A few days ago, our outreach coordinator emailed a bunch of co-workers and asked for volunteers to help in judging a poetry contest for a local middle school. The premise was quite interesting - a 140 challenge. The poems were to be only as long as a tweet, which is apparently 140 characters (spaces and punctuation included). It sounded intriguing to me, so I wrote back, saying I'd love to do it.
Today at lunch, eight of us gathered in the atrium conference room to share sandwiches and poetry. As I watched the other judges file in, I noted that we were all either big readers or fancied ourselves writers - it was a pretty knowledgeable group doing the honors.
It became apparent pretty quickly that there was some misunderstandings about the rules of the contest. This is the first year for it, and the instructions were given out by the mayor's office rather than by us. Most of them had around 140 characters, not counting the spaces and punctuation. I suggested that perhaps next year a handout with the explicit rules written out be provided to the schools that participated so the kids wouldn't have to rely on teacher interpretation or misheard directions.
Then we got down to business. We each got a small stack of poems to read. Of our stacks, we chose two that we felt were the best, three if we really couldn't decide. Then we'd pass the ones we liked on and eventually, we wound up with eight which we took turns reading out loud. Each group was divided up by grades (6, 7, 8), with a first place, second place, and after some discussion, an honorable mention.
There were quite a few that were just simply outstanding. Some made us tear up or laugh out loud. One of them had a brilliant line "Hope is the last cookie before starting a diet." Unfortuntely, that was the only good part of the poem. Two of them really got into the spirit of the thing - "The Nature of 140" talked about the confines of the rules. "BRB" was pure genius, written in tweet form with abbreviations and lamenting the decline of true communication.
As marvelous as some of them were though, others were actually disturbing. We wondered if one of them was a cutter from the wording of her poem "Scars". Another seemed to be asking a brother not to kill himself. Several were about walking in darkness while living in a world of light. It was sobering and a bit scary to read some of the thoughts of these kids.
After all, they are the same age as my son. My sunshine-y, mostly happy and can deal with it kid is going to school with others who think about killing themselves. Or are angry that someone broke up with them. Or are seeking the "perfect fire". Or walk in darkness. I confess to worrying that such attitudes could rub off - that one day my boy will be writing things similar to what I read today.
But aside from the disturbing ones, this was fun. I sure hope we do this again next year!