I've found it a really valuable experience. First of all, I enjoyed reading the poetry and was surprised at how good some of it was. I say in my report that I was expecting imagination and promise, but I wasn't expecting poetry that was just actually really good. But I think that all the winning poems are good by 'grown-up' standards.
The other thing that was really interesting was that judging the poems and writing the report made me really think about what attracts me to individual poems. I didn't come to the poems with set criteria, and neither do I when I'm selecting work for JAAM magazine, but I have noticed that there are things that make a poem work well for me, and it was really interesting to figure this out.
- I like poems to resonate with me and connect with me, which usually means it makes me feel something. Sometimes that’s a feeling of recognition (‘Yes, I’ve felt like that’), or sometimes a feeling of understanding (‘Now I understand what that feels like’). Sometimes it might just make me laugh, or think about things in a new way.
- I like poems to surprise me. I don’t like to know where the poem is going – like I’ve read it before.
- I enjoy unexpected metaphors and similes.
- I enjoy poems with interesting ideas or new ways of looking at things.
- I like poems in which all the words seem right and necessary. Where the words flow smoothly and the poem isn’t overwritten.
- I also like poems to sound lovely when I read them outloud. That usually means that that the rhythm 'flows' and isn't clunky - even 'free' verse has rhythm, it just isn't 'regular'. I've also grown to like subtle alliteration and assonance.
- I like poems that end in the right place. This depends very much on the poem: sometimes ending with a twist or a bang is nice, but sometimes a quieter ending is right. (I often find that the way to fix an ending that isn’t working is to just cut it out altogether).
So now my first experience of judging a poetry competition is over, and I think it has gone rather well.