Poets Are Out Of Touch And/Or Kids Don’t Have a Clue, Part 1

Last week, we wrapped up Year 3 of the March Madness Poetry tournament here at Think, Kid, Think!, with Samuel Kent’s brilliant “A Letter on Behalf of Ampersand” topping J. J. Close’s hilarious “A Penny For Your Thoughts” in the Public Vote 421-281, while the pair split the Authlete Vote (won by Mr. Kent 39-7) and the Classroom Vote (won by Mr. Close 17-6). These results mirrored a pattern that had emerged in Round 1 — frequent and sometimes severe discord between the Public Vote, the Authlete Vote, and the Classroom Vote.

Looking back at the results, in only one-third (21-of-63) of all matchups did a poem sweep the Public, Authlete, and Classroom votes. This means that a full two-thirds of all matchups (42-of-63) featured a split decision of some kind.

Of the 42 split votes, 11 of them featured what I’ll call a “surprise ending” — where an authlete saw themselves leading (or trailing) the Public Vote as time expired only to learn an instant later that BOTH the Authlete Vote and the Classroom Vote sided the other way than the public. Win or lose, I imagine that those were some pretty shocking moments for the 22 authletes who experienced them.

But if those 11 surprise endings were shocking in the moment, the other 31 matchups were shocking in a different and perhaps more significant way. Why? Because it means that in nearly half (31-of-63) of all #MMPoetry matchups, the authletes and the classrooms read the two poems presented and came to different conclusions about which one deserved to win. HALF OF ALL MATCHUPS! Moreover, in 20 of these 31 split contests, the Authlete Vote and/or the Classroom Vote ended in a landslide (where one authlete won at least two-thirds of the votes in that poll), meaning that the discord between the authletes and the classrooms was sometimes rather severe.

Questions for the community:

  1. What did YOU expect going into the event in terms of alignment between authletes and classrooms?
  2. What do YOU think contributed to the high frequency of split votes between authletes and classrooms?

All hypotheses welcome! Please comment below and share the post with others who you think might have an opinion. Next week, I’ll introduce some data to support or contradict your hypotheses.

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  • Julie Larios

    Wouldn’t we get the same results if poets and kids were choosing between Ogden Nash and Shakespeare (or Shel Silverstein and Robert Frost?) With the March Madness poems, a pattern emerged of kids liking rhyme, meter, scatology and surprise; authletes were more likely to factor in the challenge of an awkward word and the technical skill displayed when handling it. Wasn’t that a predictable result? The bigger challenge after a competitive poetry-writing experience might not be figuring out what fuels the difference between kids’ and poets’ taste in poems, but admitting how rapidly competition (or, better said, the desire to win) changes how we feel about the pleasure of writing. I’m not sure a heightened sense of competition with fellow artists is good for you (or for your art!)

    • Catherine Johnson

      I agree about the pleasure of writing which figures because I hate exams. I love the fascinating feedback. It’s great to find out first hand what kids like.

    • http://closejj.wix.com/meretricktheworm Josh Close

      I would have to refute that last statement for myself – this competition has been GREAT for my growth as a writer. Without it, I probably wouldn’t have wrote some of the poems I wrote – and the pressure of writing these poems has made me a better writer.

    • Quinette Cook

      Julie, so much of what you write makes great sense. However, I think the competition is a good thing. First, it gets some of us out of our comfort zone and forces us to write something. Second, the competition introduced (in my experience) poetry to people who might not have chosen to read it (some of my followers said they got hooked). And Finally, It created a great community. I wouldn’t have been introduced to so many talented writers like your self!

  • rjschechter

    I think there are at least two factors at work here. One is specific to the contest itself, and one is a general observation.

    First, the contest. There’s a huge difference between a poem that can be understood and appreciated by a six-year old, and one that typically requires the life experience and vocabulary of a twelve-year old. Poems that are written for younger age groups have a definite advantage in the voting because there are more potential voters for that poem, even if the other poem is clearly better for those old enough to read both.

    Second, a general observation. When the New York Times or Publishers Weekly reviews a book of children’s poetry, they hire an adult to write the review. When book publishers or Highlights for Children or Cricket or Ladybug evaluate poetry submissions, they use adult editors. While it’s superficially appealing and logical to say that the best judges of children’s poetry are children, it’s simply not true. Children are not literary critics and have not been exposed to enough poetry to know the good from the bad. An bad old joke that every adult has heard a thousand times may be a comedy revelation for a child, but the poem that tells it is still bad, and will be recognized as such even by the child when he or she grows up. It’s quite possible that a poem consisting of nothing but the word “fart” repeated 32 times in italicized capital letters and arranged in stanzas with exclamation marks could get enough of a reaction in a classroom to win the kid vote, but that doesn’t make it good poetry (which is what the rest of us are judging).

    I think we all know that the best children’s poetry are poems that a child will not grow out of when the child grows up, not poems that are good for a quick laugh today but which will seem merely juvenile and embarrassing in a couple of years from now when the child develops more judgment and discernment. In some cases, I believe, children who voted for one poem may well remember only the other a year from now, having voted for the giggle instead of the sigh, or having rewarded the instantly-accessible poem over the superior poem that may take a few more readings to sink in and do its magic.

    • Renee LaTulippe

      “having voted for the giggle instead of the sigh” – lovely!

    • Bonnie Bailey

      It all depends on how you define “good” and “best”. “Good” to a kid may be getting a laugh out of something one day when that kid is 6 years old. What’s wrong with that? I loved Little Debbie cakes when I was a kid; now not so much. But then and there, they were awesome and a real treat :) I loved building forts when I was a kid, now not so much. Are forts inferior to the recreation I like now? I think not, for a kid :)

      • Matt Forrest

        One should never grow too old to not enjoy building a fort. ;)

        • Bonnie Bailey

          Agreed! :)

    • Mary Lee Hahn

      Fascinating conversation. Ed, I was SO glad you added a separate kid vote. It made my students take the whole thing more seriously — their vote MATTERED. And just for the record, they were OFFENDED by the poets who seemed to go for the kid vote with farts and butts and such.

    • http://www.glosonblog.com Gloson

      Great comment. Gives me an idea though.

      FART FART !! FART!
      FART FART!!
      FART!! FART
      FART FART!!!

      • http://www.thinkkidthink.com/ Ed DeCaria

        Fartfully done, Gloson.

      • rjschechter

        That poem’s a real gas!

    • Emily Dickinson

      One children’s poem that I will never grow out of is “The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat.” As a child I often went to sleep wondering about “they ate each other up.” And now, as an adult, it’s still a profound mystery worthy of pondering on those sleepless nights.

  • Matt Forrest

    While I can’t help but echo the sentiments of my two writer friends, I’d also like to share a thought. As Robert said, children know what they like, but can’t differentiate between what’s good and bad. If a child prefers candy instead of spinach, do we declare that candy is better? Lee Bennett Hopkins once told me he surmised that children would probably love cocaine if you gave it to them…so their opinion of what’s good and bad, while important to understand, is not something upon which we should base our standards. It’s our duty as purveyors of what kids are consuming to provide them poetry that is of the highest quality – whether they realize it or not.

  • Michelle Heidenrich Barnes

    Kids deserve to have a voice in this tournament, absolutely, but it’s no surprise to me that their opinions might differ from that of the authletes. Besides what has already been said here, it seems to me, given the nature of the vocabulary authletes are working with, the kids are going to vote for what they understand or what is familiar to them, even if the quality of that poem is inferior. Even I had trouble following along with some of the longer poems, so of course many of the younger kids are going to be on the lookout for some kind of hook to latch on to.

  • Ryan Stockton

    rjschechter and Matt Forrest- right on the money. I won’t even add anything else because I couldn’t say it better than you guys.

    • Matt Forrest

      Why thank you, Ryan, I appreciate that.

    • Renee LaTulippe

      Ditto what Ryan said, only add Julie and Michelle too. Well said, all!

  • Bonnie Bailey

    I get the comments here, but (having a small child) I wonder what’s better, that she understand and have fun with a poem now, or 20 years from now, when she likely will not be reading children’s poetry. We don’t force-feed fine art or music to kids and expect them to appreciate it more than something goofy – we let them enjoy the silly songs, the silly art. That’s the great thing about being a kid. I mean, come on, did you like spinach when you were a kid?! :) I think that was the confusing part of this competition for me. It’s really all about how you look at it – are you looking at it as a fun contest for kid’s poetry, or something else? There’s plenty of time to appreciate what we consider “fine” down the road. Kids should be allowed to enjoy what they enjoy, and the poets here who wrote poems specifically for kids to enjoy shouldn’t be voted down because of the lack of “refinement”. We should be content to make the real intended audience happy: kids, not us.

    • rjschechter

      Bonnie, no one is suggesting that it’s okay if a kid doesn’t like a poem at all. The idea is that the best children’s poems are poems the child will not grow out of. What could be better than a poem a child loves as a child and still loves as an adult and remembers and wants to read to his or her own child and have both of them love the poem at the same time and share the experience and pass it along?

      Just because a poem lost the children’s vote doesn’t mean the children didn’t like it or enjoy it. They might have liked it very much, but voted for the other because they liked it better on the day that they all read it in the classroom. As they get older, though, they may find the poem that they liked and didn’t vote for is the poem that stays with them. Personally, I loved Dr Seuss when I was a child but I love him even more as an adult, and that’s the reaction that I (perhaps vainly) aspire to in writing my own verse.

      • Bonnie Bailey

        Definitely, a poem that appealed to everyone of all ages would be ideal :) But many of the poems would require kids “growing into” them as they age, rather than ever being able to appreciate them as kids. That seems to defeat the purpose.

        • Buffy Silverman

          If I’m remembering correctly, poems were supposed to be written for kids 7-12 years old, and marked if the intended audience was slightly older or younger. I don’t think any of the poems from this year’s contest were too difficult for 11-12 year olds.

          • http://www.thinkkidthink.com/ Ed DeCaria

            The general guidance was 7-15 years old, where a given poem is not expected to resonate to that ENTIRE spectrum but some part of it. So some poems may be more geared toward 7-9yo’s, others to 10-12yo’s, and others to 13-15yo’s. I had considered asking authletes to self-designate the age target for their poem upon submission, but decided that I could not yet take on the extra step of managing that input stream, presenting the information, and most of all “doing something” with that information vis-a-vis the classroom vote. I will think more about how to work in the concept of age appropriateness next year.

            • rjschechter

              Another way of saying what I’ve been trying to say is that the best poems “for” a 7-year old (to give an example) are only “for” a 7-year old in the sense that there’s nothing in them that a 7-year old cannot process because of life experience and complexity. This does not mean that the poem cannot *also* be “for” older readers, and I still maintain that our goal as children’s poets should be to write poems that will be enjoyed by the target age and everyone above it, right to adulthood. Bonnie says that 20 years from now her child will likely not be reading children’s poetry, but I don’t accept that. I agree that she won’t be reading children’s poetry if the kind of poetry we’re talking about is poetry written exclusively for children, but if we aim a bit higher and try to write really good poems that happen to be accessible to children as well as enjoyable for adults, rather than poems that are only meaningful to children, there’s no reason anyone has to outgrow the poems of their childhood. My own goal as a writer of children’s poems (which I have never achieved) is to write truly great and timeless poems that will be cherished by people of all ages for centuries to come, and I’m not much interested in poems whose only ambition is to patronize a given age group for a brief moment in time when they are at a certain age.

  • Molly

    Thank you for taking on the additional work of adding 2 voting categories. I was very pleased that you added the classroom vote. Since the contest is about poetry for kids, I believe that their vote was invaluable in determining the winner. Once the field was cut to 16, I frequently read the comments, and came away with the impression that a lot of the poets know each other. That could be a factor that would influence their votes. Or not…

    • Bonnie Bailey

      I agree – it almost seemed like to make the votes fair, the authors’ identities needed to be masked.

      • Molly

        What a great idea!

      • rjschechter

        It would be hard to keep poets from telling their friends and colleagues who they are and soliciting their votes.

    • Michelle Heidenrich Barnes

      Speaking for myself as an authlete: yes, I knew many of the participating poets, but I have too much integrity and love for children’s poetry as a genre, to let who I knew in each match make a difference in my voting. For me, and maybe I’m naive, but I strongly believe that’s what made the authlete vote different from the public vote. I don’t know if that’s the same for everyone.

    • Buffy Silverman

      Last year was the first year I participated in MM Poetry. By the time the field was cut to 16, I felt like I “knew” the remaining poets from reading their work and their comments. To me one of the benefits of the competition is to build a community of poets.

  • http://motherstreusel.com/ Mother Streusel

    A lot of people are not that into poetry. The classroom vote is going to represent that more accurately. People who are not drawn to poetry are more likely to appreciate a poem that is something they already like (like perhaps a story or a joke) in poetic form. And they are more likely to prefer a poem that doesn’t make them work hard to enjoy it.
    Authletes are more likely to be poetry lovers. Ever watch figure skating and think someone did great only to have it picked apart by the judges? Or think someone wasn’t that great only to discover it gets a great score? Being really into something makes people view it differently.

    • Bonnie Bailey

      Good point!

  • Lori Degman

    I agree with Molly – I’m glad you added the two additional categories and I really appreciate all the hard work you put into it, Ed! As one of the authletes, the classroom vote was most important to me because I write for kids and that would mean they enjoyed my poem. I wanted to win the authlete vote for validation that I wrote a quality poem. I had expected the classroom and authlete votes to mirror each other – and of course, I expected to win both categories each round :-) Seriously though – I thought, if the poem was a favorite with kids, the other authletes would recognize the kid appeal and vote for it for that reason. When I voted as an authlete, I voted for the poem I thought was best for kids.

    To me, the popular vote is just that – a popularity contest – who can get more of their friends to spread the word and vote for you. I’m sure not all the popular votes were just “robo-votes” but I know a lot were – I had friends asking friends asking friends . . . and I’m sure many of them voted for me without having read my poems.

    • Michelle Heidenrich Barnes

      I totally agree, Lori, that it was important to vote for poems that had great kid appeal, and likewise, for authletes to recognize that kids were their target audience; but for me, if both poems had at least some kid appeal, I was going to vote for the one that put the best face forward in terms of being a “quality” children’s poem. Like you, I was striving for both the classroom and authlete vote, and didn’t care at all about the popular vote. If this contest was just about giving kids a good giggle, it would have been easy to vote, but for me there was often a difference between which I thought was “best for kids” vs. which poem I projected the kids would vote for.

  • Laura Purdie Salas

    I agree with many of the thoughts already expressed. I’ll add that I think competition is fun, as long as nobody takes it too seriously! And my main impression is just that the Classroom Vote measures kid appeal, not poem quality. That’s not to downplay kid appeal–I think that is a definite *part* of writing great poems, and as a poet, it’s really useful feedback to learn from. I really like that you added the new voting dimensions this year. OK, that’s as coherent as I can get this morning:>)

  • http://motherstreusel.com/ Mother Streusel

    I learned from this competition, having won more classroom votes than Authlete votes, that I need to work on my craftsmanship. I learned from badly losing a classroom vote in the first round, that I needed to temper my content for the right age group. Fifth and Sixth graders don’t like babyish things.
    I think the best children’s poetry is both entertaining and well-crafted. Seuss, Prelutsky. I think we have learned from this competition that if they can’t have both, children will usually prefer content and enjoyment over craftsmanship.

  • Skila Brown

    Ed, I’ve followed (and voted) in this competition since its inception. I’ll weigh in here as a former classroom teacher who is now homeschooling my kids (and who watched them participate in the classroom vote this year.) Content trumps everything. Kids are drawn to the story the poem is telling, the subject matter of the poem, what the poem is about. They will vote on a poem that’s about dogs if they love dogs, even if the other poem was “better” from a meter/structure/etc. perspective. I don’t think even a teacher in an older classroom (say middle school or high school) could really convince a group of kids to vote without content in mind. Content just wins every time.

    Clearly the poems that had a real kid-appeal element (mentioning a superhero or a pet or bathroom humor) have an advantage, especially with boys. But also what I saw this time around was that incorporating a challenging vocabulary word also had an impact. The poems that explained the word seemed to stand a better chance. There were a few poems that seemed to play off the difficulty of the word by incorporating lots more challenging vocab words and that lost its audience. I love the idea of introducing new words to kids in poems. But in my experience, too many new words causes the kids to lose interest. It’s too hard to decipher the meaning of the poem.

    I, for one, really like how you structured it this year and it feels like the fairest way it could be done. If these are truly meant to be poems for kids, then we need to give them an equal voice in determining the winners. And I think the lesson to be learned from that for poets is that content is very, very important.

    • Victoria Warneck

      I did not see this until after I posted — great comments! Interesting to see how the vocabulary choices played out in the classroom.

    • Anna Jordan (Boll)

      This data is so interesting, Ed and I loved the three voting groups this year. Totally agree with Skila’s content vs. form/poetic mastery discussion as well as the meaning/vocab issue. Many poems required that i go look up a word to see if the poet’s use was literal or comic. That extra step could be frustrating for younger readers.

    • http://motherstreusel.com/ Mother Streusel

      This is my favorite comment on this post. I heartily agree.

  • Victoria Warneck

    I have a comment on this topic under Ed’s earlier post, “What Did We Learn From The First Four Rounds”. The nutshell version is that connecting with our audience is more complex than prevailing in a kid popularity contest. Those poems that lost the classroom vote *still* resonated with a significant fraction of students (indeed, they almost certainly a won a higher % of votes than could be captured in our winner-take-all reporting system).

    Our voting system also does not measure the magnitude of impact — a poem with a smaller following might make a deep and lasting difference for a few. I suspect that many of us would rather write that poem!

    A few other quick thoughts:

    (1) The Authlete-Classroom gap may well have been exacerbated by the Authletes’ awareness of the other two votes. Given a difficult choice between two excellent poems, some may have voted for the poem that would clearly lose either the popular or classroom vote?

    (2) Kids sided with some predictable topics. All things equal, though, I thought they were quite frequently drawn to STORY.

    (3) It could be very interesting to proscribe certain topics next time around — not because they are inappropriate, but because taking a few now-obvious choices off the table would require Authletes to stretch more and come up with more creative ways of winning over the classroom vote.

  • Carrie Finison

    I agree with Skila and Victoria – it seemed to me that kids were voting on concept/idea, rather than technical quality. So a poem with a fun or captivating or simply more age-appropriate idea could win out over a poem of great technical quality with a less-engaging idea (less engaging to kids of that age group, I mean). I didn’t find that too surprising.

  • http://closejj.wix.com/meretricktheworm Josh Close

    The disparity between the classroom and authlete vote could be combated with the addition of 2-4 more votes an authlete needs to win. As many have said, kids will vote for whichever topic resonates most with them. If a 4th grade girl LOVES horses (I notice that many do – at least in my area), they are more apt (probably guaranteed) to vote for a poem about horses, or even that mentions horses. Potty humor is the same way – kids, both boys AND girls, respond to potty humor. I’d be surprised if a potty humor poem lost it’s matchup vs a non-potty humor poem in the kids vote. I wrote my potty humor poem with the belief BJ Lee would write one given her word (incontinent) – with the addition of the classroom vote, I hadn’t intended on writing a potty humor poem at all. However potty humor, while likely to guarantee a win in the classroom vote, is likely to guarantee a loss in the authlete vote. (depending on each poem obviously)

    Adding 2-4 more votes would be as simple (idk, maybe complex) as adding 2-4 single person judges who range in their bias towards particular poems. Maybe these judges could be authors/poets who may be too nervous to enter the competition because of their large following – or authors/poets who just don’t have time to participate this year, but will not be bias. Maybe one of the judges could be an elementary student (not sure how that could work, but an idea) – and maybe one could be high school aged. Either way, the more voting categories that are added increases the chance that the BEST kids poem will move on.

    As of right now – the public vote is really nothing more than who can command the most shares among friends. When this tournament gets bigger, the public vote might become more decisive.

    The authlete vote may hold some bias. I get the feeling that some authletes will lean towards a friend in a close matchup – given that many authletes are part of a circle. There also might be authletes looking forward in the tournament and voting against someone they just do not want to face later on. I, personally, didn’t do this – but did lean towards voting against a person I didn’t want to face if the poems were too close to decide. Authletes vote more towards meter and structure rather than content of the poem.

    The classroom vote had the bias eliminated by disallowing classrooms affiliated with certain voters to vote on their matchups – (would be much more difficult to disallow authletes from voting for fellow authletes if they are close outside of the tournament, but a thought.) Like I stated above, classrooms tend to lean towards content and humor rather than structure and meter.

    Authletes – meter/structure
    Classrooms – content/humor

    That’s why there have been large disparities. Likely, in many of the matchups that poet won both the classroom AND authlete – the authlete probably wrote a well structured kid friendly poem, etc. In a vote where both categories were close, both authletes likely wrote well structured kid friendly poems.

    If authletes in this competition would tell themselves, or even be pressured to, attempt to write a poem that will win both votes (rather than shooting for one of the categories in particular), there may be less disparity. So, I’d go as far as outlawing potty humor for a start, lol. I think it may be that many authletes are starting their poem with the question… okay, how do I win the authlete vote? That’s the question we don’t want authletes to be asking.

    it seems as though the most important vote is the kids vote, since we are writing poems for kids and we want the poetry to resonate with kids. I understand all of the “kids will understand this poetry in future years, it’s good to expose them to it now,” however, MANY of these kids will not be reading much poetry as they get older. The older they get, the less poetry they will read – unless they develop a passion for writing it, etc. THUS, it is VERY important that kids read poetry that resonates with them in content, humor, meter – NOW, while they are young. IF these kids are exposed to poetry that resonates with them NOW, they are more likely to grow up with the love of poetry regardless of how metrical or structured or intelligent a poem was that they read. If they do not like a poem, as a kid, they are more apt to say “I don’t like poetry” and grow up “not liking poetry.” So while the intent is good, to write UP to kids using high vocabulary – it is probably best to not let the tone of the poem come off as adult or a kid may not understand it. If they don’t understand it, they may decide they don’t understand poetry.

    I probably could say more, but I’ve written enough already! So will end here. :)


    • Molly

      Wow JJ – long discourse.
      I do agree that writing poems that they like and understand now, in order to foster a love of poetry, is of utmost importance.

    • Bonnie Bailey

      Couldn’t agree more with what you’ve said here, JJ – you said it better than I ever could.

  • http://closejj.wix.com/meretricktheworm Josh Close

    One thing that COULD be done to lessen the impact of the public vote even more, and up the impact of each individual authlete and classroom vote would be to give a certain amount of points per percentage… So, let’s say 24 classrooms vote – 1 authlete takes 14, the other takes 10. (or do it by classroom size weight) 58% and 42%… the authlete that took 58% would get something like 5.8 points. 1 point for each 10% of the vote. So someone could unanimously win the classroom vote and get 10 points out of it. Same with the authlete vote. I’d say that if this is implemented, make public vote get 1 point per 100 votes or something… or even just 2-3 points for winning it.

    That way, more impact is put on the authlete and classroom votes – which are the more important votes IMO.

    This way, someone could lose the public vote, and the authlete vote by a hair, but still have a chance to win overall if their classroom vote disparity is high enough. This would eliminate any matchup that was decided by someones following and 1-5 authlete or 1-5 classroom votes.

    • rjschechter

      Or maybe the authlete and classroom could be lumped together, with each classroom counting as a single authlete? And/or, as I’ve suggested before, I think all former authletes should get to vote as authletes in all competitions moving forward. This would increase the number authlete votes and over time might reduce the number of authletes who know each other and therefore might possibly have a personal bias which could affect their vote in a close match-up.

  • BJ Lee

    One thing I’d like to add is that it is very difficult to write a kid-friendly poem with the very advanced words that are given, and I was confused about what age groups the classroom vote consisted of. I think this competition is very difficult because most of the words given are so difficult and wouldn’t necessarily be new vocabulary introduced in the classroom to younger children. Being seeded a 15, I had one word I had never heard of – fungible – and another word – pseudonymous – which I couldn’t pronounce correctly and, therefore, kept getting my meter wrong. And I’m wondering if the difficulty of the words isn’t somehow at odds with writing poetry for young children. Because of this, I applaud every single authlete who participated for being able to come up with children-appropriate poems given the difficulty of the words. Personally, I never ‘wrote’ to try to win a particular vote, public, classroom, or authlete. I was just happy if I could come up with something child-appropriate in the time allowed and stay true to who I am as a poet. I managed to do that for five rounds so I was happy. In the end, though, when looking at the voting outcome, the authlete vote was always most important to me. I lost the classroom vote in every round but one, I believe, and I attribute that to the kind of poet I am – more interested in classic poetry and beautiful poetry than giggle poetry and potty humor, not that I can’t write a humorous poem as well. Other children’s poets go more for the joke every time and I think there is room for every kind of children’s poet in this competition and in the world as well, and I think we all did a smashing job! By the way, I see this dichotomy in my poetry crit group as well. It all boils down to who you are as a poet, what has influenced you to write what you do, what kind of poetry your parents read to you or that you favored yourself growing up, and countless other factors. I realize the second half of this post may be off topic, but just wanted to say it. :)

    • Bonnie Bailey

      Those were some seriously *serious* words, BJ. I really pitied you getting those :)

      • BJ Lee

        Thanks Bonnie! In the end, though, I enjoyed the challenge of writing with these difficult words.

  • Buffy Silverman

    I’m going to echo what Laura said–to not take the competition or the voting too seriously! I’m glad that Ed added the classroom vote because I love the idea of teachers taking the time to have kids read and think about the poems. I’m sure that the poem that a classroom chose depended on many factors other than what we as adult poetry-lovers might deem as the quality of the poem, so it in no way surprises me that there was often a disconnect between the two votes.

    For me, this competition was an opportunity to write some poems that I would not otherwise have written and to have others read my work. I’m grateful to Ed for that opportunity. It did not occur to me to consider what might win the most votes when I wrote for the competition–I’m drawn to writing about the natural world, and that’s what I wrote about in all my MM Poems. I’m pretty sure I lost the classroom vote in all of my rounds–but I don’t think that says anything about the value of my poems, or whether they would appeal to nature-loving kids.

  • Janet F.

    I posted this early on FB this morning. Have not read the comments yet and am looking forward to this discussion.
    It is not a surprise to me at all. Think of biology and psychology. A baby’s first smile. Theorist and prolific author of classics like Schools Without Failure and The Quality School, William Glasser, psychiatrist, explains our 5 basic needs as humans in his Choice Theory to explain human learning and life. Everything we do is our way to meet our 5 basic needs: survival needs, love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun. You should read his excellent work for complete details. Choice theory works for us all. So kids….they love to laugh…remember its the best medicine. They love “knock knock” jokes. In school, in many classrooms children can not meet all of their needs which operate simultaneously. Often fun is missing. School can sadly be too hard, too boring, and the child too distracted focusing on friendship problems. Glasser claims that 20% of children manage to meet their needs in school. He proscribes the antidote in his book The Quality School Teacher. Now the question of kids and poetry that is more fun versus perhaps those others consider more artful. Kids love humor and the silly. Love riddles. Things that make them smile help them feel good and happy. As kids mature their needs stay the same but the interplay can shift. I know kids can respond to and appreciate artful and mature poems, but given a choice between the two will go with their natural need for fun. It’s like candy. They often crave it but we don’t feed it to them for dinner. If we all write only fun poetry after a while kids may get enough of it ie their fill and then what? On the other hand kids are sometimes not ready to step back and analyze a more artful poem. Yet. But they can appreciate and learn from poems. Especially if they savor them, return to read them and maybe learn some by heart. Its the forced choice dichotomy of a contest and I would caution against conclusion-making from correlation. That does not determine causation.. Conversely I as a child could not bear to watch Lassie….too sad. Could not bear the music and had to be in another room with two doors closed, so truly moving poems need careful shares for tender hearts. And it is also important to consider the circumstances, the peers and the discussions around voting. Kids want to belong so their choice can be influenced by others in a classroom setting. After 43 years with elementary kids I have gained some wisdom. My biggest thrill though is how much kids love poetry in general. And reciting, writing and performing it along with reading and hearing it.
    Janet F. aka Janet Clare on FB

  • Debra Shumaker

    What an interesting discussion here! I can’t think of anything new to add, but just wanted to say that I liked the addition of the authlete and classroom votes, especially the classroom vote – what a fabulous way to get more kids reading poetry. Thanks for running the show Ed!

  • Greg Pincus

    The vote dichotomy is not a surprise at all to me… and I think both parts of your post title are incorrect. Let’s re-frame it – was the vote to pick the poem that you thought would appeal most to another audience or was it to vote for the one that you felt offered YOU the most satisfaction on YOUR terms. Why wouldn’t those results be different – tastes change, the things we look at change, etc. Maybe next year add a category for the authletes to vote on which poem they think will win the classroom vote – I bet they’d be right a huge percentage of the time. Your headline might draw a false equivalency, you dirty poet rascal you! :-)

    • http://www.thinkkidthink.com/ Ed DeCaria

      I’ve been intentionally silent in the comments section, but wanted to chime in quickly in response to Greg’s comment to state clearly that my headline is deliberately provocative and I don’t really think either statement is true.

      As you were.


  • Angie Karcher

    I personally was honored to participate, thrilled with my (13) word CARNIVOROUS and feel I wrote the best poem I could with what time and word challenges I was given. I went out in the first round…

    I lost in an “American Idol” style, voting phone-a-friend moment where I’d been leading the public vote by nearly 40 votes for 2 days and lost in the last 10 minutes by over 80 votes…it was stinging as I had no idea that this was THAT type of contest…thought it would be a bit more dignified. Someone, and I’m NOT AT ALL saying it was my opponent, who was very gracious, planned to take me out gangsta style! I did feel injured for a few days after the contest and still limp a little bit…LOL Ed was wonderfully apologetic at the way it had ended and spent several hours trying to get to the bottom of it. It certainly wasn’t his fault! He said this has happened a handful of times.

    I don’t blame anyone, I was just disappointed, as it was the public vote and all’s fair in love and poetry! Would I do it all again? In a heartbeat!

    I did sweepingly win the Authletes vote but lost the classroom vote sweepingly. I do feel my poem was middle school age kid friendly but my opponents poem, which I loved, had a younger kid appeal than mine.

    The only reason I mention this at all is to let potential Authletes know to hang on to your hat and be prepared for anything!

    I do wonder if it would make things more interesting to give both Authletes the same word, whatever level of difficulty that is. As I said I loved my difficult word and it’s challenges!

    I also think that having different age group categories to write for would be beneficial for the kids and the poets.
    For example:
    Group 1- Kindergarten to grade 3
    Group 2 – grade 4 to grade 8
    Group 3 – High school

    3 categories randomly assigned age groups along with the randomly assigned words. I know logistically, this would take some organizing but it would help Authletes create the best poems for their target age. Maybe the first round is targeted to group 1, then round 2 is target to the 2nd age group and so on…the more classrooms participating, the easier it would to incorporate this. Any author must know his audience and write to that age group, I don’t think poetry is any different.

    You could also choose more age appropriate words if divided this way…I’m a teacher so I’m all for challenging kids…don’t get me wrong!

    Maybe these suggestions go against the initial concept of the MM Tournament and as this was my first year to be involved, I completely understand the desire to stay true to the concept of March Madness and all it’s craziness! I’m fine with that! = )

    One last thing…I am overwhelmingly impressed with how much time, effort and love of poetry went into this event, both on Ed’s part and on behalf of the Authletes and classroom teachers! It is truly a labor of love and I am so appreciative to have been a part of it! Poetry wins! Thank you Ed!


    • Lynn Ward-Author

      Hi Angie,
      I think you made some really great suggestions there. I congratulate Ed again on the hard work he has done, but I do wonder if putting your ideas into practice may make the project even better. I know the aim of the comp is to produce loads of great kids’ poetry and it has certainly achieved that aim, but I think a side benefit of participating is learning more about what appeals to kids so we, as poets, can incorporate that into our work and hopefully reach a broader audience. With that in mind, might I venture to suggest that having only a Classroom Vote and an Authlete Vote on each poem might still achieve both aims? There would still be a huge number of wonderful new poems, and the Authletes would get feedback on both technical skill (Authlete vote) and kid-appeal (Classroom vote). Not sure how this would go over with those poets who resoundingly won the Public Vote though. :(
      Thanks so much again Ed for the great opportunity to participate.

      • Greg Pincus

        I’d just chime in and say that without the public vote, I’d think the contest would wither on the vine. It’s the greatest part of doing something on the internet – the full interaction, the rooting interest, the fun of it all, the building of an inclusive community (warts (or votes without reading the poems) and all) rather than a limited one. The Madness isn’t about improving our skills, at least not to me. It’s about spreading poetry – talking poetry, sharing poetry, bragging poetry, and breathing poetry as widely and as loudly as possible. Can’t do that with limitations, I don’t think. Different contest, maybe?

  • Robyn Hood Black

    Hi, Ed – thanks for linking up with Poetry Friday today and for inviting feedback. A very lively discussion over here, sure to spur on further conversations! I do think it’s important to offer kids the very best poetry we can possibly write, and in many cases they’ll actually like it, too, if we make it accessible. Classics are often classic for a reason – they hold up for generations.

  • Rebekah Hoeft

    Love this contest! Love that it has the three voting components, love that upsets can happen, love that kids, parents, and teachers I know are now interested in poetry. Love that it spurred at least this wannabe poet into action…and all for the glorious prize of a broken trophy!

    I have had friends suggest that each pairing should be given the same word, to make the poems more equal, and I thought I agreed. But after reading through the comments, I am not sure that would be the “fix.” The seeding you are assigned doesn’t seem to reflect how far you will go in this contest (I am sure Ed has a stat for that). Some authletes are going to write about farts, some are going to write about animals, some are going to tell great stories…we are all as varied in abilities and in styles and in interests as the people we write for.

    Bottom line for me is that it was amazingly fun, even after I lost to the talented Lori Degman. Stressful, stomach-churning, nail-biting, fun. If we need analysis about why classes voted a certain way, we could request that teachers comment. If my vote counts for anything, Ed, keep the contest as is!

    • Rebekah Hoeft

      Jane Yolen said it right. We ARE a wordy lot. (:

    • Rebekah Hoeft

      Realized after I posted that I didn’t actually answer Ed’s questions! Derailed by the comment section! (:

      I was not shocked by the gap between authlete and classroom votes. Grownups have different tastes…even when I am writing for kids, I really am writing to make myself (a grownup?!) happy.

  • Mary Lee Hahn

    (oops. accidentally posted this down below as a reply, but it’s not a reply)

    Fascinating conversation. Ed, I was SO glad you added a separate kid vote. It made my students take the whole thing more seriously — their vote MATTERED. And just for the record, they were OFFENDED by the poets who seemed to go for the kid vote with farts and butts and such.

    • http://closejj.wix.com/meretricktheworm Josh Close

      Were there more potty humor poems than the one I wrote? I don’t remember… I think Sam wrote one early round. They were offended by my tootie bootie? ;)

  • Quinette Cook

    Ed, I loved the format and enjoyed the surprise endings (even when I lost).

  • rjschechter

    Something else occurs to me about the classroom vote. Many of the kids voting in the classroom vote are not particularly interested in or entertained by poetry of any kind, but they are voting because their teacher agreed to have the class participate. These are kids who would never ask their parents to buy them a poetry book, whose parents don’t buy poetry books, and who are not more interested in poetry just because it’s been assigned than they are in any other school subject. I imagine that the kid vote in some cases would have been different if the vote had somehow been limited to kids who actually read and enjoy poetry, seek it out at the library, receive poetry books as gifts from involved parents, etc. Among the children I have known, some of them are completely into poetry in a natural way (my niece, for example, started memorizing Shel Silverstein poems when she was six) and others couldn’t care less. Yet in the vote as it’s now structured, their votes count equally. No one would ever suppose that a poem for adults should be judged by asking the opinion of a random sampling of adults, as opposed to a sampling of adults who actually appreciate and enjoy poetry in general, and I suspect that the inclusiveness of letting/forcing all kids to vote introduces a similar distortion. The idea that merely being a kid makes you a competent judge of children’s literature is no more true than the idea that merely being an adult makes you a competent judge of adult literature. (And, of course, more adults prefer reading trash to literature, so we know in that context that the best works don’t win undifferentiated votes among all “adults,” I would suppose the same is true of children’s literature, that there are certain kinds of trashy children’s poems that would be more popular among a general population of children than among the more discerning, literature-loving children).

    • Janet F.

      I do think the beauty of the system at this point is the idea of some kind of “balance”. Just as there is a place for all different kinds of poems, there is a place here for all kinds of people to experience poetry on their own level. I do think the issue with people voting just for their friend without even reading the poem or trying to react in a neutral way can change things. Though I don’t know how that can change or be controlled. But I agree with what Greg wrote above about spreading poetry and interest in poetry and getting kids to learn some new words along the way or at least be exposed to them. We can analyze all we want but we would need trends over time to really “know” and then , I ask, “so what”? In a few short weeks there are 128 new poems created, some we will love others, like, and some not enjoy too much, but another might have the opposite reaction. That’s life. This is all subjective and fun as it should be. I do believe though that if we take the message that kids really just want the silly poems, we are missing the mark. They can appreciate the artful poems but when there is a vote for their “favorite” of the minute, many will go with the one they can relate to and enjoy or laugh at/with. So having all 3 votes is a good idea. Maybe Ed and others could find ways to adjust the percentages/weights of votes etc. or maybe have two contests or in different rounds ie the artful league and the humor league. Poets could be randomly assigned so some might find themselves trying something outside their comfort zone. But that is another part of the beauty of MMPoetry. That pressure to produce in a short time period. And the poets don’t disappoint. I felt that the words were more in synch with kids this time and kids spans a wide age range. I believe all poets are writing the best poem they can. And I think that a poet needs to try hard not to worry about how they do in the contest, easy to say, hard to do, I know. I think the poets should attempt to write the best poem they can and let the votes fall where they will. But that may be too naïve. I just think we can’t draw conclusions from the data, interesting to some as it may be. The variables are too many and unable to be controlled and heck…this is poetry. It is designed to be open-ended and interpreted. Also I think kids will appreciate word play a lot. They love tongue twisters!

  • Samuel Kent

    I recognize the incendiary “poets out of touch” as something I said myself in one of the rounds. I suspect that outside of the competition, most of us are well in touch with our readership. The challenges of time, line count, and vocabulary constraints mean that we’re forced to write outside of our typical style and comfort areas. For me, the poems I wrote in this competition are – for the most part – much more challenging than I write for my sons or that I share with students at poetry readings.

    1) What did YOU expect going into the event in terms of alignment between authletes and classrooms?

    Honestly, I expected split votes most of the time. Kids are harder to predict and what’s funny/good content for an aduly doesn’t always grab the kid market. For me, I erred on the side of technical proficiency in my rounds.

    As an aside to this, I’m of the opinion that nobody learns to love poetry by starting with the poetic greats. If I’d been introduced to Dylan Thomas before Jack Prelutsky, I would have given up on poetry early. If I’d not had a bridge between Prelutsky and Thomas, I’d have given up for the transition to adult-centric poetry. Fortunately I had a great librarian who pushed the envelope of what was intended to be kid-friendly poetry and found middle-ground poets like e. e. cummings and William Carlos Williams. This taught me to appreciate forms and poetic constructs only after soundly establishing that yes, I DID like poetry. The split of the vote reflects where the individual poems fall on that spectrum: was it an early-reader poem, a more technical or artistic talent being demonstrated, or a good bridge poem?

    2) What do YOU think contributed to the high frequency of split votes between authletes and classrooms?

    To echo what others have said, ease of access lends itself to the classroom vote. Easy concept, good storytelling, greater humor were the main factors. I’d be interested in seeing the correlation between seeding and classroom votes. Technical merit, advanced poetic form, sharper meter and rhyme were key contributors to the Authlete vote.

    That said, the authlete vote does have some quirky factors to it, I suspect, especially in the middle rounds: Who do I not want to go up against if I move to the next round? Who is my friend outside of the competition? Who is playing nice and staying classy vs. who is – well – taking the fun out of this?

    There are detractors in the classroom vote too, namely who is playing down to the kids? Who said/did mean things in comments in an earlier round (because the classrooms WERE reading our comments too).

  • http://closejj.wix.com/meretricktheworm Josh Close

    This doesn’t relate to this topic really, but is there any way to make it so that comments that I’ve already read can be permanently hidden (with the option to unhide)? Or flip the comments so that the newest comments show at the top instead of at the bottom? It gets tedious scrolling down everytime to check what people have written when comments get up to 40-50+. If it’s too difficult to change, no biggie – but I’m sure others have the same frustration. It will certainly be good to change once this competition gets a bigger following with more comments each round.

    • http://www.thinkkidthink.com/ Ed DeCaria

      I use the Disqus commenting system. Not sure of the capabilities, but I would wholeheartedly support them adding the features that you’re requesting! You CAN sort by Newest/Oldest/Best, but that only supports by primary comments, not replies to other people’s comments.

      • http://closejj.wix.com/meretricktheworm Josh Close

        Oh jeez, lol. I didn’t even notice the sort feature – well that makes things easier, haha. They shouldn’t put it in the gray text, would always look right through it.

  • http://www.thinkkidthink.com/ Ed DeCaria

    For anyone eagerly awaiting Part 2 in this exciting n-part series, you’ll have to wait at least another week. I had planned on going through all 126 MMPoetry poems to start classifying them using POEMETRICS. To date, I have gotten through exactly … 2. (But what a fun matchup that was between Margo and Gloson!)