It's the middle of August. This is again the time that I consider the nature and merits of those who judge contests, poetry contests specifically. At the moment, I'm looking at judging from both sides; we are trying to round up a set of judges for the Acorn-Plantos Award for People's Poetry (a book award, nation wide) that I administer, and I've received my allotment of the local secondary school entries for "Power of the Pen" through the public library. On the one hand I have to find suitable judges; on the other, I have to be one.
What do I look for in a judge? First, a good knowledge of the matter she is judging. Just as the criminal judge on the bench must know the law and how it applies, how to measure an accused against a law abiding society, so must a judge of poetry have knowledge of what it is and how the items before him measure against the standards set, in this case the work of Acorn, Purdy, Livesay, Plantos, etc. Second, she should be honest. A corrupt judge is a stain on an ordered society. A judge of anything, be it talent, Olympic sport, poetry, dogs, must put in the time and dedication required. A personal bias is always present, should be expected; but the awareness of that bias should hold the judge to a high standard.
That's a lot to ask of someone; that's a lot to ask of myself. And still, because I accepted the task, to fulfill it I need to hold myself to the same rigorous standard. If perhaps I think a young person's poem is garbage, I need to see it in the light it was written: with what understanding of the craft, as an assignment, a venting of emotion. And then in all fairness I should suggest ways of betterment. That's what it's about in younger years, getting to know if this is or could be your "thing," your means of expression. It took me time to find that, and I have no right to discourage anyone. Remain honest, to yourself and your craft.