I was recently asked to judge a regional poetry contest along with the great Howard Kogan. I eagerly accepted, although my own preferences in poetry are so peculiar that I really should not have. I expect that Howard’s level-headedness will cancel out my impulsiveness, and all submissions will receive a fair shake.
However, as part of the bigger picture, I’ve noticed a trend. Earlier this year, I was invited to become a part of a screening committee for the local arts center, representing the literati of my city. I’m also now on the board of CAPS (Calling All Poets), a Beacon based group that hosts a monthly open poetry mic that is streamed online around the universe. My longtime nickname, “Diva,” has inspired a lot of faux scraping and bowing over the years, often by my chronological elders. I am wondering if lately perhaps the notion of some sort of elder status has imposed itself on my poetic career.
It may be that merely by hanging around long enough one attains a sort of eligibility for committees and the like. I have lived in the Hudson Valley for 35 years now, and have been active in the poetry scene here for almost that long. For 10 years I hosted the annual Sylvia Plath Bake-Off, a now defunct midwinter love letter to the late poet that in later editions included a baking contest in addition to an open mic. As friends and family began to exit the planet, I lost my taste for morbid mockery, even as it may be creeping back as a way to stay sane in my later years.
I’ve participated in readings from Cape Cod to Waterloo Village, and all points in between. I’ve published a bit of work here and there, but not nearly as much as some of my fellows. I’ve put out a few handmade chapbooks along the way, even before computers and home printers made that self-indulgent act far too easy.
Now that I think about it, I was a judge for a contest put on by the Stone Ridge Poetry Society back in the late 1980s, a one-day affair they called “Day of the Poet.” My friend Don Levy was one of the other judges, and I believe we both qualified because we’d previously been winners, or at least placed. “Day of the Poet” was brilliant. In one day, three rounds of readings were held, each smaller than the last, and then finally a winner wast chosen. Judging was based on performance as well as words. It was efficient, enjoyable, and even left room for musicians or truly established poets (hello, Ed Sanders!) to round out the activities. It’s a concept that bears repeating. Hmmmm… maybe I should bring that up at the next board meeting. Any board meeting.
Have I crossed the line from ‘new voice’ to ‘elder statesperson’? Is there a line at all? Is it a good thing to be asked to judge the work of others? How do others judge me, let alone my work? All good writing prompts. But then again, the fortunes in cookies are often excellent prompts. And I suppose the answers to be above questions might be as easily obtained. So much for wisdom of the elders…