Tonight I am going to be judging my ex-high school’s Poetry Slam. Now, contrary to popular belief, a poetry slam does not involve a bunch of miss-aligned youths sporting oversized pants and sweatshirts talking trash in rhyme over microphones on stage. Instead what you have is a bunch of student, each student wrote their own original poem, and they’ll be presenting their poem however they see fit.
Back in my freshman year of high school, I won the first annual Hampden Academy poetry slam with a poem about my everyday life as a skinny white kid with a broken leg. I literally just wrote about myself with a humorous twist.
With that in mind, you can understand that any student could write about anything for this Poetry Slam and walk away with the coveted title: Slam Master or, as one of the English teachers refers to it, a Grand Slammer. Either way, it’s pretty cool because the top three poets get some neat stuff ranging from gift cards to a book store to free journals they can fill in with all their poetry. Every year there are a lot of kids and a lot of talent.
…And this year I have to judge that talent. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very excited to take part in the process. It’s an honor to be a part of something like this. Back in 2006, there were only ten or so kids that presented, each year that number has grown. I don’t know how many are scheduled to present this year, but if the trend has continued, I wouldn’t be surprised to see 30 or more students.
But how does one judge poetry? Of all the arts, it seems, to me, to be one of the most subjective. We all know that art is supposed to mimic reality, but we all view reality differently. These students should not be aiming to mimic the reality that we judges perceive, they should try to mimic their own.
The judges will have a rubric that we can use to determine score and it’s influenced by performance, the level of writing, the flow, the rhythm, etc. All these things are important when presenting a poem to others. My hope is that the students’ experience tonight will reinvigorate them to write more poetry, because there is nothing more honest than poetry.
However, I also hope that the students that don’t win or end up in the top three won’t lose their interest in poetry. Though it is a wonderful thing to share your poetry, in the end a poem isn’t really meant for someone else. Even love poems you write for the light of your life isn’t really meant for them. A poem is for the poet. If there is a poet tonight who believes their poem is the best despite not getting the title, we are not telling them that they are wrong. We are picking out the poems that speak to us individually, obviously the poem that will speak to the poet best is their own.
Poetry is taking a piece of your soul and putting it to paper. That, in and of itself, is a greater victory than any of us judges can give to the poets.