This year's Poetry Center Juried Reading Finalist's have been announced...
One of my perks for winning the Juried Reading last spring was that I got to sit on the blind jury (1 of 3 poets) for this years competetion, the highest scorers then being passed on to final judge Jorie Graham (who I am of mixed emotions about) I had to read around 500 hundred entries, each containing 5 poems, and score them on a scale of 1-5...all in about three weeks. I thought I may never want to read another poem again at times, but hopefully some of my favorites in the stack made it. All the names were off, so until they post whose poems were whose, I won't know, but it was an interesting experience to say the least.
It really made me think, as I went through them, about what I look for in poetry, what makes me say something is "great" as opposed to merely "good." What standards do I hold poems to? What sort of readerly expectations do I have?
The hardest thing was that, on the whole, I'd say 80% of what we got was competant, well-crafted, perfectly enjoyable poems. A couple of years ago I judged an online contest in which 80% was pretty awful, so this was a nice change. Although I'd have to say it was infinitely more frustrating to judge these. I can easily dismiss a bad poem, but to score perfectly sound poems, to evaluate them in terms of each other, was enormously difficult.
We were told to avoid giving poems a 3 as , I guess for averaging reasons, unless they really warranted it. My scoring went something along these lines:
First, I looked for what wasn't there: cliche, abstraction, tired language, flat imagery. If the poem suffered from any of these, it automatically generated a 1. I gave 2's to those poems which avoided all the mis-steps and all the bad things, and were, in themselves sound. crafted poems, but which didn't do anything interesting for me, or which stumbled or fell short in some way.
3's went to those, who like the 2's were competent poems, but which excelled in some way, or maybe had one poem better than the other four, or something that shined a bit brighter than all the 2's--(and there were alot of 2's).
4's were reseved for those poems that not only excelled in forming a well-crafted poem, but which did interesting things with language, with image, newness, freshness, above and beyond. Those which scored 5's, and I gave only around 30/500 entries this score, in addition to meeting and exceeding all the above requirements, showed a certain polish, an authority. All things which I look for in what I read, and try for when I'm writing.
My scoresheets had a few 1's (and believe me, there were a handful of entries that deserved a 0), lots of 2's and 3's, a smaller number of 4's, and an even smaller number of 5's. I hope I wasn't being too much of a hard-ass on this, but that was the system I devised as I read through and hopefully the best poems got the highest scores from all of us. But I was also thinking about how subjective it all is. Things I might find important may not even register with another judge. Or another judge may hate something I loved and vice-versa. Or Jorie Graham may hate everything we pick and choose the person who walks her dog as a winner. Who knows?