Who licks the gold stars/Decides on the winner,/The one who rises to/The next level? –Debbie Okun Hill from the poem “Licking Glue from Gold Stars”*
Behold the various opinions of poetry contest judges!
When I was an elementary school student, the grade one teacher would place a shiny gold star on any assignment deserving top marks. Sometimes, for special occasions, she would replace the star with a seasonal sticker such as a jack-o-lantern, a holiday wreath, and/or a bright red valentine. Oh, how this little reward was intended to motivate classmates to do their best! Not once did I ever doubt the teacher’s ability to judge.
However, over time, I’ve discovered that to judge another person’s work is a huge responsibility, sometimes it’s subjective depending on the judge’s preferences, and when it comes to evaluating poetry, it’s not an easy task.
Earlier this summer, I posted a blog feature outlining my criteria or rough guidelines for blind-judging and selecting My Sister Rides A Sorrow Mule by John B. Lee as the a prize-winning poetry chapbook for a recent contest. See the blog post here. Upon sharing the information, I asked for opinions from other contest judges.
Below are the responses I received: