…lest ye be judged. Or debated. Or enlightened. Okay, so I’m still smarting from a recent rubric on a poem I entered in a contest. The poem did final, but might have won an award had one judge not given it the deep freeze. The loss is ameliorated only by the fact that another of mine did win, so sour grapes is not the moral here.
“Toll Road,” the poem to which I refer, was not intended to be “My Summer Vacation in (insert your favorite destination),” naming attractions and fine restaurants. It was not a travelogue. It was a metaphor for life’s journey. The most confusing comment was, “Poem needs to be more specific about place if you have a place in the title.”(sic) This reference to being specific was repeated several times, along with one generic…which matched the score!
Of the same poem, another judge wrote, “The title is perfect for this poem.” A third wrote of the title, “…some reflection of the finality of the journey might be more exact.” That, I felt, was a constructive point as it went to tying beginning and end.
At a different time, with a different poem, I totally enraged a judge by not using enough stops, punctuation and phrasing to tell the reader how to read the poem. What that person overlooked was that the poem was carefully constructed to be read more than one way, with more than one meaning. It is, indeed, difficult to be a poetic prophet in one’s time. That I adore creative freethinkers like e.e. cummings doesn’t help fill my pocketbook. It does fill my mind with the desire to explore and poke holes in boundaries. My mother told me that at the age of four, I looked inside the fireplace in the doctor’s waiting room and declared, “Mama, that’s not a real fireplace!”
This leads me to recall the time I entered a well-critiqued, well-edited short story in a well-known national contest. So confident was I that I paid in advance for an anthology of the winners’ entries. Though I didn’t win, I felt I’d invested in a good learning tool. I sharpened my blue pencil and edited every crappy story in the somewhere around a hundred-page, slim-line, small-type book. Putting all the entries in a room with five chimpanzees would have resulted in a better anthology. Others with whom I discussed my findings agreed, “Mama, that was a rip-off!”
So what are the several morals to the story?
(1) Learn all you can and write what you love.
(2) Sift critique like panning for gold. Save the grains and nuggets, and dump the mud.
(3) In critique groups, count to ten, and be kind to those who comment. They are giving you their time, offering a reader’s viewpoint, and learning, too.
(3A) Exception; You don’t have to be kind to nationally promoted contests, where they get big bucks for their time, and should give you your money’s worth.