First-round Feedback: 2013 Junior Authors Poetry Contest

by Laura Michelle Thomas, Lead Judge


Click on the poster for complete details about the Polly Prize for Creative Writing

Click on the poster for complete details about the Polly Prize for Creative Writing

Here are my raw notes from the first round of judging the entries in the 2013 Junior Authors Poetry Contest. These are the thoughts and suggestions that came to mind as I was reading the entries and sorting them into two piles: advancing to round two versus not advancing to round two. My comments and tips are in no particular order.

If you see one or two things that are in your poem, don’t despair. It does not mean that your poem did not advance to the next round. Every poem had strengths and weaknesses; it was the poems with more strengths than weaknesses that advanced.

I truly enjoyed reading your work. :-)


Laura’s Tips and Suggestions (in no particular order)

Avoid using big, generic words in predictable ways like: beauty, tears, love, hope, despair, romance, pain, endless, free, ancient, surrender. Show us beauty, tears, love, endless, pain instead. Make the reader feel it through detail, imagery.

Avoid overused expressions and clichés. Give us fresh images, fresh expressions

Words like thee, thy, alas don’t ring true with your reader unless they fit your theme and subject matter.

A series of terse questions fired at the beginning of your poem does not warm a reader to your point of view.

The title and verses should fit together perfectly.

Who is your audience?

Who is the speaker of your poem? 

Every poem needs a hook. The reader needs a way into the poem: a rhythm, an image, fresh words. We need a reason to keep reading.

The poem is over 50% repetition. Leave room for more detail. Try not to rely on the repetition to carry your poem. We need more.

We don’t know about the poet, so we cannot pull from your history and life experience to understand what you are trying to say. Your poem needs to stand on its own. Give us enough information to understand your perspective on your subject.

Do multiple revisions. Ask someone to read your poem and give you feedback. It’s not perfect when it comes out of your head.

First-person poems that us “I” and “me” tend to be weaker unless they have a compelling first stanza.

Does your poem have a tone or vibe to it? If a group of eager listeners were gathered in a café, would they get it? feel it?

Have you put thought into your line breaks and stanza breaks? Is there a reason for how the poem is laid out?

Don’t use different or mixed fonts. It can distract the reader.

Grammatical and spelling errors in the first line or title!

You need more than a shocking or harsh topic, you need to create a moment, make me see it differently.

Some poems have no stanzas and are 40+ lines. Give your reader some breaks. It’s hard to digest a huge chunk of text. We need to breathe.

If you choose to pull lines apart and spread them across the page, understand that you will lose the reader with your interruptive formatting. Keep it simple. Unless it’s a concrete poem, justify left (not even centre).

Don’t explain your metaphor (such as the one you used for your title) show us, let us figure it out. We’re smart.

Prose poetry should not read like straight prose. It should be poetic, otherwise why call it a prose poem? 

Remember: Even if you see things here that are in your poem, it does not mean that it did not advance. Stay tuned for the announcement of the finalists on April 25th, and thanks for all the reading. Loved it! :-)


To see how many poems in each category have advanced to the second round of judging, please visit the Statistics and Fun Facts pageOur second round judges include a poet, a literature professor and poetry editor, a librarian, a bookstore manager, and two members of the LTC Team. After that round, the poems come back to me for a third look and the final decision. 

Laura Michelle Thomas

About Laura Michelle Thomas

Laura Michelle Thomas is a novelist, freelance writer, writing mentor, and the owner of Laura Thomas Communications. She is the creator and administrator of the Junior Authors Contests and Junior Authors Conferences. Laura is publisher and senior editor of jaBlog! and is dedicated to fostering the development of young writers worldwide.

14 comments on “First-round Feedback: 2013 Junior Authors Poetry Contest

  1. Suchitra

    Are small poems of 8-10 line suites for this competition?

    • Laura Thomas

      Hi Suchitra. Sure. The best length for a poem really depends on subject matter and theme. There were some shorter poems that placed in the top prize-winning spots last year.

  2. Spencer

    Hello, I noticed that you advised us not to, as you put it, “series of terse questions fired at the beginning of your poem.” My poem consisted of all questions, but arranged in such a way that it got my point and story across. Was this wrong, or was it directed toward the other poets?

    • Laura Thomas

      Hi Spencer. I cannot comment without looking at your poem. Did you pay for the $10 feedback option? If so, you will be getting your score broken down into its component parts and some judges notes.

      • Spencer

        Is it too late to pay for the feedback option?

        • Laura Thomas

          Hi Spencer. Technically, it is. But maybe I will open that option up again for a week. Please stay tuned on the contest mailing list and I will send out some information this week. Let me think on it.

  3. soumya

    ma’am where’s the coupon code?

    • Laura Thomas

      I emailed it to everyone on the poetry contest mailing list yesterday. Please check your inbox or spam folder. If you cannot find it, please email me directly at

  4. soumya

    Hi ma’am
    I received your mail about the free gift. I am actually confused. Do I have to pay $1 for the gift by clicking on the $1 purchase button?
    Please clarify.

    • Laura Thomas

      Hi Soumya. Click on the purchase button and then enter the coupon code on the next page. It is free for you.

  5. Rachit Bansal

    Hi, ma’am. I just wanted to know that will you prefer rhyming or non-rhyming forms?

    • Laura Thomas

      Hi Rachit. The judges and I have no preference. However, your poem should not sound like sentences and paragraphs, there should be some kind rhythm, even if it does not rhyme.

  6. Ellen

    Is there a list of names of those who went on to the next round of judging?

    • Laura Thomas

      Hi Ellen. We only publish the names of the finalists and winners. This is only the first round. The finalists will not be decided on until April after another round of judging.

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