level. I hope many will read Trail of Tears and Blood. Thank you for your comment, it's good to see your visit.

    • Pearldiver profile image

      Rob Welsh 

      9 years ago from Tomorrow - In Words & NZ Time.

      Hi Rebekah, now that the dust has settled it's probably a good time to thank you personally for your efforts, time and commitment to helping in the development of so many poets on this site. This hub does indeed bring some insight of your heart and much more (between the lines)... I'm sure many reading this will know how lucky we are as poets, to have such caring and informed readers (and poets of course) like you, who also encourage us positively with highly constructive comments. Very special.

      For me personally, I have always appreciated your support and in a similar vein, that of Saddlerider and I have found that between the two of you (and a few others).. I have the chance to actually gauge the poetry that I produce. I think that we were lucky as competitors... most of the best poets were taken out of play by their judging commitments! Cheers to you Rebekah and those other judges who enjoyed one of the 10 submissions that I made enough to make the final cut.

      You have a great Christmas and take care.. All the best..


    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 

      9 years ago from Nepal

      Dear rebekahELLE, I just found this hub when TKs view mentioned in a comment on my hub.

      I feel so honored that you have listed my poem as one of your favorites.

      Thank you very much.


    • TKs view profile image

      TKs view 

      9 years ago from The Middle Path

      I can't begin to imagine how hard it was to select only three poems out of the hundreds submitted.

      I'm honored that I made it that far up your favorites list. I'm going to have to work on building better, all around designed hubs, to highlight my writing better. I'm learning and that makes it all worthwhile. Your final selections were all excellent and I can see why they placed higher than my work. . . this time. :)

      Looking forward to reading more of your writing.

      Maybe you and your son can do some hubs together, featuring his work in the future.

    • rebekahELLE profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Tampa Bay

      TK, Thank you. I would have thought nothing weird if you had followed me during the contest. Your poems are very good, in fact, Fields of Green and Splendor - A Poem, was on my Outstanding list. It would have been on my top 10, but there was one entry towards the end that moved onto my top 3 list, Pearldiver's tribute to a tree. That's what made it so hard to pick those final 10, because there were others we felt deserved to be in the final placements.

      I actually commented on very few in relation to how many I would have loved to comment on. I simply ran out of time to leave comments. But I always voted up, etc.

      Thanks for the comment about my son's photo. He actually has a series of beautiful images taken from nature. The other one is a frozen berry, I believe.


    • TKs view profile image

      TKs view 

      9 years ago from The Middle Path

      I appreciated reading this hub. Getting to see the contest through your eyes was a wonderful voyage. While the contest was underway, I took a look at your interview with Hubpages and your profile. I was very impressed with your outlook on life. I enjoy your writing style a lot, but felt too weird becoming a follower of yours during that time period.

      Now, with the contest fading into one horizon, I look forward to what new challenges will emerge from the mists of our collective future.

      I will be following you now and I must say I was delighted that one of my entries was at least worthy enough for you to post a comment on.

      Still not sure if I ever got the whole photo attribution thing done correctly, but the contest was great.

      Thank you for all your hard work.

      Also, I totally dig your son's picture of the new branch emerging from the tree trunk. Such a great perspective, one many adults may not take the time to see.

    • rebekahELLE profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Tampa Bay

      Hi movie master, so nice to see you! I love your hubs. Yes, it really was amazing and very life affirming at the same time. We each are our own unique person, and yet we all share many of the same dreams and happiness and pain, sorrow and questions about life. I'm so glad I was able to sit on the panel and have this opportunity. Thank you.

      @RedElf, Thank you for your kind words. All of your poems were amazing and so intricately written. I love the care you take into crafting your poems. They are enjoyable to read. Congrats on your winning poem! Really amazing work!

      Keep writing and crafting your poetic world.

    • rebekahELLE profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Tampa Bay

      Thank you htod. Nice to see you here. Thanks for reading!

      @2uesday, yes, it was monumental, and luckily I'm a fast reader and enjoy reading poetry. Reading poetry from hubbers was a wonderful experience, including your lovely poem about roses. Gorgeous. Thank you.

    • RedElf profile image


      9 years ago from Canada

      rebekahELLE, thanks for the devotion and care you took as a judge. This was a fascinating opportunity - to read about the contest from your side of the fence. How neat that all the judges had some of the same choices in your top ten lists! I don't know how you managed to read all the entries - that alone was a monumental task.

      I am so grateful to you and to all the judges, and to HubPages for shining the spotlight on some wonderful talent, and for encouraging such an outpouring of creativity.

    • Movie Master profile image

      Movie Master 

      9 years ago from United Kingdom

      It must have been an amazing experience reading so many poems - and challenging! the standard was very high and worthy winners!

    • 2uesday profile image


      9 years ago

      As I saw the number of entries increase I thought that it was a huge task for the judges to complete, so it is good to know that you enjoyed the challenge.

    • htodd profile image


      9 years ago from United States

      Thanks for the nice post....

    • rebekahELLE profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Tampa Bay

      Thanks Debby. That's a really nice comment and I appreciate your generous words. Yes, you are right about wanting to write during the contest. I did write a little and wrote down some ideas, but the creative juices were certainly in high gear. I saw poetry everywhere, and usually do anyway, but even more so during the contest. Thanks again for reading and commenting.

    • Debby Bruck profile image

      Debby Bruck 

      9 years ago

      Dear Rebekah ~ What a commitment you took upon yourself to read so many poems, with the goal of forming a relationship, an opinion upon each one and categorize them into better, best, and even better than best. How to separate from among excellence? Thanks for letting us know how you were able to decide. Truly you were devoted to the job. I imagine after reading so many poems you were breathing rhythm and rhyme until it became a part of you. How ever did you hold in all your own creative juices when being so inspired? Congratulations to all those who entered, the winners and the fabulous judges. Blessings, Debby

    • rebekahELLE profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Tampa Bay

      Saddlerider, thanks for reading and leaving such a wonderful comment. It was nice to interact with you and the other judges towards the end. It was amazing that we all pretty much were on the same wavelength. With so many entries, I know we were a bit concerned how the final decisions would work if we all picked different poems, but we had the same top choices. :)

      Thanks so much for adding your insight and warm thoughts about the contest. I know it was an enriching experience for all of the judges. Best to you and may your muse be with you.

    • rebekahELLE profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Tampa Bay

      Thanks Robin for reading and commenting! It was a pleasure and an honor to be part of the panel of judges. I also got a glimpse of the hard work put into these contests by the HubPages Staff. I appreciate the time and effort put into making it more efficient for the judges. I think it was a wonderful contest for the arts/creative writing community here at HP. :)

    • saddlerider1 profile image


      9 years ago

      I want to thank you rebekahELLE not for only accepting the challenge of being one of the 5 judges who toiled over the many entries submitted, but also some of the methodology you mentioned that helped you determine and narrow down the 3 winners.

      I like you had my own system of evaluation but also used some of the methods you employed to determine my outcome and final choices. There were many brilliant scribes submitted by fine candidates. It's interesting that a few of us chose some of the same poems as winners, and that speaks volumes for our poetic eye, mind, hearts and souls.

      Pearldiver did set the bar HIGH and what followed was a parade of excellent poems, many of which were ranked and put aside for further consideration as the contest progressed. Tom Rubenoff most certainly pursued the golden ring by submitting a bevy of beautiful poems, of which of course a PEARL was found amongst his scribes and voted up as the NUMBER 1 choice.

      RedElf did not sit idle, she wrote a few beautiful poems and she also was given a prize and no wonder, with the immense talent she displays as a poignant writer and poetic genius herself.She ranked up their with the best.

      All in all the contest was most rewarding to many, it gave so many artist's an opportunity to display their talent and work amongst their peers. We know there can be only 3 winners in this contest. However I want to add that in my humble opinion, I relished in much talent displayed by so many here. I was proud to read and score my choices, but also so pleased to read so many wonderful pieces submitted by so many talented POETS from all over the world.

      It was my pleasure assisting with the judging and I to want to thank you Simone for inviting the Saddlerider to sit on the panel. Whew, I'm happy it's over so I can get back to some of my scribing again. LoL Congratulations to all the winners, but mostly to everyone who toiled into the nights under candlelight. You are all winners in my own eyes..Peace and blessings to you and may you have a wonderful Christmas Holdiday with your loved ones.

    • Robin profile image

      Robin Edmondson 

      9 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you so much Rebekah for judging in the contest. I know from personal experience ;) that it can be overwhelming but it is also wonderful. You are able to read such amazing work by our fellow Hubbers. I think this contest was especially wonderful because all of the categories were about art. Thanks again for all of your time and effort; you are amazing!

    • rebekahELLE profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Tampa Bay

      Hi Pamela, thanks! Yes, I did respect the responsibility offered to me, and I could clearly see the significant effort put into the contest by the writers. I would have wanted no less if I were a contestant. I thought others might be interested in what it was like to be one of the judges. I'm glad you found the hub interesting. :)

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      9 years ago from Sunny Florida

      This is a very interesting hub and I like knowing how you did the judging as I always wondered how you could possibly choose the very best. You obviously took this job very seriously and I am glad you wrote about your experience.

    • rebekahELLE profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Tampa Bay

      Hi Green, It's always so nice to see your visit and read your comment. Thank you so much! Yes, the poetic dreamscape, it's a lovely place, very real. Sometimes the real world seems more like an illusion, don't you think? Your comment is very nice, GL, and I appreciate your kindness. :)

      @Teylina, Thank you for such a beautiful comment. I was so moved by the writers and their efforts and their amazing poems, I wanted to share part of the experience of what it was like on the other side of the competition. And yes, in a very big way, almost every poem I read had some kind of effect on me, in an enriching way - even the very sad, tragic poems. To me, they weren't just poems, but feelings and expressions about real people and real events. That communicates when written well, and so many poems were written quite effectively. You're wonderful, thank you, Teylina.

    • Teylina profile image


      9 years ago

      I agree w/Green Lotus. Your hub is a poetry in itself. You are to be commended for so much hard work to make sure this was done right from your insight, and I really, really appreciate the ways in which you found their right 'slot.' Good work, and I hope gave you some lovely dreams--poetry can touch our souls in a way nothing else can if we let it, and it sounds like you let it. So hope all the phrases and dreamscapes that will float through your brain are the happy ones! You deserve it. Thank you.

    • Green Lotus profile image


      9 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      This Hub is poetry in itself. I love when you admit to "living in some poetic dreamscape". Knowing you to be someone who does not easily "judge" others, I must say you did a beautiful and very honorable job. HP is lucky to have someone with such commitment and integrity, and for you; a great life experience. Rated up and beautiful

    • rebekahELLE profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Tampa Bay

      Hi Simone, thanks so much for reading and for your supportive comment. I'm glad you enjoyed the hub. It has been a pleasure to be a part of the contest, and again, I thank you. You and HP did a great job of putting it together, and preparing the spreadsheets, etc. Even the ads on many of the hubs are perfect. Thanks!

    • rebekahELLE profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Tampa Bay

      Good Lady, thank you. I was rather surprised, but immensely impressed with the many writer's ability to make a genuine connection with the reader. I'll take that any day over perfect poetic form. Thanks for reading and for your comment.

      @Genna East, thank you. Your comment is appreciated! In any contest there are going to be those who disagree with the judges decision, but now I see that it's never as easy or obvious as it may appear to others. I'm not sure how many entries there were, but I do know I read a lot of poetry in November! :=

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      9 years ago from San Francisco

      I love this Hub!!! Whenever I enter a contest or submit an application, I always wonder like crazy what judges and reviewers are doing. It's so cool that you've shared the process with everyone!

      I'm so glad you were a judge in the HubPatron of the Arts contest, RebekahELLE. It was an honor to have you supporting the contest in an official manner!

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 

      9 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      After reading the winning entries, I think the judges did a wonderful job with the contest. And the criteria that you outlined here is just superb. When I learned that there were over ten thousand entries, I couldn’t help but wonder if any of the judges managed to get any sleep in November. Kudos on a job well done, Rebekah.

    • GoodLady profile image

      Penelope Hart 

      9 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Oh God, your Hub's been an emotional read. Beautiful to read and feel how close you got to the souls of so many poems and poets, with so much genuine respect for the imagination, the intimacy.

      Bless. Look forward to read the chosen poems now.


    • snakeslane profile image

      Verlie Burroughs 

      9 years ago from Canada

      Thank you! :-)

    • rebekahELLE profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Tampa Bay

      Thank you snakeslane, it was amazing to read the different entries. With only 10 choices, of course, it left out many, many fantastic entries. There are many talented writers here, including yourself!

      Hi lord de cross, thank you for writing and entering the contest. As I shared, it was difficult and the winning entry was submitted early in the contest. He raised the bar high.

      That's very nice that you would have donated your winnings.

      There are certainly many in need. Thanks for reading! It's a great community to be part of!

    • Lord De Cross profile image

      Joseph De Cross 

      9 years ago from New York

      Nice to meet you RebekahElle,

      Will try to get better and try my hardest next time..Anyways, some fellow hubbers including me are not really for the money. If we had won, all would've gone to people in need. Thanks for being part of our Rich community!


    • snakeslane profile image

      Verlie Burroughs 

      9 years ago from Canada

      Thanks for this, really good choices you made. Thank you for all your hard work rebekahELLE.


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