Judging Poetry and Prose

This year I’ve been a judge in four different contests for both poetry and prose. The experiences have given me a new appreciation for the work that judges do.

Every year Sigma Tau Delta, the English International Honor Society, chapter here has done a poetry or short story contest. I’ve asked members of the local Writer’s Guild to judge it, as well as creative writing professors at my university.

I didn’t realize how much I was asking those guild folks to do with the first poetry contest. I think they had to read 60 poems each. I have revised how I will do that next year. I’ll divide them up and ask them to pick the top 5. Then I’ll have everyone read all the top 5. Or I’ll have a second layer of judges.

I’ve been in the middle of judging a short prose and short poetry contest. It’s hard to decide how to award prizes.

First_Place_Blue_Ribbon by Oldbeeg WC CC3If a poem is structurally perfect, but doesn’t speak to me, should it win?
If a poem has some odd choices in physical placement, but is a sensory delight as well as resonating, should it win?

If a prose piece is over the limit, can it still win? (This one I decided the answer was no.)
When all the works have minor problems, how do you decide which minor problems are least problematic?

I don’t have any answers. I just realize there are a lot more questions than I know the answers to.

Note: I wonder if Sigma Tau Delta could have our members judge one of the Writer’s Guild’s contests? That might give the students a different view of the experience. However, not everyone who submits is from the chapter and we don’t really want it to be limited to them. …Despite this, I think it might be a very good thing to volunteer the club–or the club officers at least–to judge a WG competition.

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