1. Agatha Christie
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    Agatha Christie Contributing Member

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    How should I review a poem I find confusing and inaccessible?

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by Agatha Christie, Feb 16, 2012.

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  2. prettyprettyprettygood
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    prettyprettyprettygood Active Member

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    I'm not stalking your posts, there's just not much else going on... Why do you want to review poetry? I see little point in reviewing something I don't understand. In my opinion it's far more useful to yourself and the writer to choose works you're interested in, largely enjoy, and can at least try to make a meaningful contribution to. So perhaps avoid poetry, and have a look at the Crime short story section, which from your name I assume you'll enjoy.
     
  3. Agatha Christie
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    Agatha Christie Contributing Member

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    Hi pretypretty. I have looked at contributions other than poetry, but often poetry is shorter and takes less time to read. So I turn to this section if I am looking for a quick critique. But I am of the opinion that I am a reader, like any other, and that my view is as valid as anyone else's. I also feel that if a poem needs to be accompanied by a guide book, then there is something amiss with the writing (unless, of course, it is written for an audience with specialised knowledge in which case it would be helpful if the author said).

    So, I would like to know if there is any technique I can use to get across my message without appearing rude, unappreciative and negative.

    THANKS TO EVERYONE WHO HAS RESPONDED TO MY QUESTION
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    you're absolutely right, ac...

    it's perfectly okay to say it's confusing and the meaning is too obscure for most readers to 'get'... and if there's no redeeming quality there that you can find, there's no law that says you have to add a positive comment to avoid hurt feelings... agents and editors certainly don't, giving new writers a taste of the cold, cruel publishing world is just as helpful as anything else...

    i'm a fairly full time poet and of the opinion that poetry has no more 'right' to be gibberish than any other form of writing does... but, sadly, too many beginners seem to think it's not poetry if it isn't so inaccessible that only the writer knows what s/he is saying...
     
  5. Rapscallion
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    Rapscallion Active Member

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    That's the nature of poetry, some of it is open to interpretation only. In other words, "he who has an ear, let him hear". Some poetry can only be understood if the reader has been in a similar situation, has been exposed to, or has acquired similar thought patterns and perceptions as the writer.

    Most of us come across some poems that we can make neither head nor tail of at some stage. What I do when I encounter such a poem is just view it as some form of abstract art and acknowledge its beauty if I deem it so. Mayhap that some months or even years down the line you encounter the poem again, and you can read it with a since-acquired understanding.

    Some poems are just gobbledygook though. Those you don't ever want to understand.

    Don't let anything you don't understand keep you from reading poetry, if that's what you want to do. Just shelf it and move on, (that's what I do), sooner than later you're sure to come across something that you will relate to and enjoy, and dare I say, even criticize.
     
  6. Jammy
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    Jammy Member

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    ...
     
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2013
  7. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I also tend to stay away from poetry any more, since it seems so obscure. I don't know if that's the style nowadays or, as others have mentioned, just the way beginners go at it (much like the beginner mistakes novelists make). But my own pride keeps me from commenting and looking the fool :p
     
  8. Jowettc
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    Jowettc Contributing Member

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    Ditto to that.

    If you need to be inducted into some special kind of gang to understand something written in english - poetry or otherwise - then it's probably missed the point, no?
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If a poem is opaque to you, skip to another. You can always come back to it later after you gain more experience with poetry, or after you have had time to let the poem sift through your mind for a while.

    But there is also the possibility the poem is crap with no redeeming value. There are those who believe any stream of random thoughts written in lines and stanza is poetry. They are entitled to their opinion, and you have the right to have an opinion all your own.

    There will be crap writing, in every genre. It's not okay to say it in such terms, but you can certainly recognize it. All the better if you can identify WHY it blows chunks, though, for your own education.
     
  10. Rapscallion
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    Rapscallion Active Member

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    No, it's more apt to have made the point. The poem was not intended for you, move on.
     
  11. Question
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    Question Active Member

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    I agree completely with mammamia. I would also like to say that poems should express meaning to a reader, if the poem fails to do so then the writer should be told. People tend to think that in order for a piece of writing to be poetry it has to be complex or deep but in reality some of the most affective poems are the simplest.
     
  12. Mordred
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    Mordred Member

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    I haven't seen the phrase "blows chunks" in many a moon. *laughing* Some poetry is just downright awful. I gravitate towards poetry that I want to read more than three times and like you said "let the poem sift through your mind for a while."

    I've always been of the mind that people can be diplomatic in their reviews without being rude. To which my dad pointed out to me as a young man, "sometimes rude is all some people understand."

    I like dirty limericks.

    ~Mordred
     
  13. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi,

    I wouldn't review poetry, or anything else that I didn't understand. I'm not a poet, and much of it is completely inaccessible to me. So why would I review it? I don't speak French so I wouldn't review someone's French homework. Reviewing something I didn't understand would be unfair to the author of the work and anyone who might read my review looking for insight. The most I would do is say that I didn't understand it.

    Also, the fact that poetry is shorter so you can do more reviews is a terrible reason to do a review. If you do review something it should be in the hope that maybe you can help the author, or to give valuable advice to potential readers. If you don't understand it you can do neither. I'd advise switching to short fiction.

    I'm sorry if this comes off as overly critical but I do think it's important that reviewing is done for the right reasons and to the best standard possible.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  14. Phoenix Hikari
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    Phoenix Hikari Contributing Member

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    Poetry doesn't have rules when it comes to how you read it. Basically there's often nothing to be confused about, if you do not understand the view point of the writer then it's not the fault of either poetry or the writer. Poems are open to interpretation, we write what we feel.

    I usually write poetry because I feel I need to talk to someone, so I put down what I am feeling and then polish it up to look acceptable by others. Don't confuse yourself by trying to understand what the writer is saying, just focus on what the poem is saying... how it looks for you and uniquely you. Bare in mind that Metaphor and Imagery and strong tools in poetry and unless your mind has strong imagination then you can not find the true meaning.
     
  15. munkyphile
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    munkyphile Member

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    I write a lot of poetry, and this is EXACTLY what I wish people would point out to me the most. As a poet, I know what I want a reader to get out of my poem. Your imagination is my clay, I am the sculptor, and my words are my tools that I want to use to shape that imagination into the form that I want you to see.

    Unfortunately, my sculptors hands are not very adept sometimes. If you're not getting something out of my poetry, that is a quality that I need to work on-- and not a fault of yours as a reader, so be as specific as possible as to what was difficult for you. I would prefer one person be honest to me about what they thought of my work, than everyone pass it over, unwilling to say something bad about it without having something good to say about it too.

    Remember that a critique is never negative, as long as the writer goes about it with the mindset that they are going to learn from it.
     
  16. munkyphile
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    munkyphile Member

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    If this were true, there would be no reason at all for a poet to post a poem in a forum for review and critique as there would be no need for the poet to go back and edit or improve the work-- thus completely negating the need for a forum for poetry review and critique.
     
  17. Phoenix Hikari
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    Phoenix Hikari Contributing Member

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    I don't know which part of my post suggests that poets don't need to be critiqued or reviewed! I just stated that poetry is usually a very personal thing and each person see it differently, I didn't say that all poetry has a good flow, grammar and expression. I didn't say that poetry is not editable or changeable. I just said that being confused by the meaning is not necessary the issue, readers don't have to know the writer to understand a poem, they can just look inside themselves and see the poem as if it was personal to them.

    Metaphor and imagery are hard aspects of poetry. A writer can't force the reader to understand a poem they wrote sometimes because it's too abstract, so readers should look at them through themselves.

    That was what I meant. =)
     
  18. Agatha Christie
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    Agatha Christie Contributing Member

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    psychotick. Poetry written in English surely should not present the same problem as something written in a foreign language? You say that the only reason for providing a critique is to help the author. This is very noble but you forget that this site requires me to provide critique if I wish to receive it for my own efforts. I am not a published author. I am not an English teacher. I am not an authority on grammar, punctuation or any other aspect of writing. My opinion is no better than the author's, although it may be different! I only know what I like and what I don't with very basic reasons why. This applies to any form of writing whether it be poetry or short stories. So I might as as well critique poetry as any other form of writing. If my view helps the author, well and fine. If it does not, there is very little I can do. Some members on this site are qualified to give critique....I am not. I don't think I am qualified to give authoritative critique on any written work, whether it be poetry or prose, so it makes no difference,to me, which it is, except that poetry is generally less daunting because of its length.
     
  19. TheIllustratedMan
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    TheIllustratedMan Active Member

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    AC -

    The biggest reason to critique is to help your OWN writing. When you read a piece, you will notice things that strike you as effective or ineffective. There will be things that you wish you'd thought of, and things that you'll recognize that you would never do. As you critique the piece, and start to verbalize what it is that you like and dislike, you will begin to notice those things in your own writing. Maybe someone uses commas too much, which makes you realize that YOU use commas too much. Maybe someone used a particularly beautiful metaphor, which will help you realize when your own could use strengthening. Maybe... whatever it is.

    So it's really in your best interest to critique pieces that are a similar style to what you are trying to write. If you're trying to write poetry, review poetry to get a better grasp of what works for you and what doesn't. The same goes for short stories, novels, whatever.

    The important thing is that by reading others' work with a critical eye, you will be better prepared to read your own work with that same critical eye.
     
  20. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi AC,

    I'm not sure I agree with you. I would find it hard to imagine that you could feel equally out of place critiquing short stories or novels as you could poetry. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and from what you initially said it seemed that poetry was yours. (It is mine. I could read a novel a day and provide a reasonable review of it, but a single page of poetry might well leave me gasping for a week, and then I still wouldn't understand it.)

    My thought is that short stories should be more accessible. And lets face it, if a short story is written in such a way as to not be comprehensible by a normal reader then its probably failed as a story. Poetry in my opinion is often written with a particular target audience in mind, other people with similar poetic bents.

    But in the end it comes back to the purpose of the review. If you want to talk to the author about where you think he went right and wrong, then if you don't understand it, what use is your review? If you want to let your review inform others about a piece of work and you don't understand it, then again what use is your review? And as the Illustrated Man has pointed out, another reason for doing critiques is to improve your own writing. But again if you don't understand it, how are you going to learn from it to improve your own writing?

    As to the other part of your post, that you're not an English teacher etc. Neither am I. But a critique of a piece of writing doesn't have to be about the spelling and punctuation. In fact that's probablythe least important part of all reviewing. What matters most is does the story grab you? Do you find it believable? Does the dialogue sound right in your thoughts? Are the characters convincing? Those sorts of things are what are going to matter most to me as an author. So that's what I'd be looking for in a review. I suspect most others here are the same. You don't need to be an English teacher to make those sorts of comments.

    Cheers,Greg.
     
  21. Gonissa
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    Gonissa Contributing Member

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    Poetry should not be for "poets only club". The entire point of all writing is to create an emotional response in others. While your writing won't affect everyone, it's sort of snobbish to say that the poem "isn't for you" if the reader doesn't get it.
     
  22. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i agree... i can't see why anyone writing poetry would want to minimize his/her audience, by not making the meaning accessible to all...
     
  23. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi,

    My bad guys. I perhaps didn't express myself clearly. I didn't mean to suggest that poets only write for other poets. I meant that poetry is a rather esoteric form of literature which requires that those who both write it or read it have some passing familiarity with the medium. A book or a short story or what have you isn't so restricted. A well written book should be accessible to most people without them needing to do some study of writing.

    To give a slightlyoff base example. I just watched a program this morning on Art, in this case painting. A woman artist was being reported for her works, which were essentially white geometric shapes on a white background. Now her explanation for her work and that of the interviewer as well, wandered off into strange lands about origami and the relaxed state ofviewing, most of which I didn't understand. Now if she'd painted a chocolate box landscape,I might have understood that.

    I see poetry in a pretty similar way. There's those of us who read and write the chocolate box stuff, the straight forwards novels. And there's those who prefer the abstract art instead. Esoteric, inaccesible to many people.
     
  24. Agatha Christie
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    Agatha Christie Contributing Member

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    Maybe we need a code of some kind next to each submission. Perhaps 'E' for esoteric and 'C' for chocolate box. At least I would know which ones to choose instead of trawling through the page looking for something I understand. LOL
     
  25. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Ah, if only a poem, or any piece of writing, could be summarized so neatly and succinctly.

    But were it so, what value would there be in the writing in the first place?
     

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