Official Rules


The Madness! 2012 event is designed to bring the excitement of the NCAA March Madness tournament to the world of children’s poetry. In total, 64 poets from around the world have joined the event; and together, by the end of this tournament, these poets will have written 126 new children’s poems in just 21 days!

The tournament is organized into four separate brackets of 16 poets.  Each bracket, or “region”, features eight seeded pairings: 16 vs. 1, 15 vs. 2, 14 vs. 3, 13 vs. 4, 12 vs. 5, 11 vs. 6, 10 vs. 7, and 9 vs. 8.

In the NCAA tournament, teams are seeded based on their performance over the season. However, in this tournament, seeds are not determined by participant skills or credentials in any way. Rather, seeds reflect the difficulty of writing kids’ poems on certain topics — certain WORDS to be precise. For example, words that I mentioned in a prior post (Top 10 Worst Poem Ideas For Kids) as being particularly challenging included turducken, defenestration, and lukewarm. These would get very poor seeds as a result. In contrast, words like, kissgreasy, or shower seem easier, and as such would get much better seeds.

In each round, two words of opposing difficulty will face each other in a prompted poem pairing. For example, 10-Turducken might be paired with 7-Shower, 13-Defenestration might be paired with 4-Greasy, and 16-Lukewarm might be paired with 1-Kiss.

All seeding and first round pairings are determined 100% randomly. The full tournament bracket was unveiled on “Selection Sunday” — March 11, 2012 — in a short video post. The video includes an as-it-happens view of the process used to slot each poet into one of the four regional brackets.

The full Madness! 2012 schedule, including a glance at the round-by-round writing windows and voting windows, is visible from the Live Scoreboard page.

Participant Rules and Guidelines

  • Each assigned word must be included somewhere within the body of the poem.
  • The assigned word must be used exactly as written — the poet cannot change the tense or form of the word.
  • No matter the difficulty, oddity, or seeming inappropriateness of the prompted word, poets must strive to write a poem that is appealing to kids. Assume a generic age target of 7-15 years old, but if your poem seems to lend itself better to an older or younger age or otherwise niche demographic, then state that in your poem title.
  • Give your poem a title.
  • The words Humor, Empathy, Logic, and Passion do not have anything to do with your assignment. They are merely the names of the four brackets (similar to East, West, etc. in the actual NCAA tournament) and used for organizational purposes.
  • Each pairing will be featured in its own post. Click here for an example (14-flibbertigibbet vs. 3-crunch).
  • The time stamp on each post will start a 36-hour writing window for that pairing.
  • The poet assigned each word can submit their poem in the comments section via e-mail (you all have my address) at any time. I will confirm your submission. There is no reason to rush to submit the poem early; voting will not begin nor will any bonus accumulate until the 36-hour period ends.
  • Supporting pictures, illustrations, and custom fonts are not allowed.
  • To provide some commonality between paired poems and to not overly burden participants or voters, poem length limits will be in place for each round. Rounds 1 and 2 = 8 lines maximum. Rounds 3 and 4 = 16 lines maximum. Rounds 5 and 6 = free form. These limits are not meant to restrict creativity, but to respect our readers, who are being asked to read, vote, and comment on LOTS of poems in a very short amount of time. If you have a poem that benefits from breaking up lines of verse into multiple horizontal lines, such that the poem effectively fits within the limit but visually exceeds it, then that is okay.

 Voter Rules and Guidelines

  • After 36 hours, if both poems have been submitted, I will publish both within the body of the post and open the live poll to voters. If only one poem has been submitted, the poll will remain closed (and the submitted poem hidden) until the other is submitted. The poem submitted on time will accumulate one bonus vote for every full hour that passes until the other poem is submitted.
  • Polls will be open for approximately 36 hours.  The time remaining to vote will be visible at all times in a countdown clock directly beneath the poll. Since there will be multiple matchups on a given day, polls will be staggered so that no two polls end at exactly the same time.
  • To vote, readers simply select their preferred poem from the pair of options presented, then click the “Submit Vote” button. Once submitted, votes cannot be changed.
  • Participating poets may vote for their own poem. Poets are also encouraged to help “get out the vote” to help promote kids’ poetry at large, as that is the goal of this event. However, participants are discouraged from using their individual platform to persuade their own fans to come to vote specifically for them. May the best prompted poems win!
  • Readers may only vote once; the system will “remember” your vote. Please do not log in from multiple devices to submit multiple votes for the same poem.
  • Voters can use whatever criteria they’d like when determining their preferred poem from each pair. As a random guideline, consider the criteria on which the contestants on the cooking show “Chopped” are evaluated: presentation, taste, and creativity. Translated roughly into poetry terms, presentation might include technical aspects such as meter, rhyme, form/shape, etc.; taste might be the net effect — did the poem move you to laugh, cry, think, kill, etc.; and creativity might include the poet’s approach toward a certain subject, image evocation, clever wordplay, etc.
  • Once a poll closes, the poem that received the higher number of votes wins. If exactly tied, voting will continue in successive 3-hour “overtime” periods until a winner is decided.
  • In addition to displaying the results on the scoreboard, I will tweet the results from @edecaria as they become final.

How It Ends

The winning poet from each pair will move on to the next round, where another word (of the same seed as their original word) awaits. The process above is repeated for each round until one poet is finally declared the winner! The winning poet will receive a copy of their choice of any book from the list of 2011 Cybils poetry category finalists, as well as any accolades that may come from winning this event.

But there’s one more thing. To lessen the blow of not winning, as each poet is bested (and remember, 98.4% of participants will eventually have one of their poems defeated), they will be awarded a consolation prize of sorts. The prize? The non-winners all become part of the process to select the words that will serve as prompts for the Final Four and ultimately the Finals.

I have to tell you, thinking of the words to use as poetry prompts in this tournament was by far the most fun part of hosting the event. The English language is fascinating, and exploring its crevices for occasionally-inappropriate-yet-strangely-playful words was a blast. (Ooh, “crevice” — I better write that one down for next year.)

So I want the non-winning participants to experience some of what I (and my family — with a special nod to my wife, brother, 9-year-old niece, and father-in-law) got to experience while preparing for this tournament. Here’s how:

  • The Round 1 non-winners (32 of you): You are at the top of the funnel. Submit any word that you think would make for a great poetry prompt for the Final Four or Finals. Note that the four semifinalists’ original seeds will be ignored for the last two rounds. Any word is fair game at that point.
  • The Round 2 non-winners (16 of you): Add to the pile. Submit any two words that you think would make for a great poetry prompt for the Final Four or Finals. Together with the Round 1 non-winners, that’s 64 words in the bank.
  • The Round 3 non-winners (8 of you): Narrow down the list to the words that you think would make for the best (most challenging? most fun? most shocking?) prompts. From the list provied, rank your top 5 words in order of preference, and the aggregate Top 12 words will be presented to …
  • The Round 4 non-winners (4 of you): You get to choose the word that will be assigned to the person that beat you to reach the Final Four.
  • The Round 5 non-winners (2 of you): Sweet justice. Like the person before you, you get to choose the word that will be assigned to the person that beat you to reach the Finals.
  • The Finals non-winner (1 of you): Oops! It looks like we’re all out of prizes.

Enjoy the madness!


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