How to: the workshop on judging competitions

A C Clarke, who ran a ‘Be a competition judge for an afternoon’ workshop in August, explains how you too could run such a workshop.

While I cannot post the material I chose for the workshop without permission from the authors (it is permissible in a closed group for educational purposes) the format of the workshop is one that writing groups might find useful. The workshop is suitable for a group between 9-15 participants. As set out below it does involve a fair amount of photocopied material but the structure can be adapted to reduce this, eg by sharing copies. Important – as indicated above, if you want to try this as an online workshop it must either be a CLOSED workshop, accessible only to the participants or you must obtain permission to use the material in this way from the poets and judges concerned.

You will need:

  • a minimum of ten poems, which ideally should include prize-winning/placed poems in competitions where the judges’ comments are available, as well as poems from books/online magazines etc. It’s a good idea to include examples of different kinds of poetry – prose poetry, formal poetry as well as free verse. It is better not to include poems by group members or writers who have interacted with the group. There should be enough copies for each participant to have their own copy.
  • a sheet of paper, or ideally a spreadsheet listing the poems in alphabetical order with three columns headed Yes, Maybe and No.
  • A whiteboard or other means of recording results.

Structure of workshop

  • Brief introductory remarks about poetry competitions, perhaps touching on questions of subjectivity v. objectivity, the criteria used by judges etc
  • Hand out poems and spreadsheets (or equivalent) and give the group ten minutes or so to make a rapid preliminary assessment, assigning poems to the Yes, Maybe or No category.
  • Divide group into sub-groups of three to four and ask each group to agree the first, second and third ‘winners’ among the poems distributed. Joint wins are allowed but no more than three poems should be selected. Allow at least half an hour for this. Each group should also be asked to appoint a rapporteur.
  • While these discussions are going on write the headings 1, 2 and 3 on a whiteboard or equivalent.
  • Reconvene as the full group and ask the rapporteur in each group to read out their selections and explain why these voices were made. Others of the group can chip in on the latter part.
  • Open up the discussion to the full group touching on differences of opinion and agreements between the groups, whether any poems were outright ‘Noes’ from the start and why and any other points thrown up by the exercise.

Lastly if you have them read out the judges’ reports on the poems selected from competition winners.  If possible also have these printed out.

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