First, I do not expect every comment on my poems to be a critique -- please don't feel required to become a critic! Please, please don't! I love getting comments on my poems; just that tells me it meant something for you. Critiques are, however, welcome if you feel so inclined.
This post is an effort to remind myself how to best go about this, which I sometimes do. I hope it might be useful for others who offer feedback on poems, as well.
As I've recommitted myself to poetry, and increased my participation in online poetry communities, I've discovered that I seem to have lost the knack of offering concise and helpful feedback on a poem, while being supportive and encouraging.
I have participated in several real-life workshops, with excellent teachers, and seemed to manage it in those settings. But online is different. (Some communities, of course, like Read Write Poem, specifically discourage critique unless the poet requests it.)
Each comment seems, somehow, too blunt, too narrow. I mean this about the comments I make, not those I receive. I am practiced at receiving critiques, and have many years of writing behind me to hold me up against unexpected pushes. I also have rules for myself about receiving C&C (Comments & Critique) developed in face- to- face workshops, that help keep my balance:
- Be receptive; do not speak.
- Write down everything, including responses you don't like or don't think will be useful.
- Do not respond to anything other than direct questions; and delay responding to those, if possible, until the critique is done.
This is easily done online. Less easily done is to communicate nuance and feeling in responding to someone else's work. Usually this is accomplished with gesture, expression, and voice -- none of which are available at the keyboard. (Emoticons just don't do it for me.)
I realize I've developed the habit, unless I'm working -- that is, trying to learn something from this specific poem or poet -- of reading poems more quickly than I ought to. I read a poem, sit with the feeling or ideas it evokes for a moment, and then move on. Unless, that is, the poem raises some question for me: why does the poet break the line here? how did this poem evoke such a powerful feeling in me? what does that word mean?
poem| a virtual poetry group has especially made me aware of how careless I've become, as I see the attention and depth with which others approach the poems up for discussion. I would like to bring at least some of that kind of attention to the poems offered up in the other communities I belong to.
I've done a quick review online, and pulled out aging notes from my file cabinet, to pull together this list, much of which came from a very useful thread at How to critique a poem (aka Best Critiques on Poets.org):
- Critique the poem, not the poet.
- Don't assume that the speaker of the poem is the poet; poets often write in fictional voices.
suggestions for the poem from the point of view of a reader: point out
the places that you don’t understand or sections that you find
inconsistent with other parts of the poem. Give advice on the poem that
is as concrete as possible. Tell the poet that you didn’t understand
this line, or that word, or ask why each stanza begins with a capital
- Say what you like about the poem; be specific.
- Tell the poet if you were confused by something; again, be specific.
- Say what you think does, and does not, work in the poem.
- Pay attention to what you felt as you read the poem, and share that.
- A small amount of encouragement goes a long way to making any critique more palatable to the poet, and thus is more likely to be taken seriously because the poet knows you’ve read and thought about his/her poem.
- There's a fine line between offering specific revision suggestions, and rewriting someone else's poem. Take care with this.
One of the guidelines often suggested is to not address the content of the poem, with the assumption that workshop poets are interested primarily, or only, in feedback on craft. That's not the case with me; I'm also interested in what you think and feel about the content, even if it offends, or confuses, or bewilders you.
I've begun adding to my critique tag in my del.icio.us bookmarks, and I'm putting that tagroll on this post, so it will update automatically and serve as a resource for further thought.
Please comment with any further ideas, thoughts, or resources on this topic. I'm going to link this post to the Critiques Welcome button on the sidebar, so it will continue to be easily available.