“No excellent soul is exempt from a mixture of madness.” — Aristotle
Every March, like many Americans, I cannot help but get caught up in college basketball’s year end championship tournament. Even if I hadn’t paid a lick of attention all season, how can I not watch? It’s March Madness!!! (Sorry CBS, we’re never gonna call it March Mayhem.)
But as exciting as it is, the feeling is rather fleeting. My interest fades along with my bracket’s odds of winning, and dies with the final game’s final buzzer. To break this cycle, I need to channel my fascination with March Madness into something with a bit more permanency. A bit more … poetry.
For many Division I men’s basketball teams, just participating in the NCAA tournament is an accomplishment. Sure, there are inevitable complaints about seeding and slotting, and once they’re in, all teams turn toward winning; but simply “making the dance” is always cause for celebration.
So how do we capture that same spirit, that same energy, that same madness, and use it to celebrate the world of kids’ poetry? Simple. We pry open our notepads, put on a pot of coffee, and pound out 126 poems in 21 days!
In the month of March, I am proposing a friendly NCAA-style tournament for children’s poets.
Here’s how I envision the thing working:
- The tournament bracket will be organized in familiar fashion: pairing seeds 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.
- Seeds will not be determined by participant skills or credentials in any way. Rather, seeds will 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 as being particularly challenging included turducken, defenestration, and lukewarm. These would get very poor seeds as a result. In contrast, words like, kiss, greasy, or shower seem easier, and as such would get much better seeds.
- Two words of opposing difficulty would then 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.
- Each assigned word must be included somewhere within the body of the poem.
- On the first day of each round, I will publish a new post for each poetry pairing. The time stamp on each post will start a 72-hour clock for that pairing, during which all writing and voting will take place.
- Once the post is opened, the poet assigned each word can publish their poem in the comments section at any time. The first 36 hours are reserved for writing. After 36 hours, if both poems have been published, voting may begin. If only one poem has been published, that poem will accumulate one bonus vote for every full hour that passes until the other poem is published. Once both poems are published, readers vote anonymously with +1 buttons that will be provided in the comments.
- Voters can use whatever criteria they’d like when determining their preferred poem from each pair. As a random guideline, I’ll suggest using 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.
- Voting will remain open until the 72-hour clock stops. The poem that receives the most total votes wins. If exactly tied, voting will continue in successive 3-hour “overtime” periods until a winner is decided (it shouldn’t be too tough to round up a few stray voters in these rare cases).
- Both poems will then be moved into the main body of the post along with the final vote tally. The winning poet will move on to the next round, where another equally-seeded word awaits. The non-winner will be sent off with a warm round of virtual applause.
A few other points:
- Poets can sign up to participate any time through Friday, March 9, 2012.
- Participants may request a certain seed for the tournament, or leave it up to chance*.
- The full bracket, including all first round pairings, will be presented on “Selection Sunday” — March 11, 2012. The first round will begin the next day on Monday, March 12th. The event will continue for three weeks, ending April 2nd.
- 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 will feature very short poems: 1-5 lines. Rounds 3 and 4 will feature poems with a bit more weight: 6-16 lines. Rounds 5 and 6 will be free form.
Now, this all sounds nice and good, but I am conscious of the fact that I just started this blog four weeks ago, and that I don’t even know 64 children’s poets. However, I do know good children’s poetry, and I desperately want to see more of it in the world. So, to make this happen, I need your H.E.L.P.
Write kids’ poetry? Sign up today. Use comments, mailbox, or Twitter. Spots awarded on first come, first served basis.
Know a poet? Share this link. Encourage participation in your circle of influence.
Love kids’ poetry, but don’t write? Commit to vote. Or say “screw it” and sign up to participate anyways!
Have a suggestion? Comment below. I’m open to whatever ideas you may have to make this event even better.
If this event sputters and only 4 people participate, then we’ll cut the nets right away and congratulate the inaugural Final Four — while the event itself would be a bit lame, the world would still be up six original poems in six days. If we get more, great: 8 participants yields 14 poems, 16 participants yields 30 poems, 32 participants yields 62 poems, and a full tournament of 64 participants will introduce 126 new children’s poems to the world in three weeks. And we all get to have fun and enjoy each other’s company while doing it.
For poets interested in signing up, here are the entry qualifications:
1) You must be willing and able to “go public” with up to six original poems in three weeks, prompted by words assigned specifically to you based on your tournament seed.
2) You must accept that you probably won’t win, purely from a statistical perspective. Assuming full participation, the fact is that 98.4% of entrants will eventually have one of their poems get beat by another person’s poem. Half of all entrants will “lose” in the first round. But really, everybody wins … because we all get to read more poems!
3) You need not worry about copyright, redistribution, etc. Each poet retains full rights to their own work. (Whether you want it or not is a different matter.) The goal here is to spark creativity, have fun, and introduce a crazy number of new kids’ poems into the world in a very short time span. Nothing more.
As a small additional motivator to participate and in appreciation of your early support of Think Kid, Think!, the winning poet will receive a free copy of the 2011 Cybils poetry category award-winning book, which will be announced on February 14, 2012 at www.cybils.com. [EDIT: And the winner is ... Requiem: Poems of the Terezin Ghetto by Paul B. Janeczko (Candlewick Press). Since I know that this book may not be for everyone, the Madness! 2012 champion can choose from any of the Cybils poetry finalists. Offering a choice was probably a better idea to begin with anyways.]
Thank you in advance for anything that you can do to help make this event happen.
*Except where seeds have been specifically requested, all seeding and first round pairings will be 100% random. To be more specific, I will put all 64 participant names into an Excel worksheet, and use the =RAND() function to spit out a 9-digit number between 0 and 1 next to each name. I will then lock those numbers and sort them in ascending order, pairing each set of two owners successively as I go through the list. No judgment; no mercy. If you get paired against the ghost of Shel Silverstein (who is apparently still writing poems), well, good luck to you.
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