I recently had the privilege of being one of eight judges for a poetry manuscript contest. The process involved the group of us, poets and poetry lovers, spending a day reading book-length manuscripts, discussing them, and finally winnowing a stack of about eighteen manuscripts down to a select few finalists.
We were given only the broadest of instructions. In short, we were asked to try to fall in love with each manuscript and to be prepared to articulate what about each one did and did not work for us.
One of my favorite parts of the day was sitting down with this poetry-loving group and discussing what it was we were looking for as we pored over all those poems. Here is a brief list of what people said they wanted in a collection of poems:
- A distinctive voice
- An expansive way of looking at the world (a range of emotions … including humor, etc.)
- A sense of discovery
- To get fat on the words and be nourished
- A journey of a human heart
- A strong presence
- An inner light shining through the work; a sense of transcendence
This is a worthy measuring stick in my view, and I’m sure it will help me the next time I venture to the other side of a contest and submit my work for consideration. I only hope every reader will have the loving, deep and strong sense of what they are looking for that this panel of judges did.