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  1. Sidewinder
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    Sidewinder Contributing Member Contributor

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    My approach to writing and reviews

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by Sidewinder, Mar 5, 2011.

    I want to tell the story of the poetry chapbook I'm working on. It should help to explain where I'm coming from in terms of how I critique and how I try to respond to critiques of my work. One thing I've noticed not just on this forum, but amongst all upcoming poets, is a tendency to get too attached to your work. Having some pride in your voice is one thing, but not being able to let go of a line or device that's failed is another. It's so hard to assess the value of your own work, or even the value of someone else's work. It's not that you should try to be objective, but I definitely think there is a huge benefit to stepping back from your work, and being a little bit detached when revising. It's a fine line though, because if you get too detached then you lose the passion that's fueling the work to begin with. You have to be careful about stifling your voice. So to write an effective poem you constantly have to flip back and forth between your impassioned self and your detached self. It can be a grueling process, especially in a long poem. I'll tell you the story of how I came to this way of seeing poetry.

    Most of the poems I'm posting here are from a chapbook I've been working on for several years. I have hundreds of poems lying around in files and on my computer. I've gone through most of them for the ones that have any sort of promise and collected them together. I haven't been working on it consistently, but it's a piece of work that's been in progress for over a decade now. (Some of the poems anyway.)

    When I was younger I always wanted to be a writer, specifically a poet. After I graduated University I went to the career centre, and they asked me what I wanted to do. I said "something in writing," and the look they gave me I can only describe as dismay. They said, "go have a look at some of those vocational books and come talk to us."

    I've done freelance editing and writing gigs here and there. I've made a few short films and written a few plays. But I've never made anything major of myself as a writer. I've always wanted my poetry to find its way into the public eye, but with everything else I'm involved in, I can never consistently keep up with poetry circles or writer's groups that have regular meetings. I realize that you can't work in a vaccum. Your work will never progress to a respectable level without some critical feedback. So, my way of dealing with this two years ago was to put out a call for anyone interested in giving me critical feedback on my poetry collection. I put up a note on facebook, and even an ad on craigslist. I said I would take any writer out for coffee and give them a copy of my poems if they would give me some critical feedback on my poetry. I was surprised by the volume of replies.

    I met about 20 people (friends and strangers) for coffee and talked about my poems with them. This was a brutal experience, and I certainly don't recommend you go through it, ever. Instead, just join a writing circle or be active on a forum like this one. The reviews were so varied and incongruent I didn't know what sense to make of it. Only one or two of the writers I met with had anything of value to say, and most of them had very little to say at all. Universally, the ones who had valuable feedback were the ones who tore my poems to shreds and told me I needed to up my game.

    The girl who gave me the most useful feedback was dating a close friend of mine at the time. I sat on a patio with her and we talked about all of my poems in detail. She tore some of them to shreds. Told me which ones she thought had promise and which ones to put in the wastebasket. At the same time, she tried to be a bit compassionate about the fact that I was exposing such a personal side of myself to complete strangers. We ended up becoming friends for a while. I went to see a play with her, and got to know her. She lent me her Battlestar Gallactica DVD. She was a really cool and attractive girl. I wished she didn't have a boyfriend.

    One night she caught me on msn and told me about how she was having trouble with her play. I sent her this poem by Bukowski. (Don't worry. It's available elsewhere on the internet for free. No copyright issue here. Couldn't find any site rules about this. Apologies if I missed something.)

    I've always taken inspiration from that poem. She thanked me for it, and I think it helped her to remember what she was doing with her play. Later she told me she saved it on her hard drive and came back to look at it again and again. Soon after that msn conversation we fell out of touch though.

    Putting my poems out there for everyone like that was so confusing that I didn't know what to do. I ended up shelving the whole thing for a while and working on some other stuff. It wasn't until last december that I pulled the thing out again and blew the dust off of it. What I learned from the whole experience was that the best criticism is often the most brutal. The critique that points out your biggest flaws is the one that will help you grow, and help you to realize that you need to let go of the whole thing. You can't be attached to this line or that line or this word or that word. You need to look at the poem on a more fundamental level, and realize what it's about to you. The process of good writing is inevitably going to involve a lot of compromise and revision. Now it's true that you have to write naturally. You don't want to sound contrived. But it's going to take time and time again before you get it right. It's not just a matter of getting it down on paper the way you wanted it to be. That's just step one.

    As I went over my poems in early december, I looked at this girl's feedback and remembered how useful it had been, and what a cool person she was. As I started working on my poems I realized that I wanted to see her again. I had heard that she had broken up with her boyfriend, and had to admit I was interested. So I sent her a facebook message mentioning my poetry and saying I'd like to meet up with her. I had originally thought of bringing some poetry with me, but decided against it in the end. I really just wanted to get to know her better.

    To my surprise, the date went exceptionally well. (I think it was on account of the Bukowski poem from years back.) She was interested, and we went all the way. Now she's my girlfriend. I know, cool story, right? That's how we met.

    I did get her to edit a poem recently, and I learned another lesson here. She made some suggestions about improving it, and I followed them. But then when I posted the poem here, I realized that a lot of the weaknesses that were being pointed out in it weren't put there by me originally. They had been imposed on the poem by her. Most importantly, she had divided the poem up into a four-part structure that I had never imagined being there. What was so funny about this was that she had divided the poem into two parts two years ago, and then divided it even further into four parts when she was dating me. I realized that she was unintentionally eliminating my voice from the poem and making it suck. I gutted it one more time and now I'm pretty much done with it. If you're interested in it, it's in the review room with the title, "Cursing."

    The point here is not to take anyone's criticism too much to heart. Take it for value, but it's only one reaction to your poem. You should have the spine to accept criticism, but also the spine to take it all with a grain of salt. Have detachment but keep your passion.

    Just wanted to post this because I thought it would help show where I'm coming from, and maybe give some of you some ideas about how to take criticism of your work. You can't work in a vacuum. You need to hear other opinions in order to grow. And you need to be able to compromise your work so that you don't compromise your vision. Those are the most important lessons I've learned about writing poetry.
     
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  2. violetinsideme
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    violetinsideme Active Member

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    I appreciate your critique as well as the point you are trying to get through to me. I have reworked many things and trashed many things and still hold onto much trash. However in THIS particular writing, (The Trip 2001) I keep it as it is for sentimental and memorable reasons. I am acutely aware that it is not a prize winning piece of work, but the intention was to keep it simple and observational only. Notice at the end I mentioned I would more than likely blog the rest as it isn't really something I am willing to change or that I usually put out there. Most of the "poems" I write are true but embellished. I understand the concept of being a writer and having to color up the picture in order to create beauty or interest where perhaps it did not exist. This is just, again, a poem I wrote in 2001 and did not bother to change one word. It was what it was, plain and simple.
    Your thoughts definately do not "hurt my feelings" I asked for honest feedback, I expect honest feedback, and I respect it as well. I hope you will take the time to check out and offer feedback on other things I have written. Perhaps you will see this is just a "snippet of reality", if you will, and not meant to be a prize winning piece of work. BUT, sometimes one becomes attached to something for what it is, and not what others think it should be. Thanks for your time and crit again. C-ya around...Melody
     
  3. Sidewinder
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    Sidewinder Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just so you know, this post wasn't directed at you specifically. I understand that sometimes a poem means something personal to you and you don't want to touch it. Then it's a good idea to shelve it and leave it for what it is. I actually thought there were some cool parts in that poem -- especially the part about "ALICE."

    Anyway, I posted this just to let all the poets here know that I'll be there to challenge them, and that there's a danger in getting too attached to your work. I think as a writer it's important to have your goals in mind and work towards those a little bit every day. Bukowski has a lot of great poems about what it takes to be a writer. I'd recommend checking him out.
     

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