An Exciting But Imperfect Event

We’ve reached the midpoint of the March Madness Poetry 2015 tournament. Three rounds are now officially on the books, and we have three rounds remaining. Our authletes have created 112 new kids poems in just 12 days, while 14 poems remain to be written. Our “Elite Eight” authletes each now have a 1-in-8 chance of becoming the #MMPoetry 2015 champion.

I now want to take this opportunity to openly express my gratitude to the 56 authletes who were defeated in Rounds One, Two, and Three, and to the seven authletes who will eventually find themselves on the losing side of the scoreboard in Rounds Four, Five, or Six. Of course, I’m grateful to whoever does go on to become champion, too, but in many ways this post is meant more for those who don’t.

First, I want to thank our authletes for writing their best possible poetry under pressure. What they do in this event is not “natural” for a poet. To force oneself to write a poem using a specific prompt, and to allow other people to read and evaluate that poem after 36 hours whether it’s ready or not — it takes a special person to volunteer for something like that. And second, I want to thank our authletes for accepting their ensemble role in, and for dealing so well with the emotional highs and lows of, this exciting but imperfect event.

With each passing round since this event’s inception in 2012, I learn something new from everything that happens on this site, from everything that is publicly stated on other blogs or social networks, and from the many messages that I receive through various private channels. Despite the chaos of orchestrating everything myself, I really do try to read it all, because I am constantly seeking ways to better the experience for everyone.

Though it may not always seem to be the case, the structures and rules in place today are carefully considered and well-meaning, and designed to protect and grow the event as a whole. But it is ever clearer to me that those macro benefits too often seem to come at the expense of individual authletes who, as it turns out, are not just precision-programmed verse-making robots, but real people, with real hearts and guts and brains. People who – surprise-surprise! – don’t like writing under unclear rules. People who – wouldn’t you know it? – want better guidelines about how to promote the event. People who – believe it or not – don’t feel good about winning or losing based on tiebreaker technicalities.

As contributors to the success of the event at large, and as its beneficiaries in the form of exposure, connections, and even some direct sales and performance bookings, I know that #MMPoetry is a net positive for most of our authletes. This makes me very happy. But I also know that, as people, they deserve even better. As I’ve said before, without readers, the event need not exist; but without the authletes, the event simply cannot exist.

So, here is what I’m asking of everyone reading this post:

  1. Visit the Meet the Authletes page. Learn more about these great writers. Follow their blogs and find them on social media. Where applicable, buy their books! Treat them as well as they treat all of us in the form of their poems and comments throughout the event.

  2. Share your ideas for how to make this event better (whether you’re a writer or a reader). Start a discussion below about any aspect of the event that you think could be improved or simplified, or contact me via email or sidebar if you want to offer your thoughts privately. And when you do, be completely honest. Nothing in the world has ever gotten better by sitting around quietly waiting for it to become so.

I do hope that everyone is enjoying this year’s madness in the grandest sense. Personally, it has been fun to read and vote, and almost too exciting to watch the results! Please continue to cheer on our amazing authletes all the way to the end.

Thank you for being part of this wonderful and growing community.


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  • Colleen Murphy

    As is the case even with the long-standing events, like the NCAA’ tournament itself, there will always be those who are not satisfied withe the outcome, whetted it be because they never got in and felt they should have or because of a goaltending call that changes the outcome of the game. It’s not easy and it’s not perfect ever.

    I greatly appreciate the venue you have offered and am so excited to have had my poetry read (and preferred) by classes of students. It gives me encouragement and makes me want to find more outlets similar to yours.

    The popular vote seems to be just that in some cases. Based on the dialogue I read, the more willing you are to solicit votes and the more connections you have the better you may fare in a close race. When one match-up has a total of 665 popular votes and most others are well under that there might be a situation worth investigating, but I’m not sure what the solution is because you probably do need three different data sets to make it more fair. Being new to the contest, I wasn’t even aware of what was going on and, having a limited resource bank of friends from which to draw, I could not have taken advantage of the process even if I wanted to. I don’t think it effected the outcome in any of my match-ups, but I know it did in others.

    Thank you so very much for this contest Ed and for your willingness to continue to make it better.

    • Josh Close

      This is long, I’m sorry, lol – I have a lot to say, too much sometimes as many have noticed.

      First of all, I want to stress that in my 2nd round matchup – I only felt comfortable “vote-mining” as one person called it because I felt I was being cheated somehow, whether Helen was aware of it or not, I felt like something was going on. Not because I felt like my poem ‘deserved’ to move on or w/e – but because I was paying very close attention to the public vote and saw how it was ticking up. Maybe I was wrong, I don’t know – but I certainly do not have a large fan-base, and my 300+ votes was admit-ably vote-mining at its finest. I don’t think Helen worked nearly as hard as I did for votes that round, lol – but before I even began pining for votes, I was under the impression that Helen was doing the same thing (80-170 at one point, with my poem out-public voting around 20 other authletes in that round at that time). Some of you new to the tournament may not know it, but last year I was in a very similar scenario – but the difference being, she was visibly asking for votes with quite a larger media to call upon than me. I did not know what Helen was doing – so I just assumed she was doing the same thing my opponent from last year was doing. Basically hungover from last year, I feel like I projected this onto Helen when I shouldn’t have. So I apologize for that. To everyone in the tournament, and to Helen especially. I was wrong to express my opinion in that case, and I should have bitten my tongue and let it be, regardless of how I felt. I am 24 years old, I still have a lot to learn in life. :)

      While I’ve managed to pull myself 300-400 votes in the past, you will be hard-pressed to find a bigger advocate on here against the public vote than myself. I’m certainly not the only one in this competition who has never been published and has very little to call upon for instant public vote support, but I speak for all those in my shoes. I HATE the idea of “asking for votes” and have since my debut in this tournament. I’ve pretty much always worded my facebook shares to stress “vote for your favorite,” knowing perfectly well that many would vote for me regardless. However, if I were to have “asked for votes,” I guarantee more people would be apt to click on it and vote. And for those of you aware of my connection to a school – I do not ask for votes there either. I go classroom to classrooms (6-9 in total), and share my matchup, other matchups, and how to vote on the poems. Many of these kids I’ve known for several years, and would vote for me regardless – I share poetry and stories in their rooms often. However, the voting interface as it is, is not the simplest for kids to vote on, and even can be difficult for adults to distinguish where to vote, etc. Many of my votes from both my last round, and the round last year were from the domino effect. I’d share unbiasly, and than family and friends, students and teachers would share and vote and share and vote. I could have probably drummed up more votes than I did in the finals last year, but I knew Sam wasn’t pleading for votes so I didn’t feel as though I needed to fight back.

      While most authletes in this competition stress for people to vote for their favorite as opposed to asking for votes, there are still some that do not. And since there is such a broad range of competitors as far as “fan-base” goes, it is difficult for some authletes to compete with others in the public vote. And it is also very difficult for the public vote to mean anything other than “who can drum up the most votes for themselves.” while this is good for bringing people to the competition, it doesn’t necessarily speak for the poems involved in the voting. It speaks for the author of the poem.

      Yes, there are 2 other categories. However, the public vote still decides many matchups because of the disparity between the authletes and classrooms at times. While I haven’t analyzed every matchup – I personally believe the authlete vote usually goes to the most well-constructed poem, while the classroom vote usually goes to the most humorous poem. Thus, if someone had a large fan-base – their chances of advancing in the tournament are far greater than those without. This is why some of the bigger names who have been in the tournament in the past choose to sit a year or do not reach out to their fan-base as much.

      Yes, this contest is not meant for competition as much as it is meant for getting poetry out to kids, building interest in poetry for all ages, and providing many of the authletes exposure.

      That, however, is easier said than done. Yes – most authletes understand it’s just a tournament for fun as stated above – but that doesn’t take away their competitive spirits. And while the public vote is meant to get people exposed to the event, I personally feel as though it is not quite doing its job. People are coming to the event, yes – reading the poems, voting, etc. But a majority are just going to the matchups that their friends are a part of, and while most authletes stress to vote for your favorite – they are going to vote for their friend/family member 99% of the time.

      What I personally think needs to be done:

      1) the public vote needs to carry amuch less weight. if this means implementing 1 more voting category and giving authlete, classroom, and the other voting category 2 points with the public vote giving 1 point. Or adding 2 more voting categories with each receiving 1 point. potential ideas might be something along the lines of creating a panel of non-participants in the tourney (like experts on various categories of poetry). Maybe creating a panel of trusted past authletes who cannot participate in a given year – or 3-5 judges who are more well known in the children’s poetry world (names that come to mind: Kenn Nesbitt, Jane Yolen… past participants who don’t really need the exposure that this tournament could bring unknown authors and poets.) Maybe yourself as a voter, Ed? This would be very difficult to implement, I’m sure – but would even the playing field as far as lessening the power of the public vote goes. Perhaps splitting the classroom vote into “K-5″ and “6-12″ as far as grade levels go (this would certainly require more classroom voters to pull off).

      2) I think it should be in the requirements as an authlete to add other authletes on social media networks – many are connected anyway, and I think it would do wonders in lessening the amount of vote-mining that does go on. Also, along with this, it might not be a bad idea to stress to participating authletes that it is frowned upon, and maybe even say it’s a requirement, when posting to social media, to implore people to vote for their favorite poem. I just feel like when authletes “ask for votes” on social media – it pressures their opponent to do the same, or just concede the public vote. I, personally, wasn’t willing to just concede the public vote when it appeared my opponent was “asking for votes” in some way. Not saying her poem wasn’t worthy of 170 votes to my 80 at the time, just not when it is considered that other matchups weren’t even receiving 80 votes combined. I felt pressured to ask for votes, and while I did not post to social media asking for votes or visiting classrooms asking for votes – I did greatly increase the amount of shares, as well as visits.

      3) NEED MORE VOTERS!! I don’t know how this can be done, but if there were thousands of people voting in the public vote – authletes personal followings would mean less. If there were 100s of classrooms voting, there would rarely be ties in the classroom category, and the classroom vote would mean a little more – when a matchup gets 16 votes in the classroom category, it just doesn’t feel like enough to decide an advancement.

      Problems with each voting category the way I see it:

      Public – stated above, in maybe too many words.
      Authlete – There may be bias here – speculation… but some authletes may vote against someone they don’t want to go up against later on. I admit-ably have let the thought cross my mind, and have even used this thought as a tie-breaker sometimes… when both poems feel even to me, I have voted against someone I didn’t want to face later on. This problem lessens as the rounds go on with less authletes remaining, but I feel as though it exists. Also, next year – you should make it very clear right away that authletes should still vote on poems even when out of the competition, and stress the importance – I know you have, but I think the nail needs to be hit on the head and pounded more – some people need more reminders.
      Classroom – Basically not enough classrooms voting, not sure how to help this more. From what I noticed, it is generally very difficult for teachers to find time to vote on matchups. Maybe strides need to be taken to make it easier on teachers to vote on matchups – (I’m not sure how this could be done any easier – perhaps providing a tab for teachers to print out kid-friendly vote sheets or something)

      Anyway, Ed – nothing is perfect, and this tournament is still going through growing pains obviously – anything new does. It takes a human being a life-time sometimes to figure out who they are. I really enjoy this tournament, perhaps more than I should (maybe have become a black sheep to some because of it, lol), and want to see it become the best it can be.

      Thank you for putting this together Ed, I can honestly say it has made my life better, personally – and I would not have written some of the poems I’ve written if it weren’t for this tournament – nor would I likely have the motivation to write more if not for finding this tournament. I assure you, every year I’ve participated – it has made me a better writer. Thank you!


      • lillpluta

        I have made several new friends on social media through this contest, but I wouldn’t want to be required to add people to social media. I see the problems with the public vote. I’m not as well connected to the children’s poetry network as others, but my friends and family have enjoyed having a chance to vote. Some of my friends shared the competition on my wall. I tried to keep an eye open to make sure no one was mining votes, and I didn’t really see that to the extreme. If I saw something like, “Vote for Lill,” I’d comment to vote for your favorite. But I may not have seen every single share. I can’t keep up with all that. However, both my matches pulled in less than 200 total public votes — so I didn’t have the issue others had. My point is — if there’s “vote mining” — it may not be the authlete behind it — and the authlete may not be aware of it. I was heartened to see your apology to Helen.

        There are places you can hire to vote for you, but I think Ed has this competition set up so that doesn’t happen. I don’t think that was behind any of the large amounts of voting.

        I wouldn’t want to see the public vote done away with. I don’t know if there is an effective way to make it more equitable. I think the fact that people with a larger social network will have a slight advantage is just the nature of the beast.

        I also think we all need to emphasize the ease of voting, and I think that some potential voters might worry about security of info and that sort of thing … they are reluctant to vote for fear there is a mining of data or something.

        Shortly before my Round Two poem was posted, I posted a picture of my husband and me at a vow renewal ceremony. BOOM! 90+ likes within a hour — but could I get these people to come over and vote on March Madness. Sigh, alas, nope.

        • Josh Close

          Yeah, I thought about that while writing it actually – maybe atleast be recommended to add your opponent via social media and have an introductory conversation or something prior to poems being posted. This way, opponents can look at eachother less as competitive enemies and more as friendly adversaries. In most matchups, this is already the case… but I know very few in this competition, so most are competitive enemies to me. Not in a Darth Vader/Luke Skywalker sort of way… well, actually that’s a bad analogy… but nonetheless, you know what I mean. ;)

          Just feel like more authletes would be less likely to clash if they were friends before they competed.

          I know that in my future matchups, I’ll be making an effort to reachout to my competitor before-hand.


          • lillpluta

            That may work, but again people shouldn’t feel obligated to do this. I think the notion of thinking of your opponent as an enemy is something that needs to be internally regulated. I think it’s up to us as individuals to keep our competitive natures in check. In short, thinking of each other as friendly competitors should be a given. I think perhaps starting a conversation between each other when the poems go up, would help set the tone for both the competitors and the voters. And it’s all out in the open. But then I’m an old fart and way beyond the years when I’d get worked up over a lot of this stuff. As I’ve said before, this competition does not define your or anybody else’s worth as a poet. It’s a fun, fast-paced contest with the main purpose of bringing poetry to kids and building community among children’s poets. At least that’s my take on it. :)

            • Josh Close

              That’s where I differ from most in this contest. I do view it as friendly competition to bring poetry to kids, etc. Don’t get me wrong.

              But as a 24 year just setting foot into the real world, with aspirations to be a children’s writer – potentially make a career out of it, as unlikely as it may be – I also view this contest as potential to open doors for me into my future. Probably more so than those in the contest already with established careers and tempered aspirations through years of life. I understand that losing in this competition doesn’t devalue me as a writer, believe me – it’s just that the want, desire, to succeed and continue in the competition because of my belief that in doing so might provide more exposure for me, as well as force me to write more poems. Every round I’ve participated in has lead me to write 3-6 new poems, has also started several other new ideas for poems. Just for me, personally, the further I advance, the more poetry I force myself to write, and the more I feel like I’m opening doors.

              Perhaps it isn’t the case at all, maybe nothing will come from my participating in this tournament – but nonetheless, that is why I may seem more competitive with this than others. I’m pretty sure I was the youngest competitor this year.

            • lillpluta

              I understand where you’re coming from, but there are other avenues to accomplish the things you describe above, other ways to push yourself and gain exposure for your work. Are you a member of SCBWI? I think if you wrap up all (or a very large portion) of your hopes and aspirations in one contest you’re setting yourself up for — well a lot of the stuff I’ve seen you go through this year. And maybe you are entering other contests, joining communities of children’s poets/writers, submitting your poetry, writing poetry continuously without a contest for motivation, yada-yada — but if you aren’t — then go do it. :) And the impression you leave upon your fellow writers also goes a long way towards your success.

            • Josh Close

              Oh believe me, have learned the hard way on that I think. :o

              Not a member of scbwi yet – what are the main benefits I get from joining? This isn’t really the place to discuss, but 80-90 a year membership fee has to be worth it for me, as I’m not really well-endowed in the money category haha. But you’re not the first to recommend scbwi… so I’ll definitely look into it more!

              Yes, am submitting stuff elsewhere, other contests, agents, etc. I’m also working on novel at the moment, middle-reader to teen – so I’m not just concentrating on poetry.

            • lillpluta

              You can participate on the SCBWI message board without joining SCBWI. You just won’t be able to see the parts specific for SCBWI members. This board was formerly known as Verla Kay’s Blueboard. It merged with SCBWI a year or two ago. Start there.

              My short answer to the benefits of joining SCBWI — at your stage of the game, spending the $80 -$90 bucks will potentially save you from a lot more of “learning the hard way,” and will most likely shorten your learning curve on entering this profession.

            • Josh Close

              I’ll definitely look into it, thanks Lill! Susie Sawyer also pointed me in that direction, as did several others in the past.

            • Colleen Murphy

              Good luck to you Josh. I can relate to your desire, but am on the other end of the spectrum, hoping now to pen some rhyming story books for children after all my daughters have graduated from college and after we have finished paying off the college bills. I have been rhyming forever and the passion has never let. Keep hold of it.

            • Josh Close

              Thank you Colleen, and good luck to you too!!

    • lillpluta

      I agree Colleen. No matter what someone won’t be happy. I think we can work to improve things, but then also realize that some of the surprises and pitfalls is what makes this contest exciting. It’s never going to be perfect.

  • Ed DeCaria

    One of the things that authletes have commented on in the past is that the seeding, despite being random, is still kinda unfair. And I kinda agree with them, and finally had an idea that could remediate the problem without causing organization/navigation headache. Here’s the idea: The winning authlete in each matchup takes on the losing authlete’s seed in the next round. So if a 2-seed beats a 15-seed, that 2-seed authlete gets a 15-seed word the next round. This would be a great equalizer, over and above the random Round One seeding. Thoughts on this idea?

    • Lori Degman

      Ed, I echo what Colleen said – I really appreciate this contest – it forces me to take time out of my busy life to write and be creative and it’s so much fun! I also love that this contest is creating a younger generation of poets and poetry lovers!!

      Would you consider giving each pair of authletes in a match-up the same word, instead of two different words? That seems to be the fairest thing and it would be so interesting to see how each of them uses it in their poems. I know several people – authletes and readers – who like this idea. What do you think?

      • Josh Close

        That wouldn’t be a bad idea actually, but would make seeding completely meaningless. Though, since it is all random anyway, might not be a bad thing.

      • Rebekah Hoeft

        I like the idea of both athletes having the same word. Choosing one poem over another is difficult no matter what, due to different styles of writing, targeted age, poetic form, etc. (though we’ve seen many accidentally similar poems). Having the same word seems like it could help some in their decision making process. Another option to go along with Lori’s suggestion is to start with easier words (4 seeds?) for everyone in the first round, moving up in difficulty until the last round (16 seed). This takes away a bit of the similarity to the ball tournament, but since the seed and word assignments are random, I am not sure if that would matter.

        I DO love the contest as-is, and will happily apply next year (after my nerves have healed), whether there are changes to the structure or not. I know it is not perfect, since the public vote could be considered a popularity contest, though that may be demeaning to those who win the public vote–you can’t know why people are voting a certain way–just because a voter is voting for a friend does not mean that the vote is not valid or not cast according to which poem is truly preferred.

        Ed, I think you do an amazing thing here! Thank you for the ridiculous amount of hours you put into this.

        • lillpluta

          Maybe in the first round all words could be 1-4, 2nd round 5-8, 3rd 9- 12, and 4th, 13 -16. Still some variety there. I’m a bit mixed on the idea of having the same word.

        • RJ Clarken

          I totally agree with this – especially that last paragraph!

      • RJ Clarken

        I like this idea too. It levels the playing field a bit, and allows the viewing public the fun of seeing what each authlete can do the (same) given word.

      • Carrie Clickard

        As a member of the cheering/voting public, and a rhyming picture book author myself, I’m really in support of Lori’s idea. It would be such fun to see how two different poets treated the same word. And I tend to agree that it would make for a “fairer” match up.

    • Josh Close

      Personally, I think the lower seeds are the best seeds to have (as in, 10-16) – for me, I’ve only known low seeds (11, 13, 15) – but have imagined myself getting a 1, 2, 3 seed word and I’m not sure I’d have as easy a time with a simpler word. And I think, (I hope), that authletes take into consideration the difficulty level in a fellow authletes word when voting in the authlete vote. I think the harder the word, the better – that is, IF you are able to use the word relatively well.

      • Amelia Shearer

        I second what Josh has said – in many of the close match-ups my authlete vote went to the poem with the more difficult word, because it was much more interesting to read a poem where you could see how an authlete incorporated a rare word than to read a poem where the word included was as common as every other in the piece. I found the seeding process to be really fair and fun! And how interesting was it that people with different ranked and different meaning words ended up so frequently writing similar-themed poems!

        • Colleen Murphy

          It is a little unfair for the thirteen seed to continually be given challenging words, even as they progress through the rounds, when that person has done nothing to deserve the ranking as in the basketball tournament. It is just by random assignment, so switching seedings after a round, even if it means a 13 who won gets to be a 4, or giving the paired contestants the same word might be more equitable. I suppose you could actually seed based on the original submission for entrance into the contest, but that would put more pressure on you.

          • Samuel Kent

            Maybe. I was a thirteen seed. As a nine seed the year before, I liked the challenge.

            • Josh Close

              Oh definitely, I would much rather receive an 11-14 seed than a 1-4.

              Perhaps, Ed – you could allow participants to choose their seeding along with their tournament application? As in, let them pick a preferred seed. Obviously you won’t have 64 authletes pick seeds to fill the bracket perfectly… so let’s say you have 4 people prefer a 1 seed…. and 60 have put down something else – well, 1 seeds full as there was no competition for them. However, say 5 people have put down 1 seed as a preference… now you randomize it from there, and the authlete left out gets dropped down to the next lowest seed (so a 2 seed if 3 people or less have chosen a 2 seed as preferred.)

              So part of the application process would be choosing your preferred seed, as well as the direction that you’d want to go if you do not get your preferred seed. So let’s say I wanted a 10 seed… but I DID NOT a lower seed… so I’d say 10 seed, upwards. So if 25 authletes wanted a 13 seed, the 4 13 seeds would be randomly pulled from those 25, and the 21 remaining would be either moved up to the 12 seed or down the 14 seed depending on their preference direction. Let’s say I wasn’t one of the ones chosen for a 10 seed… I’d then be placed in the 9 seeds to be randomized.

              If this makes sense to you, than it really wouldn’t be that much work to implicate into the seeding…. This way, if someone prefers a low seed – they’d be more likely to receive a low seed and vice-versa.

            • RJ Clarken

              I admit I like the challenge too. (In spite of being seeded with a 3). Why? Because I like writing funny poetry using odd words ‘culled’ from the website, ‘Worthless Word for the Day.’ What I mean by that is that I sometimes think certain words, despite the degree of difficulty, are actually easier to approach than other words which might be considered easier, for purposes of writing poetry such as this.

    • rjschechter

      I think that both poets in every match-up should be assigned the same word, whatever the level of difficulty. I believe that would not only be fairer, since they would be facing the identical challenge, but would also make it easier for teachers to find match-ups in which both poems are suitable for their classes.

      • lillpluta

        I agree with Bob here. I liked that poems were identified by age levels, BUT two opponents might have completely different levels. To read one you have to read the other.

        • Ed DeCaria

          Yeah, this one falls more toward the “well-meaning” side of the scale than the “carefully considered” side. When I was putting up the first Round One poems, I thought hmmm, maybe this isn’t going to work out as well as I thought. So I’ll have to take another pass at how to manage age categorization.

    • Renee LaTulippe

      I really like the idea of both poets having the same word as I think it would make for much more interesting match-ups that might also generate more discussion for kids. Aside from that, though, I am not convinced that assigning ridiculous words is really the way to go. Why not just regular words that are poetic and that belong in a poem? They could still be “big” words, just not impossible words.

      • Josh Close

        Yeah, no more “anthropomorphism’s” haha

        • Ed DeCaria

          It was anthropomorphization, which was handled well by Melinda Harvey; I still feel pretty bad about that one.

  • lillpluta

    Random thoughts … after reading through the posts above me. I like the idea of taking your opponent’s seed when you win a match. Having a lower seed word isn’t exactly a picnic either, because you are expected to do fancier things with it — or so it seems. Using advanced poetic forms, techniques, and words is fine and dandy … but .. it can reach the point where you are writing to “show off” or garner votes MORE than appealing to the kids. If you choose to write for the younger groups, you could be hurting your chances by using simpler vocabulary. I think we can get too caught up in writing in a way to win votes and forgetting about the kids for whom we are writing.

    There is a dearth of different styles. Free verse is virtually non-existent, and I’d like to see more authletes experiment with forms. I am seeing more of this, now that the poets have 16 instead of 8 lines to play with. But still — could we expose the kids to different types of poetry. I’m not knocking humor at all. I like to write humorous poems, as well … but after the first round my head buzzed with the “sameness.”

    Is it possible to have themes to rounds? One round is rhyme. One round is non-rhyming. One round is specific forms. Maybe a choice of 2 to 3 styles — if one style is too much.

    Of course, I didn’t go for forms or free verse either. Since I was a first timer, I decided to be a bit conservative, although writing in all couplets is pretty much out of character for me. Had I made it past Round Two, I probably would have been a bit more experimental.

    • Josh Close

      I feel like that would alienate too many people, forcing someone to write in a certain form or something. But maybe just me… have never really been a fan of form poetry. Always rebelled against professors in my writing classes, LOL.

      If the goal is to put out the best poetry to these kids – it is probably best allowing authletes to be free to write in whatever form they’d like.

      • lillpluta

        I see your point; however, I think it would be an additional challenge to test each poet’s mettle and to give the kids some variety, stretching us all a bit.

        • Josh Close

          It all depends on whether or not the goal is to put out the best poetry possible, or that the best overall poet advances.

          For instance, if I were competing in a round that disallowed rhyme and/or meter – I would probably not write a poem to the best of my ability. Because my niche is rhyme and meter. So if I were to get eliminated because of it, so be it – but it would sacrifice the potential of me submitting something much better and more endearing to kids in the process.

          Kids should very well be exposed to all sorts of forms, and I think they still are. But I think it’s the promise of dessert that gets a kid to eat their broccoli. And as much as adults want to see kids loving all forms of poetry, it is undeniable that rhythm and rhyme in poetry is preferred in kids. As great as it would be for kids to love all forms – it is simply the fact of the matter that the majority of kids are going to be drawn towards rhythm and rhyme regardless of whether you expose them to form or not.

          If you get them to fall in love with poetry through rhyme and rhythm, they will find the other forms themselves – especially so as they get older. But if you turn them off from poetry when they are younger, they are less likely to like it as they grow older. Not saying a round of free verse poetry requirement will turn kids off of poetry, but I just don’t feel it will get them excited as much as rhythm and rhyme does.

          That being said, I’ve noticed that poems written in forms generally get some extra votes in the authlete category – so form poems aren’t going unnoticed. And if you make the decision to write one, and you write one well, you’re probably doing yourself a favor in the authlete vote.

          • lillpluta

            “It all depends on whether or not the goal is to put out the best poetry possible, or that the best overall poet advances.”

            These two things aren’t mutually exclusive to me. In fact, they are rather the same.

            • Josh Close

              guess I worded that badly –

              I mean that from a poet to poet basis.

              I guarantee you I, personally, will write a far better poem in rhyme and meter than I would in free verse. So in a round requiring free verse, with myself participating, the best possible poetry would not be put out IMO.

              For instance, for a creative writing class a year or so ago, I was required by my professor to not write a poem in rhyme/meter – well, the result was a submitted poem without rhyme, but very clear meter that I didn’t really intend. I was so concerned with writing a non-rhyming poem, that I completely neglected leaving out the meter until after I’d written it, submitted it, and then realized I’d written a non-rhyming poetry in iambic pentameter. I don’t know how I managed that, I just did. lol

    • Colleen Murphy

      As I understand it the purpose of the contest is to write poetry children will enjoy. I do think the current format allows the poets to do just that. The nature of the word does dictate, to an extent what we write about and how – for example with a word like “cosmopolitan,” for rhythm sake, I felt I had to tell a story so the word fit somewhat naturally into the rhyme. But assigning form would make it harder. The kids would be reading the same kinds/styles of poems in a round and I am not sure they would particularly like that. As it stands now they get a lot of variety and that is what keeps it interesting for them

  • Amelia Shearer

    I am a newbie to this tournament, so please take my thoughts with a large grain of salt. Sometimes the perspective of an outsider is helpful :-) I will try to be concise; brevity is not my strong suit.

    The rules of this competition were incredibly clear from the outset, and I knew going into it that it was not a “fair” competition, it was a fun one: words are randomly assigned, opponents are randomly assigned, you don’t know what classrooms or how many classrooms or what age classrooms will be voting … when I sent in my application I made a choice to involve myself in a process that would be an ‘unfair’ challenge – precisely because it would be a challenge and it would be fun and it would keep me on my toes. There is no money on the line here, so I think ‘fairness’ is overrated for this particular endeavor. Can you potentially be dealt a hand that results in a round 1 elimination due to no fault of your own, with a great poem? Absolutely. And you are out absolutely nothing but a poetry book for kids, and who can complain about that :-) It seems if a poet is looking for a fair competition to have their talent recognized, they might want to look elsewhere, but if a poet is looking for a challenging writing exercise, this is a fun one!

    As I perused the poems and comments this year (as I said, it’s my first year), I noticed only 2 things that I felt might be in need of changing:

    1) The comments on the poems were almost entirely authletes and/or writers/poets, and many of them seemed to already know each other. Whether it was excessive praise for a friend’s work, or accusations about votes and fairness and all other kinds of ugliness, it was more than a little off-putting. I would have loved to have read comments from READERS, not writers, and I wonder if the whole thing might be better off if Authletes were not allowed to comment on matchups until voting had closed? If I were a teacher (and I was) and saw some of the accusational comments I would not want to show that to my kids, and if I were a kid reading and saw some of the technically-focused and authoritative authlete critiques (many of whom seemed to know each other) I would not feel comfortable leaving a comment with my uneducated opinion about why I liked one over the other. Regardless of the many authlete comments about how kids are only appreciating the humorous poems, the truth of the matter is no one writes children’s poetry NOT for children. So if our professional or competitive comments might be impeding their involvement in the social side of this tournament (and kids are the KINGS of social!) perhaps that’s a place where authletes need to step aside. Why are kids not commenting on the poems?

    2) There didn’t seem to be a ton of classrooms voting on each poem. My matchup seemed to have just one classroom voting on it, and I think that was true of many other matchups as well. Instead of debating fairness of the seeding and voting and matchups we authletes should be brainstorming ways to get more classrooms voting on more poems, more kids commenting on the poems, more teachers committed to the whole tournament – instead of using one matchup for one period of kids, using one quadrant of the bracket for one period, for example. If you ‘win’ this tournament you get a trophy. If you get hundreds more kids reading your work, you actually build a fanbase, drive traffic to your website, etc., regardless of if you win or lose in the first round with a 16 seed word against a published professional.

    Anyway – my 40 cents … I can never keep it to just $.02 :-)

    Thank you, Ed, for a great experience!

    • Amelia Shearer

      P.S. – I would randomize the seed selection for all rounds, so authletes get a new rank each round, but it’s still random. Not fair probably, but definitely fun ;-) Keep everyone on their toes, Ed!

      • lillpluta

        I think people aren’t commenting because you have to register or comment through Facebook or other assorted loops. I don’t think it’s easy for outsiders to comment. I also think it might be good to have a “hidden” authlete discussion group.

        • Ed DeCaria

          As Amelia states, you do not need to log in to comment. Disqus would prefer that you do, but there is an option to comment as a guest. Disqus is pretty much the gold standard for internet commenting platforms.

          • lillpluta

            Thanks. I missed that. I just remember registering being a total pain in the arse.

      • Josh Close

        Yeah, commenting is difficult because of the log in requirement. I noticed more kids commenting in last years tournament, haven’t seen too many that I know of on this year.

        And to clear something up – the classrooms vote as a class and it equals 1 total classroom vote. I get the sense from your comment that you might not understand the classroom vote completely. So if the classroom vote was 17-6, there were actually 23 classrooms voting on that matchup. The teacher is given a log in and votes, presumably for the one that their perspective class prefers by a raised hand tally or something like that.

        • Amelia Shearer

          Ah, I did not understand that, Josh! Thanks!

          As far as commenting, I have never logged in to comment – I do it under the ‘pick a name’ on the right side, put my name and email in and check the box that says ‘I’d rather post as a guest’ which allows me to comment with no login or password needed. Maybe there is a way to make that clearer as an option. I hate signing in to comment, so I’ve been grateful that option has been available, but some may not know it’s there.

  • lillpluta

    Okay, I’ve been really (ahem) vocal this evening, but I have one more thing to add. When I joined this competition I knew THREE people out of my 63 fellow competitors. I recognized a few other names, but these three were the only ones I’d had some sort of prior online relationship/friendship with. I know a lot more people now. And that has largely made this whole experience worth it. :)

    • rjschechter

      I agree that this is the main benefit of the competition, at least for me. Though last year I was knocked out in the first round, and this year in the second, there are probably well more than a dozen competitors who remain my Facebook friends, people I did not know before but whose web pages I have visited, who have visited mine, who share with each other tips and support, who possibly may even work with me on joint projects or critique groups, and who make me feel less isolated as a children’s poet. Because, after all, what we do is a pretty isolated activity under normal circumstances. I get more feedback and get to take more bows for my work during March Madness than I do when I have a poem in Highlights, despite its huge circulation, an event which would otherwise be acknowledged to me only by my wife. The ability of March Madness to expand our circle of fellow children’s writers is the main lasting benefit of the competition. (And I think we all know that there’s often something a bit artificial about “voting” on art, even if the problems in the current voting system could be worked out. But there’s nothing artificial about the contacts and friendships we can make).

  • BJ Lee

    I like Amelia’s comment to change the seed for each person each round. That would do away with feelings of unfairness. I also like the idea of authletes being given the same word. I’m not sure which one of these two approaches would be the best. Having said that, I personally enjoyed having, I believe it was, a 13 seed (I participated in the contest in 2014). I liked the challenge. I think that the poems are more interesting with the more difficult words. I also think that, maybe, poems using more difficult words might get more votes because readers appreciate the fact that the poet is using a difficult word and using it well. I’m not entirely sure if that’s true for everyone, but I know that’s one factor that affects me, personally, when casting my vote.

  • Michelle Heidenrich Barnes

    Many of these suggestions have come up in previous years: the opponents having the same word, having an objective poet voting committee, weighing the public vote less because of unfairness, stressing to authletes how important it is to vote even though they are out of the competition, etc. They’re definitely all valid and worth addressing. Ed’s suggestion of having a different seed each round is an interesting and potentially fun one.

    Personally, I think that the MOST difficult aspect of this competition is the fact that, as poets, competition is unnatural– we get our feelings hurt too easily. That’s why, for me, the most urgent thing to “fix” is adherence to rules, since that is one of the few things we poets can cling to as “fair.”

    Ed has done a great job of creating a set of rules for authletes to go by, and yet poems are published “as-is” with the expectation that the READERS will catch when rules are broken and not vote for the rule-breaking poems. I personally don’t think that expectation is realistic, and would argue that when a rule is broken, the poem should be either disqualified or at least penalized in some way. The other thing that has bothered me is that despite the explicit statement that poems will be published “as-is,” there were at least two occasions this year that poems were “fixed” (altered) midway through the voting for various reasons. That simply cannot happen unless it was Ed’s fault in transferring the poem. I know Ed has already been considering how to address these concerns in future, and I applaud such changes. Even though I happen to LOVE concrete poetry and other clever formatting of poems, I think that stricter limitations must be placed on line length to avoid fuzzy interpretations of what “a line” is. The current rules in place for 16 line poems should be in place throughout the competition.

    March Madness has definitely grown in many positive ways over the years. And it’s such a huge job, who could not appreciate all the time, effort, and devotion that Ed puts into it! Thank you, Ed, for listening to all our suggestions (and whinging) and for continuing to put a spotlight on the children’s poetry community.

    • Ed DeCaria

      From my POV, the “adherence to the rules” thing is now a done deal. No more “as is” publishing. I, or in the future some other official agent of TKT, will read each poem upon submission and either accept it as compliant or reject it with a note as to what is in violation. And the rules will also be made more clear to reduce instances of non-compliance in the first place.

      • Michelle Heidenrich Barnes

        Excellent. :)

  • Ed DeCaria

    Regarding the idea of assigning the same word to both authletes in a pair, I’ll again recycle a comment that I’ve made a few times now over the years:

    While it would certainly be interesting to see how two poets handled the same word, it would also further accentuate the competitive nature of the contest, which is something we all seem to agree needs to be kept in check.

    Assigning different words of varying difficulty is an equalizer of sorts between participants of different backgrounds, skill, and experience. Each poet is challenged independently to a task, and we benefit from watching each do their thing. In the end, we still vote on which poem we prefer, but — in keeping with the original vision — the event becomes more a celebration of effort and talent and resulting art than a direct judgment of the writers.

    So Authlete L (who loses his/her matchup) may write a great poem. It’s just that Authlete W’s (who wins the matchup) poem resonated a bit better with readers for whatever reason. So Authlete W would move on, and Authlete L would not, but that does not necessarily make L’s poem an inferior one … just different.

    I really am open to the idea, but I guess I’m not yet convinced that it is the best one for the event. Happy to listen to other arguments. I am intrigued by someone’s earlier suggestion that it might help to give classroom’s a better basis for comparison. I guess, fundamentally, assigning the same words really blows up the entire concept of seeding, so that’s something else that may need to factor into the discussion as well.

    • Josh Close

      Yeah, that’s something I was thinking as well when it was first suggested to have both authletes get the same word. If 2 authletes get the same word, I think that’ll put more judgement on each matchup… as in, whichever authlete loses will feel less about their poem I think. Since they had the same word, there is more pressure to use it better than their opponent. At least if both authletes have different words – each poem will stand on its own, and I think it also creates more variety of poems in the tournament. I know I’ve had words in the past that I just could not fit into my typical meter/form preference (argumentative, and both my words this tourney had different meter) – while the same thing will occur with both having the same word, it creates more variety with more words I think. If both my opponent and I had the word Hierarchy, for instance – we’d probably get 2 poems with a very similar idea. I know all my “hierarchy” poems I wrote for round one were similar themed.

      While both authletes getting the same word would certainly provide more authenticity to a poet advancing a given round (no difficult word getting vote advantages if used well, or no difficult word holding a poet back from writing a competitive poem vs their opponents easier word) – like you said Ed, it would probably create more competitiveness than already exists – and this is coming from one of the more visibly competitive authletes there has been, lol.

      I’m all for either idea – I just want to write more MMPoetry poems!


    • Debra Shumaker

      This is the second year I’ve participated, and I still consider myself a novice poet, but I truly, truly like the tournament the way it is. Different seedings and different words, IMHO, keep the event interesting and unpredictable. Last year I was a 5 seed, this year I was a 15 seed. They were both fun.

      I was in my boys’ elementary school today and ran into some teachers. The kids really do enjoy the contest. They admit that sometimes they don’t have time to more than one or two votes, and it’s been a particularly tough few weeks because we have had SO many snow days, but they love exposing kids to poetry and the kids have a lot of fun with them too. So, if we can keep increasing the classroom votes, that will help “dilute” the advantage of Authletes with large Facebook followings. I think the three categories of voters keep it as fair as it possibly can be. (Authletes have certainly won the Popular Vote be a large margin but still lost the Authlete and Classroom vote.)

      Anyway, that’s my brief two cents. Thanks again, Ed, for creating such a fun arena for kids’ poetry!

  • Ryan

    I would like to comment on the vote-mining idea that was brought up. I know that I was one of the fortunate folks who had many people voting for them in the public vote. I know that in the first round, the round I lost the public vote, I did ask for some votes on social media. I did NOT do this the previous year I participated (when I lost in the first round and also lost the public vote) or for the second round this year (in which I did win the public vote but not the other two). I wasn’t even thinking about it and for that I am sorry- I wasn’t meaning to skew things. When it was pointed out to me, I felt instantly sorry for it and the rest of my posts on social media for that round and for the next were neutral in their wording- in fact urging everyone to vote for whichever poem they felt was stronger. That being said, as long as there is a public vote, there will be different sizes of support networks. I have been on both ends of Authletes receiving a million votes and I realize that that is just the way it is. What is there to be done about it except to eliminate the public vote? I am fine with it as it stands…

    • Josh Close

      Oh I agree, can’t really take it away – but there are ways that can lessen the weight of it.

      With 3 voting categories, it still makes any one category too decisive. If there were 100s of classrooms voting, nearly every authlete voting, and maybe even thousands of public votes… it would be just fine with the 3 categories.

      But as it stands, the public vote is decided by an authletes following most of the time, not by the merit of the poem. The classroom vote is far too inconsistent with so few voting classrooms.

      It can be said about anything really – the more votes that come in for any given poll, the better the results. You’re not going to vote in the president of the US based on the polling of 50 people.

      Yes, this tournament doesn’t have a 100k cash reward or anything… but that doesn’t mean we can’t help make it the best it can be!

      Regardless, if it remains the same next year – I would still happily participate. Ed puts in so much work to make this tournament run as smooth as possible, and if changing things too much will create far too much work than necessary – so be it! It’s fine the way it is! And really, it IS fine the way it is – more honest voters would fix the current voting issues present.

      • Rebekah Hoeft

        How do we know we need more honest voters? Couldn’t we also instead assume that all votes are cast honestly?

        • Josh Close

          By that I mean mainly more voters in general. As it is now, authletes individual followings outweigh the number of people actually voting on the matchup unbiasly. Obviously it cannot be proven – but regardless of whether or not an authlete shares their matchup via social media and expresses to their friends and family to vote unbiasly – they are usually going to vote for their friend/family regardless. That’s what friends and family are for, haha.

  • Vikram Madan

    Thanks for opening this up to introspection, Ed. I’ll add my 2 cents too:

    1. I second the idea of starting everyone out with a low seed and automatically increasing the seed level as each round progresses. One of the issues with the more esoteric words is that often their pronunciation/syllable-pattern imposes limits on the rhythm and meter you can build around such words which then limits the kind of poems you can write. (E.g. If the word is 5 syllables long, you’ll probably need an inordinately long sentence to fit it in (compared to say a monosyllabic word) which can lead to wordy, clunky poems). Increasing the seed level with successive rounds will also ensure the remaining contestants are ‘truly put to the test’.

    2. Related to the above, if each pair has the same seed, then they don’t need to be given the same word (about which concerns have been expressed in other comments).

    3. Regarding minimizing the impact of skewed public votes, how about some kind of point system: E.g. 1 public vote = 1 point, each authlete vote = X points, each classroom votes = X/Y/Z points (related to classroom size – small, medium, large). That way the match is decided on the overall points each poem gets, and not just on 2 out of 3 categories. This respects the public vote without allowing it to skew the outcome. This also would credit the poem for the total number of kids who voted for it, and not just the classroom. (Note: I haven’t thought the mathematics of this through, but I’m sure a point system can be made to work with a little bit of thought).

    Other than that, thanks for creating this fantastic experience for everyone Ed. It’s truly appreciated!

    • Josh Close

      Yeah, I thought that might work too Vikram – just would probably be quite a bit more work on Ed. but there is ways it could be simplified I suppose! And in doing a point system, you could technically weigh public vote however you want to weigh it. 1 point every 100 votes or something… so 142 votes would be 1.42 points. This way, while the public vote is public… there would be less pressure to win the public vote. And poets wouldn’t be put under as much pressure to gain more public votes if their matchup voting is really close, as mine in round 2 was. I suspect both my following and Helens were scurrying for votes in the last hour of that round – I was substitute teaching at the time, so I could only watch it unfold! But nonetheless, some sort of points system could really be the answer.

      Public – 1 point every 100
      Authlete – 1 point every 16 or something
      Classroom – 1 point every 10 (or depending on how many classrooms registered.)

      It would have to really be well thought out.

      • Ed DeCaria

        Everything’s on the table at this point. I need to overhaul the voting tech anyways.

        • Josh Close

          Yeah now that i’ve thought about it some more – you might bring more voters into the competition by awarding public vote points to both poets based on the number of total public votes they bring in. You could almost even make a “maximum” amount of points one can receive from the public vote – that way the authors/poets who would like to participate, but feel as though their fan-base gives them an unfair advantage would be more comfortable participating knowing they can share their matchup as much as they want and it won’t blow their opponent out of the water because of it.

          I mean, depending on whether you do make a maximum, they may end up hitting the maximum every time… which would give them a slight advantage still – but the opportunity is still there for their opponent to gain more votes to equalize it, and doesn’t pretty much guarantee they win the public vote as it is before the matchup even begins. (some may not believe it, but some authletes are pretty much guaranteed the public vote just based on their following alone – more so in years past than this year.)

  • Ed DeCaria

    Kinda half-baked idea, but it’s interesting so I’ll share it in the raw:

    What if the Public Vote served a different purpose? Instead of playing a role in determining the winner of a given matchup, what if instead its role was to determine which matchups were featured/highlighted more prominently on the site, thus leading to more Classroom votes. It wouldn’t even need to be (and maybe shouldn’t even be) an authlete-vs-authlete vote, instead both authletes in a given pair would be working together to “compete” against the other matchups for pole position on a (yet non-existent) page that lists all of the matchups. Think of a site like Reddit, and imagine you see 32 Round One matchups all listed in rows — the ones with the most upvotes (as publicized by the authletes in that matchup and by anyone else who thinks that matchup is awesome) will appear nearest the top.

    Under such a plan, all forms of promotion would be welcome. Both poets in the match could shout “Vote for my matchup against XYZ so our poems will be read by more kids!” — a legitimate benefit and one in keeping with the spirit of the event.

    And then we’d simply replace the Public Vote with some other mechanism for determining a winner. And who knows? Maybe that mechanism could still be made to be “public” in a sense. Maybe we make people pass a poetry test or something, and anyone who does gets to vote in that more curated/pre-qualified public vote.

    Or maybe this is all a terrible idea and I’ll realize why in the morning …

  • Ed DeCaria

    Yes, finesse is the odd prompt out.