by Laura Michelle Thomas, Lead Judge
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 page. Our 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.