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Critique Advice  Inuki  3 Dec 16 2:11PM Thread Closed

I've seen small talk, and discussions of poetry on here before, but one thing I've never seen is a set of pointers or advice on offering critique, which is a huge component of this place.

Of course, there's no limit to the number or variety of kinds of critique, or the areas you can focus on, but I'll try to cover some here, and hope others will contribute with additional pointers below:

To begin with, it's important to pick out the key problematic areas of a poem...

Different Elements of a Poem:

Writing: This is the most basic. Art is communication, if the poet can't effectively communicate through proper use of language and writing, then they  need to go back and learn basic language skills. This includes grammar, spelling, etc. This should be incredibly basic, yet poets continue to make egregious mistakes when posting their writing. This often occurs because poets are not reviewing their own work.

Focus: is the piece narrow enough? A generic, wide poem will have trouble reaching its audience and will come off as bland. On the other hand, if the subject is too narrow, it may not have enough to say to capture interest or have real meaning (or become repetitious). It's very important for the author to ascertain the scope of their writing, and a good critique should catch onto this. For example, writing about "love" is far too broad. On the other hand, writing a poem describing flowers someone gave someone else without any other context or reference to their relationship is probably too narrow.

Telling instead of showing: One of the most common problems in beginner writing is that they tell too much. This is problematic because there is no emotional impact/connection in telling. One of the most important things in art is as a form of communication, one that can connect to the audience in a way that transcends ordinary writing. Unless the writer is doing some kind of very complicated footwork (telling for ironic purposes, for example) it's usually not going to connect as satisfactorily with the reader. Showing through use of imagery, metaphor, symbolism, etc. helps to put the audience into the lion's den, helps them experience the message. It's also more respectful of the reader, because it treats them like an adult and lets them draw their own conclusions, instead of force-feeding them the answers the author (wants them to arrive at.

Form/Structure: Does the poem's form help or hinder? I often find rhyme and meter can hinder a piece when the author doesn't have strong enough command over their use of these techniques. Rhyme can become forced, entire lines can sound forced to fit the rhyme for that matter. Meter can cause very forced word choice and phrasing/clause or sentence construction. When someone has a masterful command of rhyme and meter, these structures can work well, but the rest of the time they tend to cause triteness, or obtrusive awkwardness. Another problem is when the author gets too caught up in the poem's sounds and loses sight of the meaning they wanted to express. Noises and sounds (use of dissonance, alliteration, assonance, etc.) can push a poem home with the reader, but if the focus is too heavy on these things, then meaning will be sacrificed for something that just sounds cool when spoken.

Layout / Line break choice: Is the poem comprehensible? Readable? Where did the poet place the line breaks and why? Again, unless they're doing so for irony or purpose of commentary, or in a way that reflects the meaning of the poem, line breaks should be in places that allow for efficiency and ease of reading, to make the poem desirable for the author to read. This goes back to my point about poetry and art as a form of communication: make a poem frustrating or difficult to read and you fail at the core purpose of art.

Originality vs. Cliche: Certain phrases and images have been overused. Are the rolling hills emerald green? Are the girl's eyes sapphire blue, like cool pools of water? These are the sorts of phrases that have been used so many times as to illicit boredom from a reader, and sound cheesy. Best to avoid known cliches and to exercise originality in constructing imagery/metaphor/etc. because that's what will be memorable.

Superfluousness: A poem should not be too repetitious in wording or meaning, nor should it continue at length unless it offers some development or something new to the table.

The Overall Piece:

It's important for critiques to step back and look at the poem as a whole. You can nitpick a piece of writing forever; however, sometimes the most important question isn't whether there are minor grammatical errors, or if an image would benefit from being changed, but rather what does the piece express as a whole, and does it do so effectively?

If the poem just needs some tweaking, that's one thing, but if the entire piece is a dismal failure then it may be a lost cause or require heavy reassessment on the part of the author.

Other times, the writer may possess superior skills of imagery and poetic devices, the piece sounds great, but the overall poem leaves the reader out in the cold. While it's true that a poem doesn't need to hand the meaning to the reader on a silver plate, there should be some ascertainable meaning. A collection of interesting images and writing devices will end up just being that and come off as hollow.

Critique Writing:

The sole purpose of critique is to improve the poem and the writing of the author. Critiques are not expected to have perfect sentence structure or grammar. They are not expected to win any awards or be submitted to a professor for grading.

Critiques should be legible, comprehensible, and express their messages clearly and as succinctly as possible to the author in a way that will both compel them to make improvements, and also guide them in doing so.

If you can provide examples to an author, and pinpoint exact lines or stanzas, then that is tremendously helpful.

There are different ways of organizing a critique: you can go line by line, picking out the different issues, or just go over the major elements of the poem one at a time (theme, symbol, form, etc.)

Personally, I like to do one, then the other just to make sure all my bases are covered.

It's not expected that an author will take on every critique, make every alteration recommended; there is of course some degree of subjectivity to art, so you can't expect an author to take on every suggested improvement. That said, if an author refuses to accept any criticism or make any changes, then perhaps they should be asking themselves why they are on a Poetry Critique website.

Hopefully this is helpful.

re: Critique Advice  PollyReg  3 Dec 16 4:44PM Thread Closed

I was taught that a positive critique/review consists of three components in this order:

1. What you liked (about the writing. specifically, and not the author and not his/her overall body of work)
2. Areas for improvement
3. What you liked again (specifically, again)

I haven't always adhered to that formula...cos I hate taking life too seriously and also, sometimes writers have fragile egos. They just don't welcome critque.

On this website especially, personal attacks, instead of grace, in reply, seem to be encouraged. I don't bother with it anymore here. Too much ego shit floating around. People don't want honesty, they want a kiss) And it's easier to play to that game anyway.

Also, not everyone is good at critique (myself included).... -

You've given me a review before Inuki, and, although it had pointers for improvement, I accepted it with good grace. Why? Because I was taken seriously. Why? Because there wasn't nay or yay 'opinion' about the content. I didn't change it but I did thank you and I meant it.

And that, is always the way it always should be. Instead people just want to be 'cool'

It's a knitting circle. It is. If you can't beat them and you can't join them you may as well just have a chat or post songs. It's as good as anything else.

re: Critique Advice  cadmium  3 Dec 16 7:20PM Thread Closed

what you're both saying is good for ordinary readers. but, ordinary readers don't like poetry unless it's sing-song old school from longfellow. modern stuff we see as poetry today is prose with special built-in reading help in the form of short ideas and broken paragraphs folded into dull descriptive high-school writing class style. the master of high-school english expository style doesn't necessarily have the reading or writing skills for poetry interpretation.

inuki, you're bullying your way onto the crits, but you're bullying your own consciousness to stay narrow and protected from actually poetry and poets. the people here write stupid crits because they're not moved by anything but the story, the plot, the soap-opera sludge that pisce's types use to get laid or get sympathy to get laid; or, read to themselves in front of someone they want to lay, so that someone can see them crying and take them to bed.

critique is only as good as the readers. the good writers have been driven away by inferior critique -- critique of spelling and sentence-expression orthodoxy. you'll get better critiques when you let nature take its course here and allow a new form of body into words, a new poetry.

and, polly, you're our sarah palin but there's still no job for you in admin.  

re: Critique Advice  PollyReg  3 Dec 16 9:08PM Thread Closed

Thanks. In terms of the website and if we are able to mould our tiny brains into broader senses I'll take that. Well Done.

> and, polly, you're our sarah palin but there's still no job for you
> in admin.  

re: Critique Advice  PollyReg  3 Dec 16 9:15PM Thread Closed


re: Critique Advice  PollyReg  3 Dec 16 9:16PM Thread Closed

But slightly more relevant:



re: Critique Advice  Inuki  3 Dec 16 9:56PM Thread Closed

On this website especially, personal attacks, instead of grace, in reply, seem to be encouraged. I don't bother with it anymore here. Too much ego shit floating around. People don't want honesty, they want a kiss) And it's easier to play to that game anyway.

It's a good question, Polly. Every poet, every writer has an ego. But if we're on here, we should be looking for genuine critique and to make improvement to our writing. Even if it's as small as proofreading our writing for errors.

Everyone has a different perspective, and can bring something different to the table. Sometimes it's really interesting to see where someone is coming from and what suggestions for improvement or interpretations of your work they make.

Yes, there's harsh critique and then lighter critique, but I think what matters the most is that the critique is constructive.

If a critique is abusive (insulting the author, attacking their poem, etc.) then it's not going to be beneficial to the author or the critic. It's fine to pan something if you dislike it, but you have to be justified in giving reasons for doing so, and you have to at least try to offer explanation for the weaknesses and suggestions for improvement. If a critique can't do this, then it enters the realm of insults and childish name-calling.

There are too many members here for us to all know each other, but I always have tried to give fair, equal and measured critique to all authors regardless of who they are. Being receptive to advice or critique is not the same as being expected to take on board some particular number of changes. It's a very personal thing which changes an author will chose to take on. That said, if an author receives meaningful critique time and time again, but refuses to accept any of it, then that's when I would ask why they are even posting here.

On the other hand, as great as a poem might be, a critique filled with fluff won't help the author to improve, or help them understand what was so great about the piece. You can say "This is wonderful" but if you can't explain why, then it benefits nobody.  If, on the other hand, you can point to a specific piece of imagery that's continued throughout the poem, and how it represents a deeper meaning in the piece and then point out the consistency of use of that image, you are revealing something useful to the author about their writing.

Critiques aren't meant to be personal, in that they shouldn't be insult-laden attacks on the person or their writing. But because writing is often a personal thing, people do feel attacked or insulted even from a genuine constructive critique with no ill-intent. Again, if people can't check their personal feelings toward a piece of writing and try to step back and look at it objectively, they probably shouldn't be submitting a piece for critique.

All that to say, I won't ever regard a piece by its author except as afterthought in the context of their collected writing, except once you've offered meaningful critique if it was disrespected and disregarded, then there's no point in being burnt twice.

That's really what it comes down to, people can indeed behave like children on the internet, but any community that offers meaningful critique and involves public posting of art (an inherently personal thing) relies on an expectation of trust and respect.

re: Critique Advice  PollyReg  3 Dec 16 11:07PM Thread Closed

So, I see it this way:

I'm inclined to take your critique and turn it around, because you are (kind of) not anonymous. So I look at it and inspect it, for things that I feel relevant to where I want to be with my own writing. Its how it always should have been.

An unknown, or even a 'named' person whose identity is unknown will not recieve the same respect from me.  Not ever.

But on the other hand....

Even named, super talentled people...(and I had this experience recently, within the last year) can be subject to righteous assumption about other writers and say dreadful things to them leaving them feeling as if they are morally pushed between a rock and a hard place.

The knitting circle is not an easy thing to break free of.  Even for published, accomplished writers.

I think the societal aspect may have a marked importance and influence over those who never actually felt valued in their actual lives. I'm lucky. I consider myself lucky. With friends and loved ones. Thus, it's easy for me not to buy into it.

But....If we could all be honest it would mean 'no society' and that cannot be exemplified 'here'.  Its a shame but I feel like its a fact.

re: Critique Advice  PollyReg  3 Dec 16 11:21PM Thread Closed

By email from a member of this site. Not by some editor of Rattle or Bukowski incarnate or something. LOL

> Even named, super talentled people...(and I had this experience
> recently, within the last year) can be subject to righteous assumption
> about other writers and say dreadful things to them leaving them
> feeling as if they are morally pushed between a rock and a hard place.

re: Critique Advice  PollyReg  4 Dec 16 10:10AM Thread Closed

No, I didn't troll it. Look for vindication elsewhere. You are nothing to do with me.

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