I was recently asked to be a judge for a poetry contest held by the student editors of Taft College's literary magazine, A Sharp Piece of Awesome. This magazine has been put out by the students for the past five years, with their next issue due out next May. However, this was the first year I learned of their poetry reading event.
The event, like many of their book launch events, was held at the Black Gold Cafe in downtown Taft. The owner is a strong supporter of the schools in Taft.
There were probably twenty people there, mostly Taft College students, but a few other people came out to hear and read their poetry. There were three judges. Bill Devine is a professor at Taft College, teaching English classes. Then Clarissa Alderete, who is a student at Taft College and one of the Sharp Piece of Awesome editors. Then there was me. I had been invited since I'm a Kern County published poet.
We (the judges) took a few minutes before the reading started to go over the criteria we wanted to us. Since it was a contest of reading, some of the criteria were performance based (like articulation), and since it was a poetry contest, some of the criteria were literary (like clarity and imagery). Then we scattered to different parts of the room to listen. Then afterwards we got back together and discovered we'd all agreed on the top three. Oh, we did have them in slightly different order, but we all had the same top three. So after a little discussion we decided on a consensus order.
Given that most of the people there were Taft College students, it's not too surprising that two of the prizes went to some of them (first and third prizes). But second went to an older man (probably in his seventies, maybe eighties). His poems, while not in a modern style, were very good, and he was a very good reader. Well, actually he had his mostly memorized. The audience as a whole also got to vote their favorite, and again the majority went for him.
So all in all this was a fun event. I had a chance to meet some new people, talk poetry and have a good time. It was quite an honor for Geoffrey Dyer, the Sharp Piece of Awesome faculty advisor, to think of me as a possible judge for their event. Hopefully I'll have a chance to do something similar again.