Saturday, July 16, 2011

Problems with Poetry 1: Critiquing Other’s Work

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post on how to take criticism on your poems. I suggest that you all go read that before proceeding here, where I’m going to talk about how to critique someone else’s poems.

Firstly, I suggest you read the poem over a couple times. If it’s really long (think Paradise Lost) then you don’t need to do this, but since most poems are less than 300 words you can probably afford to read it through about three times to get a good feel for it. Before starting to write your critique you should make sure you know what the poem is talking about. It’s often helpful to include a quick, one-sentence summary of the poem in your review, just so the writer knows if it’s too clear, or not clear enough.

Then, you’ll want to give some advice. Remember, be specific. It doesn’t help at all to say ‘I noticed some problems with the rhythm.’ Instead, say ‘The last line of the third stanza is a little too long.’ Also, don’t just say you liked the feeling of the poem. Say exactly what you liked. Poem critiques seem to be very vague, but those don’t help the poem.

Here are a couple specific things you can watch out for:
1.       Rhythmic problems. If you find yourself stumbling over words then they should probably re-word it. Tell them where you stumbled and why. You can give them a suggestion for how to fix it, but don’t expect them to use your exact words. It is their poem, after all.
2.       Boring words. This especially applies to rhyming poems. If I see one more person rhyme ‘night’ and ‘light’ and ‘bright’ then I’m going to hurt them…  Also, check for generic words like laugh, sing, night, day, happy, sad, gone, life, death, etc. Poetry is about being original, and those words aren’t going to help.
3.       Boring expressions. Writing about ‘a night black as ink’ or ‘silky smooth hair’ or something like that will just make the poem feel cliché. Point out any clichés you notice.

And of course, remember to be balanced. Don’t just point out the problems; make sure to mention exactly what you like. Be specific, but talk a bit about big picture stuff. In short, write a thoughtful, helpful critique, just as if you were reading a short story or novel. Why not head right over to and read some poetry right now?

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