Requirements, Requirements, Requirements
Well, I got into trouble again and it's my fault because I didn't sufficiently specify the requirements for my last contest . I should know better, because quite a few years of my career in IT were about requirements, or specifications as they are known in the engineering world, or learning objectives as they are known in education, which was another career.
Now, those of us who host contests (a masochistic group for sure), are all aware that even if you have the rules specified perfectly with examples and diagrams and flashing arrows, a surprising percentage of entries will not have followed them, and you have to decide how to manage that.
Still, despite this, you should write good requirements, particularly about how you are going to judge the merits of the poems
submitted. What might be obvious to you, might not be to some others, so you risk stepping in the “assume” manure pile.
My last contest was a “Word Acrostic”, a different form than most acrostics, which normally use the first letters of one or more words, the most famous (and trite) example being M-O-T-H-E-R, and starting out - "M" is for the million things she gave me - and so on until MOTHER is spelled out. Now you might think that it's obvious that an acrostic poem contest which specifies using M-O-T-H-E-R would expect that the poems entered would follow a Mother theme (and hopefully not use that -“M” is for – format as well). But you would be wrong, and if you didn't specify it in the contest rules, you can probably expect to get poems about motorcycles, murders, and minuets. Not that there's anything wrong with these themes,(OK, maybe murder) but it does present a judging problem when you get an otherwise great poem.
I have often included some very good poems that stretched, or in some cases stepped outside the contest rules, but to me an Acrostic is a bit different. If it doesn't follow the theme of the Acrostic itself, it's a bit like putting up a big “Hamburgers” sign and selling only Hot Dogs. Might even be a bit funny if approached in a humorous way, (sort of like the Monty Python “Cheese Shop” skit), but hard to credit with a top placement.
So what's my point?If you are hosting a contest:
Above and beyond the standard stuff, specify what your expectations are in terms of a theme, the mood, how it should make the reader feel after they have read it, etc. If it's a loosey-goosey free-for-all, say it.
Perhaps as importantly, also specify subject matter or themes to stay away from. If you are looking for inspirational themes for example, satire or humor might not be appropriate.
If you prefer rhyme and regular meter, say so. The opposite applies as well.If you plan to enter a contest:
Read the rules carefully and stick to them to the letter.
Not sure what the host is looking for? Use Soup Mail and ask the contest host. It will save you time and possible disappointment.Conclusions?
None of these suggestions should keep you from writing a poem or even entering it into a contest. It's about the pleasure of writing and the inspiration a contest can give anyway, isn't it, regardless?