A poetic contest is a verbal duel in which two or more contestants face off in a verse-based exchange.
From A Poet’s Glossary
The following definition of the term poetic contest is reprinted from A Poet's Glossary by Edward Hirsch.
The poetic contest, a verbal duel, is common worldwide. It has been documented in a large number of different poetries as a highly stylized form of male aggression, a model of ritual combat, an agonistic channel, a steam valve, a kind of release through abuse. The poetic contest may be universal because it provides a socially acceptable form of rivalry and battle. It is a forum for insults with a built-in release valve—humor and exaggeration. It also provides a competitive venue for those who are not physically strong but enterprising, intelligent, and quick-witted.
The poetic contest has an ancient origin. There are instances, for example, in Aristophanes’s plays The Clouds (423 BCE) and The Frogs (405 BCE), where he depicts Aeschylus competing against Euripides (after Sophocles declines to compete) and winning the exclusive right as the greatest tragedian to return to life from the underworld. The poetic contest—two speakers going back and forth against each other—played a crucial role in the development of drama, which is driven by agon. The Greek rhapsodes contended for prizes at religious festivals. Indeed, the Greeks created contests out of nearly every form of poetry, from wine songs to high tragedy. The Homeric Hymn to Apollo, usually dated to the seventh century BCE, depicts competitive singing, which is also mentioned in the Hymns to Aphrodite (from the same period). Hesiod claimed that he won a prize for performing a song at the funeral games for Amphidamas in Euboea. Eris, “competition” or “strife,” is a god, Hesiod says, and wealth increases when “potter strives against potter, beggar against beggar, and singer against singer” (Works and Days, eighth century BCE). Singing competitions in local peasant communities stand behind the literary pastoral, and there are just such contests of wit in the idylls of Theocritus and the eclogues of Virgil (amoebean verses, “responsive verses”). In antiquity, the memorization of poetry was frequently turned into a contest, a sort of philological parlor game, to enliven festive gatherings.