Comments: A Beginner’s Guide
(for Al, again;
written tongue in cheek
as a follow-up to
Winning not Whining —
to be read cum grano salis)
When a poet enters a poetry competition, comments are sometimes offered as part of the fee for entering. These may be made by the judge(s) or by a pre-selection committee. The pre-selection committee, in large poetry competitions, will sometimes filter the many entries, sending a filtered short list through to the judges.
Basic rules of commenting (1):
Say nothing negative. Always find something positive to say. Whatever you do, do not turn the competitors away from future competitions. The organizers need the money the hopeful entrants provide.
When faced with an entry that rhymes, the judge is encouraged to encourage the entrant to think of alternate forms of writing. Comments like: “Have you considered writing this poem in free verse?” or “This might work as a prose poem. Have you tried that format?” are considered better than “Your verse sucks”or “Your rhyming words make no sense except as rhyme words. Couldn’t you find anything else?” Equally abrupt and dismissive is “Read more rhyming poetry: your almost non-existent rhyme scheme needs national assistance.”
When faced with an entry in free verse, stick to the alternate approach “Have you considered making the poem rhyme?” or “This might work better as a prose poem.” Such comments are considered more acceptable and polished than “Stick to essay writing” or “Read more free verse: you need to understand where to put words in appropriate places on the page.” or “Blank spaces must have meaning.”
Judge Mark I
As soon as an unacceptable word is found, and in some cases the sooner the better, the entry may be rejected. Examples: Adverbs ending in -ly “Stephen King advises against the use of adverbs ending in -ly.” or less used words like upon or amongst or “Upon / amongst — so out of fashion: use your computer’s Thesaurus for contemporary expressions.” The commentator is advised against using chic continental expressions like very passé or très outmoded as they create a sense of absolute inferiority in the competitor. Latin and things like that should, ipso facto, never be countenanced as they may upset the competitor’s status quo.
If the judges cannot understand a word of what is before them, then phrases like very cryptic style or highly personal language are preferable to “Total nonsense.” or “Absolute Jabberwocky.” or “Never heard of Fowler?” or “This needs Footnotes.”
The rules here are simple. If there’s punctuation, then suggest dropping it. If there is no punctuation, suggest adding it. Same thing with capital letters.
Judge Mark II
Length of submission:
Short poems can be dismissed with a comment like “You have some potential here: the poem could be lengthened in order to develop that potential.”
Long poems can be dismissed with comments like “The judge(s) find this a little bit wordy. You should consider shortening it.” Avoid attempted wit along the lines of “Nice: have you tried writing rhyming telegrams” or “This could (avoid should) be reduced to a rhyming couplet.”
Basic rules of commenting (2):
Find something positive to say and remember, sincerity has nothing to do with it; in fact, forget sincerity, unless you wish to end your comments with a phrase like “in sincerity”. If the judges are really at a loss for something positive to say, then a warm general comment will always be welcome. For example: “I love your use of the definite article.” “You have a wonderful way with small words.” or “All your commas are in the right places.” Such positivity will probably keep the competitor competing and the entrance money rolling in.