Judging Poetry and Short Stories: It’s Easy and Not Easy

by Laura Michelle Thomas, Lead Judge, International Junior Authors Contests


2nd International Junior Authors Poetry Contest

2nd International Junior Authors Poetry Contest – Entries that made it to the 1st round of judging

Judging is easy, and not easy––and this is my ninth time playing lead judge for a junior authors contest. You’d think by now it would be easy, one-hundred-percent easy, but it’s not…and it is. It is and it isn’t. It isn’t and it is.

And that’s how it goes. As I sift through the entries, culling away first those who did not follow the rules (those are easy to get through) and then those which don’t score very well on the basic criteria, until I identify the best of the best, the top scorers, and my mind goes like this:

That’s definitely the winner…so is that one…and that one. I’d like to publish that one, and that one, and that one…but I can only publish one…but which one?

Truly it gets very hard when I have multiple entries with scores averaging 27+ out of 30 for the poetry contest, or 45+ out of 50 for the short story contest. Getting to the finalists is not so hard, but selecting my final eight from the highest scoring entries is mind-melting. While the top scores are very close or identical, the strengths and weaknesses of each piece are different. So judging becomes a challenge.

Using the poetry contest I just completed judging as an example (I had more than 8 poems that averaged 28+/30 in Category 2), one poem might have near-perfect form, while another has near-perfect rhyme or imagery or versification or unity. So which one do I choose as the winner? How do I rank the poems from first through eighth place?

Here’s my trick. I go back to what I believe a writer’s job is.

A writer’s job is to observe the world, tear it apart and reassemble it in a way that makes me, the reader, see things differently.

When I get stuck in the is and isn’t, this one or that one, I resolve the conflict by giving a bonus point to any poem (or short story, if I’m judging a short stories) that is noticeably creative. There is something about the word-play or tone or point of view or imagery or the tightness and unity of the piece that impresses me.

Judging poetry, or any other kind of creative writing, is not a perfect science and it does not get easier over time, and of course even with multiple judges and a rubric there is still a subjective element to it. But I endeavour to give extra credit where I feel that credit is due. I have been a judge for eight years now, but first and foremost I am a writer, which does make it easier, but then again, at the same time, it doesn’t.

Thank you for sharing your words with me. Thank you.


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.

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