Madness! Poetry 2018 Recap

Madness Poetry 2018 Logo and Thinkier Trophy

Another year, another fantastic Madness! Poetry tournament is in the books! Here’s a brief recap of the event:

A New Champion
Again, as has happened every year (except the first year, when it was impossible), this year’s champion was a past non-winner who decided to give it another go … and swept her way through six rounds to the championship! I’m talking about Amelia Shearer, who dazzled students and fellow authletes with her wordplay throughout the event. My personal favorite was her Round 4 poem The Rules of Poetry …, which propelled her into the Final Four, after which she went on to defeat two very tough poets (Laura Purdie Salas and William Peery) to win the championship and possession of the Thinkier trophy. Congratulations, Amelia! Here’s a view of the complete bracket — which links you to the Bracket page (desktop only), from which you can click to view any matchup you want!


A Stable Platform
For those who remember, the early years of the event were very … manual. Every poem was submitted manually via email. Every matchup page was posted manually. Every poll was opened and closed manually. And on top of that the site would repeatedly crash at the end of close matches — it was crazy! So last year, I moved everything from Think, Kid, Think! to a dedicated site, which helped automate a lot of those manual steps, and everything worked much more automatically — except the new app still crashed far too often, and for even longer stretches of time than before! Well, I am happy to say that in 2018 everything ran extremely smoothly! Our users caught a few bugs here and there that were quickly fixed, but we had zero downtime during the event. Now I can focus on adding more fun features instead of just keeping the lights on. Yay!

Ups and Downs
I’ve been tracking participation closely since the event’s inception. It’s tough to make apples to apples comparisons since so much about the event changes every year, but a few things are straightforward to see:

  • Authlete participation remains as strong as ever. We continue to get a good mix of new (and talented!) applicants and repeat applicants. It’s especially great to see former authletes rejoin the event after a few years sitting it out. The Authletes who participated this year also voted at a higher rate than ever. Though our goal is of course 100% of authletes voting in 100% of matchups, this year’s average of 57.1 authlete votes per match across all rounds was the highest in Madness! history, and continues our steady upward trend since the authlete vote was introduced in 2014.
  • Our community continues to grow — this year saw over 4,200 comments, a 40% increase over last year. Community voting held steady (despite adding an extra layer of security — email verification) to the registration process. However, at only 72.4 community votes per match, we still need to find ways to spread the word to a wider audience.
  • Our classroom voting was unfortunately down quite a bit vs. 2017. Some of this is attributable to the horrid weather that resulted in snow days during several rounds, but still, the 20% drop in classroom votes was disheartening. If there is a single thing I can ask of everyone reading this post, it is to help drive teacher/classroom registration in 2019. We can easily support 10x — 100x! — the number of classrooms that we have now. It’s just a matter of increasing awareness and potentially adding some incentive to join. I’m open to all ideas!

The New Rules Rule
We made two significant changes to the rules this year: 1) both authletes in a given matchup receive the same word, and 2) the winner of the matchup is now determined by a weighted blend of all three voting categories. I think both of these changes worked out spectacularly well, and based on comments both on the site and in various back channels, it seems that most of this year’s participants agree.

What’s Next?
In terms of the event itself, I’ll continue to improve the site experience to make it that much easier for people to participate in and follow the event. I am also considering opening up what is currently the Authlete Vote to include all past authletes as well as current authletes, or even expanding the category to include other highly-regarded people in the industry (editors, agents, academics, etc.). I welcome all feedback on this idea or anything else about the event to improve the experience for all.

Beyond the event, I also have a few other ideas for how to keep the Madness! community alive during non-tournament time (let’s call that May through January). I’ll road test those as time allows later this year.

For now, I’ll end by saying THANK YOU for following both TKT and Madness! Poetry! Get ready for me to start posting a bit more frequently and casually here at TKT, whether it’s new poems, discussion starters, opinions on industry news, or whatever else.

Bye for now!


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  • Terri Cohlene

    Thanks for the recap, Ed. I thoroughly enjoyed participating in Madness again this year. I liked the changes you made, especially in assigning the same word to each matchup. What about the idea of making the vote “blind?” That is, keeping the poets’ profiles posted, but not identifying which poem is whose? Might be fun!

    Your idea of adding to the authlete vote category sounds good to me.

    Is there any way to know the demographic of the student pool? It would be helpful to know if our poems should appeal to the younger or older crowd.

    As for community votes, several people reported to me their frustration and abandonment of efforts. Is there any way of streamlining the process, or at least making it more clear?

    Thanks again for this exciting event and congratulations again, Amelia! I look forward to connecting throughout the year!

  • Heather Kinser

    Hi Ed. Thanks for the recap! And also, for being so dedicated to this project.

    I want to second some of Terri Cohlene’s astute comments. Knowing more about the demographic of the student pool would be great! There’s such a big gap between what might appeal to, say, a 2nd grader and what might appeal to a 7th grader. It would help poets to know a bit more about what age they’re writing to. Also, as Terri mentioned, registering and logging in was sometimes a glitchy process that could use a little smoothing out.

    I kind of like Terri’s idea of having a “blind” vote. At first I thought it was brilliant. But on further consideration, I worry it would deflate some of the pride and excitement participants feel at having their poems read and recognized–a huge benefit and reward for participants. Most of us are unknown and, I’ll speak for myself here, kind of craving attention for our under-appreciated poetic skills. It would be a bit of a bummer if no one knew which poem you wrote. (Still, a blind vote is a great idea for the overall fairness of the voting process.)

    I have one burning question I’d love clarified: Do we retain rights to try and re-publish our Madness poems? Or do you retain the rights, for a possible future collection? Thanks!

  • Savannah

    I love hearing this recap, Ed, thank you! This was my first year participating, and wow, was it superbly fun.

    I definitely like the idea of expanding awareness to more classes, parents, librarians, editors, publishers, poet laureates, etc., but I think the authletes should still have their own category. It’s neat to see how the other 63 of your Madness authlete “class” vote. Industry professionals could have their own category, or just pile on in with the community vote.

    Please, oh, please publish the poems! An annual anthology would be divine. Let me know if there is anything I can do to help.

    We can have an option to buy a marketing pack when we register: with a shirt, Madness info cards, bookmarks, stickers, posters, blog buttons, etc., to spread the word while the excitement is getting hot. Then we need a strategy for dovetailing perfectly into April Poetry Month promotions online and at schools and libraries.

    I’m excited for a way to keep in touch with our new authlete friends afterward, too, like a Madness forum or more interaction on the FB and Twitter pages.

    Basically, you’re a genius and keep up the great work! THANK YOU!

  • Mary Lee Hahn

    Having been there at the beginning (helping to drum up authletes via PF Roundup comments), I can only say, You’ve come a long way, TKT!! Huzzah for you and for continuing to grow this project!