Level of Difficulty

Poetry contest winners are frequently about violent, traumatic, scary circumstances. I could imagine or make up such, but the result probably wouldn’t ring true. Why spend time and money pursuing something that’s unlikely?

My wife and I recently sponsored a contest in the local poetry society’s annual contest. It was partly a reaction to too many perennial winners that live elsewhere. We called it the “Poetry of Presence” contest and restricted it to the greater metro counties, hoping for poems like those in the anthology of the same name.

All entries were on the topic as stated, not necessarily as we expected. Several poems in the anthology are about grief, but none are really dark. One of our entries was quite dark, major depression. One fit the wonderful subtitle of Gathering Storm Magazine, “the Dark, the Light, and Everything In Between”. The darkest poem was skillfully written, but hard to like.

It is a challenge to write authentically about dark experiences. Horror stories are a different category. Judging a poetry contest, like judging gymnastic and diving contests, difficulty has to be taken into account. We chose to declare a tie for first place, the dark and the light. Everything in between took second. Another light poem third.

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