Today I had the pleasure of judging finalists in the poetry category of The Phoenix Art and Literature Contest. Sponsored by the Journalism Club at Foothill Technology High School, the contest received 564 entries in five categories--157 entries in poetry alone--from teenagers across Ventura County. I was truly impressed with the quality of the poems, and encouraged to see an upcoming generation of local poets exhibiting such promise and skill.
Having entered numerous contests myself, with varying degrees of acceptance and rejection, I was keenly aware of the implications of my task. There is certainly a degree of subjectivity when it comes to "ranking" art. Each poem had merit, and were I able to convey a single message to the ten finalist poets, I would want, most of all, to encourage them heartily to keep writing.
In the end, however, my job was to pare down, then rank, the poems. The task was difficult because the poems were good, because I am aware how much young people need encouragement, above all, in artistic pursuits, and because I think this contest supports such a wonderful cause. After arguing with myself, reading and re-reading the poems, and cycling through three different varieties of caffeinated drink (brewed coffee, green tea, and espresso), I made my picks. In the end, I have both a greater appreciation for the care that goes in to the judging process, and great hope for the future of poetry.
Kudos to all who entered. Winners will be announced in May.