by Laura Michelle Thomas, Lead Judge
“I would like to congratulate all the entrants and encourage them to keep up their writing. I enjoyed the wide range of subjects and was impressed by the sincerity and passion of all the authors.” – S. Rutherford, Judge
As the second-round judges for the 2014 Junior Authors Poetry Contest start returning their scores and feedback, I thought I would take a moment to share some of the major issues that prevent a poem from reaching the finals or better in this contest.
Remember that this is nothing personal, nor is it a comment on your overall writing ability. We judged how well the poem you submitted was executed, how well it was written, how publishable it is, nothing more.
Here are some things we noticed:
There’s no hiding in a poem. Every word in a poem is scrutinized. As Samuel Taylor Coleridge said in 1827: “Prose: words in their best order. Poetry: the best words in the best order.” The message to take away here is that you need to edit your poem ruthlessly. Every word must be there for a reason.
Use pronouns wisely and respect the “antecedent” rule of usage. It is best practice (and less risky) to use pronouns (I, we, he, she, they, etc.) only after the reader knows who or what the pronoun is referring to. Using a pronoun without an antecedent is a good way to lose your reader.
Don’t let a rhyme scheme kill the poem. If you are finding it nearly impossible to find rhyming words that are meaningful to the subject and perspective of your poem, then you are probably better off ditching the rhyme scheme and doing a free verse poem. In the end, meaning and clarity matter more than form. If your poem is telling you that it does not want to rhyme then don’t force it to.
“Observe, meet interesting people and visit as many interesting places that you can, and write it all down. The world NEEDS creative people like yourself who can play with words and craft them into images of beauty and hope.” – K. Priebe, Judge
Don’t be happy with vague imagery. A poem lends itself to concrete images that are easily and powerfully visualized by the reader. If you find yourself initially writing vague imagery, replace it with much more specific imagery when you are editing. For example, replace “The graveyard was dotted with flowers” with something like “The graveyard was dotted with white lilies.” Of course you would replace the general word “flowers” with a specific flower, keeping in mind the type of flower that would fit the subject matter and tone of your poem. Remember the Coleridge quote above. You cannot hide in a poem. Every word matters.
Do the friend test. Before you submit, give your poem to a trustworthy friend to read. Do not explain the poem first. Ask your friend to read it cold and tell you whether or not they truly understand what you are trying to say. If your friend does not understand the poem on its own (without your explanation), then there is a good chance that a reader who does not know you will not understand it either.
Tidy up and experiment. Try removing articles, not using plurals and ditching “––ing” words. See if that makes your poem flow more smoothly. Don’t be afraid to use all the space on the page. Open you poem up and let it and your reader breathe. If you find you need more than one point of view or tense in your poem make sure the reader will be able to follow.
Keep your manuscript easy to read. Avoid centre justifying you poem. It makes it very hard to read when line starts are random. Centering your poem on the page is not the same as centre justifying. Also avoid random font styles and sizes. Stick with Times New Roman 12-point font.
To view the finalists and read the winning poems of the 2014 Junior Authors Poetry Contest, please visit the 2014 Winners page. To find out about the next Junior Authors Poetry Contest, visit the contest home page. If you are a contestant and wish to purchase the feedback option, please go to the LTC store.