Thursday, November 6, 2008

Judging Contests (and other endeavors)

Earlier this autumn I served as judge of the poetry entries by seventeen-year-olds in the "Power of the Pen" awards run by the Hamilton Public Library. Besides picking a first and second place, I was asked to provide a positive critical remark for each entry. I picked a first and second (no honourable mentions) and provided a little praise or a pointer to all. It was not easy.

I have just been volunteered for (and accepted) a position of judge for the Cambridge Library's "Poem-a-Day" celebration for Poetry Month, April, 2009. One judge gets all the adult works, another gets all the kids' stuff (under 12), and I'm blessed with all the teenage material. Fair enough; I accept the task.

However many entries are received in each category, we are to pick the ten best. Not in order of merit or any perceived order. Thirty poems will be chosen; one per day will be publicly displayed by the Library.

Personally, I like the teen stuff. As long as they're being honest in what they do and not pompously trying to put one over on everybody, they can be surprising. If you get one who can combine an emotional experience with concrete words and a simple image it can blow you away. It has happened to me several times. The downside is wading through all the material where someone has nothing he feels deeply about but has to write a poem for some reason, or when someone struggles with an emotion and can't find original words to express it.

For me judging this level has become a "remember when." All that garbage I wrote when I was a teen, and the marvelous lift from the occasional poem that worked!

Judging can be so difficult. You can never be completely unbiased; you must recognize the bias and take it into consideration, whether it be cultural, social, or what. If you're a living human being they are there, a part of who you are. What you need to be, what those whose efforts you are judging need you to be, is to be honest rather than unbiased.

The old saying goes that honesty is the best policy. For a judge, whether on the Supreme Court or for a poetry contest, it is the only one.

1 comment:

annaken said...

Hi Jeff,

I read with interest your latest blog on being a judge. It is quite a responsibility and, if not done well, can result in hurt feelings and bruised egos. I was asked to judge some short stories for Arts Hamilton's contest and understand what you mean by bias. I have a definite bias against using swear words and found that some authors use swear words throughouttheir story, instead of thinking of descriptive words to describe their feelings in another way!I tried very hard to overcome that bias and just judge the rest of his work, but it certainly coloured my thinking of his story!