1. pet.
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    pet. Senior Member

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    Reviewing Flow in Poetry

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by pet., Jun 24, 2008.

    I'm not sure whether this really needs to be said (nor whether this is the right place to do it), but this issue's been bugging me for some time.

    It's to do with flow in poetry; I've noticed that many reviews go through the poem and pick it apart looking for breaks or stalls in the flow. While this is a reasonably useful exercise in some cases, it's applicability to all poems is dubious at best. Deliberately broken or choppy rythmn is a perfectly valid poetic technique, which could be used in a variety of poems for a myriad of reasons. (It could reflect the emotional state of a narrator, for example, or could be used in a poem describing a broken mirror.)

    I can see why people review like this; breaks in flow are simple to spot, and identifying all of them lets one write a review of decent length without actually discussing the deeper ideas in a poem.

    Anyway, I'd assumed all of this was obvious until I spotted it in the 'review system' post which appears at the top of all review subforums -

    "Flow: The poem was clear and flowed well" - there it is. I don't like it, basically.
     
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  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    A better place for this would be the Writing Issues - Reviewing forum.

    If a poem is deliberately choppy, that may indeed be part of the message. But more often than not, poems that are noted as "not flowing well" seem haphazardly choppy.

    Whether the poem rolls like a river or pounds relentlessly like a kickboxer, rhythm is an important component and tool for poetry. As such, it is always suitable for mention.

    But as with all reviewing comments, the poet can either agree with the opinion and take it into account during revision, or disregard it as not in accordance with his or her plan.

    I think a writer always benefits by at least giving all serious review comments fair consideration. Even if the suggestion doesn't seem to work for you for that particular piece, it may be worth exploring in something else you write.

    I'll probably move this discussion to the Reviewing forum soon, but I'll give it some time where it is so you will be able to find it.

    Thank you for posting this. Most of the thoughts on how to review focus on fiction, and very few on poetry. I believe this is partly because poetry is somewhat harder to accurately define. But I also feel that a lot of what is labelled poetry is only called that by default, because of all the other kinds of writing it is not.
     
  3. pet.
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    pet. Senior Member

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    Err.. Is that not where I put it?

    I was just hoping to make the point that all review guidelines should be treated as having two steps; identify breaks in flow, then consider whether they are deliberate, for example. A system with only one step, whether the poem "was clear and flowed well", is misleading, especially for new writers.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Sorry. The thread had the same name as another thread elsewhere. My bad.

    I'm renaming this to Reviewing Flow in Poetry. That will make it easier for other people to find this info,
     
  5. pet.
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    pet. Senior Member

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    Thanks very much.
     
  6. Suomyno
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    Suomyno Member

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    While I believe that, yes, choppy flow can sometimes be a valid poetic device, it is, like many other devices, hard for people to do well. If I point it out in a review of a poem it's because the flow is choppy and I feel the choppy feeling doesn't work for the poem and jars the reader from the poem, disconnecting them. If a writer uses this device they need to be able to do it in a way where the reader feels the choppy feeling but also feels that it fits the poem, that it helps to understand and get into the poem more, not suddenly cutting them away from the meaning and emotions. Choppy and broken lines in a poem can create their own flow in a poem if done right, but if you use this technique and people mention that it jars them in a way that disconnects them in any way from the poem, it should be taken into consideration. Not that you have to listen to all the critiques you get, but atleast consider it, especially if it is mentioned multiple times by different people. If it doesn't work for your readers but you feel it needs the choppy feeling, maybe try rewriting it in a way that makes it work.
    But that's just my two cents. I'm sleep deprived so I'll come back when I'm more coherent.
     
  7. pet.
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    pet. Senior Member

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    And I'm sure your reviews are both excellent and appreciated. I was simply making the point because of the implication (in the review guide) that smooth flow was always a good thing.

    I think sometimes a disconnection from the poem can work well. It could be used to shock a reader into thinking more deeply about a previous line or lines, for example, especially if combined with an abrupt change in tone or scene. A quick change of rhythm could accompany a twist in narrative, a startling change in register could draw attention to a contrast in characters..

    While it's true that it's a difficult technique to do well (and I make no claim of mastery), we do all learn by doing. I'd hate to see interesting techniques fall by the wayside because of reviewers obsessed with smooth flow.
     
  8. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I don’t have the foggiest clue when it comes to poetry, but I have to assume that the question of flow would be answered much the same as any other question concerning style in any writing format.

    Take the passive voice for example.

    There is nothing grammatically incorrect with the passive voice. It exists within the English ‘toolbox’ and can be used to impart a given tone or feeling within a work.

    It can also be overused or misused and give a stilted, affected feel to a piece of work.

    I think it’s all in the implementation.
     
  9. Torana
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    Torana Contributing Member Contributor

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    with poetry, more often than not, smooth flow does help a piece. But other times, broken flow, really does add to the power of a piece and aid in the delivery of the message within the piece. I wrote a horror poem and the flow wasn't the best throughout the entire piece and yet it is a well crafted piece and has been published. People enjoy the poem, even with the flow issues.

    So not in every case does broken flow detract from a piece, but it has to be well implemented as Wrey has mentioned in his reply to this thread.
     
  10. InPieces
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    InPieces Senior Member

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    I would disagree with you 'pet.' I would say that flow is one of the most important aspects to a poem and it is interdependent on other aspects of the poem. If the poem is intentionally choppy, there should be a certain atmosphere or language usage that would support that particular flow. However, if the poem is choppy and the neither the language nor the atmosphere supports the chaos that a choppy format brings, then the flow has not been thought through properly.

    Just my two cents,

    ~ InPieces
     
  11. B-Gas
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    B-Gas Contributing Member

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    InPieces, you don't disagree at all. You just missed the fact that you agree.

    Using Wreybries' analogy: for most of the time, the passive voice in prose is 'wrong'. Overuse of the passive voice causes the piece to fail. However, occasionally, the passive voice is the perfect thing to get the point across. Pointing out every use of the passive voice, reflexively, is not good reviewing- the sentence must be read in context, to see if the weaker passive voice is used for that purpose.

    In the same way, disjointed, broken flow can make a poem more powerful, just like breaking the rules of perspective can make a painting more effective or shocking. As a rule, poems should flow well. But when it doesn't, reviewers should always check to make sure that broken flow doesn't support the mood.

    Except in those rare cases where the broken flow actually aids the poem, it should be removed. But it should not be impulsively assumed to be harmful to the poem.
     
  12. draupnir
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    draupnir Member

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    I completely agree with pet. I was actually thinking of starting a thread with this until I read this'un.

    I haven't really much to add except to say that poetry requires good and careful readers as much as writers. Quite often a piece will have latent flow that the poet felt when composing, but that will only be picked up after a few readings rather than just a quick scan. It's too easy to run through and bastardise a poem by fitting it to your own easy pacing.

    If a poem is full of short sentences which slow it down, there is a reason for it; caesura and enjambment are poetic tools often used to emphasise and specifically draw your attention to some "heavy" points whilst glossing over others. And it's not just punctuation and line endings - metrical changes are key to understanding what the poet is expressing.

    I don't agree with giving 'flow' such a prominent place in a template for a review, or for separating what "stands as poetry rather than prose". "Flow" makes me think of rap music more than these two.

    There is a quote from J.V. Cunningham: "So far as I’m concerned, poetry is metrical writing. If it’s anything else, I don’t know what it is." I'd say though that, more importantly, poetry is repetitious. But now i'm going off topic...
     
  13. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    There does need to be some form of flow, however. It can rush and tumble like a flash flood in the mountains, or roll lazily along like the Mississippi. The flow can even change in a planned way.

    However, there is a lot presented as poetry with no sign of any metrical purpose. Some aspiring poets think of a bag of separate but somehow similar image fragments as a poem. Even if the images are rich, without at least some attention to flow and meter, it's not a poem.

    Invariably, the response to that is, "Of course it's a poem, it isn't prose!"

    Try as you might, you will not convince them that a piece of writing may in fact be neither.

    "Oh it's free form."

    Yeah. So how does one evaluate it?

    "Oh that's easy. Just tell me how great it is."

    An exaggeration, for sure, but I often wish it were more of one.
     
  14. Etan Isar
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    Etan Isar Contributing Member Contributor

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    Flow is one of the most important aspects of a poem, whether that means the flow is lacking, smooth or "choppy".

    It is important to remember that flow is far more than just syllable counts or even metre. It includes sentence/phrase/clause structure, metre, syllable patterns, overall structure, sonics in many cases, and even imagery. The arrangement of sounds, syllables and feet can create many and often confusing rhythms in a single poem. Images can suggest different readings, soncis and rhyme can break up a line in places where normal prose would have a continuous flow.

    Whether the guide needs to be fixed or not, it is flow for its own sake that is good, not smooth, not choppy, not absent.

    Unfortunately, this being text only, there are many issues to consider when looking at flow and the comments it generates. Also keep in mind a common suggestion for prose critique, if you get a lot of comments about a certain aspect of the work, you need to consider that, no matter your intentions, success with a device is what matters. If the reader doesn't get it, it's an issue that bears considerable thought.
     

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