1. TheGreatNeechi
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    TheGreatNeechi Member

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    Reviewing Poetry

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by TheGreatNeechi, Apr 20, 2011.

    Lacking a cute and catchy way to pose this question:

    How does one go about reviewing poetry?

    I am a technical writer, as unfortunate and stilted as it may be. Everything I write is academic--which is why I am here to improve my creative process.

    Academic and technical writing is easy, especially in my field (political science), but poetry is exempt from all of those rules. Structure, punctuation, even grammar and syntax are thrown to the wind in poetry, and it baffles me what I should be looking for in the critiquing process.

    And we have a lot of poets here.

    The difficulty in critiquing poetry is plainly obvious when a work sits in the unreviewed box for hours on end. I want to fix that, and I need your help.
     
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  2. Sidewinder
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    Sidewinder Contributing Member Contributor

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    As a general rule, I would say comment on the way the poem feels. What sort of emotions does it evoke? You can get into specifics about what devices, images, etc. are working for you, but I think the most useful thing for the poet to hear is usually something about the emotional impact of the piece.
     
  3. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I really don't see academic writing and poetry as all that different. I mean, at least 80% of the writing I do is academic in nature, but it follows similar principles. Poetry may appear rule-less, but there are still methodical, formal ways of going about analysing it.

    Contrary to Sidewinder, I would argue that considering feeling should be the final step of your analysis of poetry. In order for any critique to be constructive, it has to be focused on the writing itself, and ways to improve it. You mention structure, punctuation and syntax--these are the things you should be looking at. Don't let the fact that they are used in unconventional ways distract you; instead, make that your starting point. Consider why a piece is structured as it is, why a line ends where it does, why certain punctuation is used or not used, because none of these things are arbitrary in good poetry, and all will contribute to the meaning and feeling of a piece.

    I think by focusing on meaning in a review, it makes it easy to skim through a poem, write down what you thought and move on, which is not constructive. I think because of the more personal nature of some poems, people are hesitant to be critical in the same way they'd criticise a work of fiction or academic writing, but ultimately, they all operate in a similar way, they all use the same language to the same end--the production of meaning. So, begin your critique there: with the words, and what they do.
     
  4. Sidewinder
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    Sidewinder Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wouldn't disagree with anything you're saying there, arron. I think the order of steps in your critique really has more to do with your personality type than anything though. Either way most poets are probably going to want some comment on the emotional effect of the poem, I think. Not many poems are lacking an emotional element.
     
  5. Finhorn
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    Finhorn Senior Member

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    I like to read it a couple times then start with "What the heck happened here?" followed quickly by "How did I feel about what happened."

    If I'm not sure what happened, I'll start my review with what I think happened. That way the author knows that I didn't get it even if he or she can't take anything else from my review.
     
  6. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Not really. If anything, one has to have an even stronger grasp on these basics to be able to manipulate them in a way that doesn't simply seem careless. E. E. Cummings, for instance, is often mimicked by entry level poets who thing poetry is just about vomiting words on a page, not realizing he was extremely knowledgeable in the form and function of the English language, including grammar and punctuation and all the boring stuff, an knew exactly what he was and wasn't doing, and why, and how it was changing meanings, etc.

    Not that it's completely relevant, just wanted to point out you shouldn't sell yourself short, as a critical technical eye can be highly valued in a poetry critique. If you ask (rhetorically) why a poet uses a certain style of punctuation, and how it's functioning technically or not, it may force them to answer this for themselves and either find they did it 'just cuz' or reinforce their reasoning.

    Reader response is a great place to start. Ask questions (and make it clear they're rhetorical questions you asked yourself, not ones you're challenging the poet with). Point out things you wondered about, that you thought strange, didn't understand, made you smile, etc. Describe the imagery you saw when you read a piece (as the poet can then gauge whether they're on track or not). Depending on the circumstances, directly asking why a poet decided to do something specific will not only give them a chance to reinforce their reasoning, but you a chance to learn.

    And remember that a good writer/feedbacker relationship isn't one where the person giving feedback instructs the writer, but more a conversation, where both parties are involved in a way that fosters learning. And most great writers (teachers, scientists, lawyers, policemen, people, etc) understand a conversation can always yield insight, no matter who it's with.

    Look at it as entering a conversation (hopefully with people who aren't jerks and will welcome you, though if it doesn't happen, then just move on), where questions from a novice are often just as interesting and insightful as answers from the experts.
     
  7. TheGreatNeechi
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    TheGreatNeechi Member

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    This is good stuff! Thank you!
     

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