1. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    What sort of things do you look for in a poetry critique?

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by deadrats, Sep 6, 2016.

    I'm not just talking about this site but more in general. What sort of feedback do you find helpful when it comes to a critique of your poetry? Sure, awkward phrases and places where the writing can be tighter are great to have pointed out to you if they weren't things you noticed on your own, but what other sort of things do you find helpful? I'm trying to decide if I should seek out a critique for some of my poems or just send them out for publication. If you've been at this crossroads, what did you decide to do?

    I write mostly formal poetry. I can work with structure and follow the rules, so I know it's correct, but is it any good? I think I would rather just get form rejections from the journals I want to submit my work to than be laughed at by my (poet) friends.

    My mother called me the other night after I had spent the entire day working on a sonnet. I read it to her, and she said something like, "That's nice. What else did you do today?" What else? That was it. I spent hours working on this little sonnet. And it's probably going to need more work. As much as I hate the revision process with my prose, I don't mind it at all for poetry. I'm not sure why that is. It's much harder for me to write poetry than prose. But I just love the feeling of really working on a poem. I don't think my mother's really into poetry, and I wasn't looking for a critique, really. I don't know what I was hoping for.

    And as much as I would like to strengthen my poetry, I worry that it could backfire. I have friends who have published their poetry. I find their work exceptional, flawless, moving. And they all make it look so easy. Over the summer, I read a poem to a poet friend. He was laughing before I finished. It was not supposed to be funny. I think it was more my attempt at poetry that had him cracking up. This guy is my closest poet friend, but I get the feeling he's not really into helping me out.

    I would love to hear from any of you poets out there about your experiences sharing your poetry and having critiques of your work. Do you think the feedback helped you? If you found a poetry critique partner... Well, how did you find them? I know people I could ask to read my stuff, but these are my real-life friends, and I am probably not on their level. And already being laughed at once was enough. I acted like it didn't bother me, but it did. Maybe it would be better if I had specific things to ask about my poetry, but, really, all I want to know if it's good and how I can make it better without making a fool of myself in the process.
     
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  2. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    Do the 'Open Mic' poetry nights.

    I really enjoyed the experience - people approach you, literary people, sincere about - your words, and your message. They want to buy you a drink, and go to your next gig. Then maybe you read at a festival? Then publish a collection.

    Do it.

    Otherwise, you stew in the same loop as 'novelists' sitting at home, planning for 'the day.' Tiresome.
     
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  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I found two people in college when I took a creative writing course. They were both people in my critique group, and we kept in touch after the class ended. The one thing that really helped was that we had similar tastes, so their critique was pretty good when it came to things like structure and making sure I was phrasing things correctly.

    Your best bet would be to find a critique group, either local or online, and get to know some of the critiquers. Chances are a lot of them like similar types of poetry. I know a lot of people have found critiquing partners right here on WF, so you may find some interested members as well.
     
  4. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    I've been to some poetry readings, but I mostly go to support my friends. I'm not one for taking center stage. But I'm all for drinking with literary people. I agree (even if only as a spectator) poetry readings and/or open mic nights can be a lot of fun.
     
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  5. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    Can you say a little more about the feedback you've gotten? I'm not looking for anything too personal. I'm just wondering what sort comments you have gotten and maybe more so how you were able to apply them. Like what sort of comments have you gotten about structure? And then did you really know what to do? Did it make your poetry better? Publishable? Also, have you ever given a poem to one of your critique friends and they just loved it? Thought it was great as is? And then if you are writing in form, things like structure would be a little harder to comment on.

    I'm not looking for a critique group. I'm not even sure I really want critique. I looked at some of the poetry in the workshop section on here and tried to make a few comments, but I didn't see anyone writing poetry to form. It seems like a lot of people are posting first drafts and/or aren't really concerned with form. That's fine. I think it's great when people want to put their work and themselves out there, but I can't see myself doing that. And I'm honestly not sure how much of an effect it would have on my writing. Maybe it's hopeless.
     
  6. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    A lot of times it was rephrasing something or rewording something so that the emphasis was on a certain word. So for example, they would suggest I end a line with word X instead of word Y because it word X highlighted the similarity or difference with the last word on the preceding line. I didn't take all of their comments into consideration, of course. I only took the ones I thought improved my poem. It was ultimately a judgement call on my end. I would say it definitely made my poems better. Out of the two I published, one was improved as a result of their critique (the second one came a year later, when I had lost contact with them). This poem was the one I had the fewest comments on; there were just a few minor changes here and there. I never had a poem that they thought was great as is.
     
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  7. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    @deadrats, I've submitted my poetry for critique only here and to a writing contest sponsored by a writers' organization I belong to. Frankly, I think it's cool that you have poet friends in the first place, though I guess that doesn't mean they're going to be helpful. My work is sometimes formal, sometimes informal (and it looks like you didn't go back far enough to find the sonnet I posted in the workshop). I must be doing something right, because I won the competition, which gets me free registration at the next group conference. :superwink:

    What I look for first when someone crits one of my poems is how well I'm communicating on the emotional/instinctive level. What feeling does it raise in the reader? Is it the one I intended?

    Then I want to know if the reader is able to pick up on the wordplay. Are the different layers of meaning coming through? Take the simple word "light." In a single poem I might weave in the various connotations of illumination, weight, ignition, and so on. Have I tied all those in together in a smooth but unexpected manner, and do I use the same metaphors elsewhere? If the wordplay involves cultural references, are they reasonably accessible to my intended audience?

    I also need to know if anything is coming off humorous or clunky when it's not supposed to. Or is anything too precious or too cute?

    This isn't all, but it should give you something to go on with now.
     
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2016
  8. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    Catrin -- If you send me a link to your poem, I would love to take a look. Are you submitting your poems for publication as well as seeking out critiques. I decided just to go for it and send some of my stuff out to the magazines. Maybe if I publish I can get my friends to take a look at my stuff in the future. I get it that these guys are on a completely different level than I am. I was hoping that maybe I would meet someone on here to swap things with, but it doesn't seem like all too many people are into the same kind of stuff as me. More than a writing-skills level match up, I would want a critique partner to be a serious and avid reader of contemporary literary works. I think that's more important, but maybe it's just me. I have no partners.
     
  9. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is the poem that won me the contest: http://www.writingforums.org/threads/someday-a-sonnet.136855/

    The only edits I did after that was to change the comma at the end of the second line of the second sestet to a colon.

    Except for a poem in a UK anthology a few years ago, I haven't published anything. What companies do publish poetry in these United States? Or is it magazines one submits to? It hadn't occurred to me to find out.

    Maybe I should?
     
  10. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    Yeah, it's mainly the magazines and journals. Some very cool stuff is being published today. I know you have a few of them in the UK, but it's nothing like in the US. Basically, there is a literary journal tied to every university. Plus, there are others that aren't. I mostly send out fiction. Just mixing it up a little.
     
  11. ClaraCoatup
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    ClaraCoatup Member

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    deadrats, I attend a couple different critique groups and also have received crits in classes I've taken. Usually, I just use the feedback that I feel will make my poems better, but I consider all feedback. I even sometimes plug in feedback in a version that I know is wrong just to see how it works. Sometimes that gives rise to new ideas that do work in subsequent revisions. What is most helpful to me? Lots of things, but off the top of my head I would say word choice, rephrasing a line, repositioning lines or verses, changing openings/endings to make it stronger, format advice, whether my voice or tone works or sounds authentic or appropriate for the piece, whether it makes sense, and if it creates emotion in the reader. If some members love it and others hate it, I feel it must be a good poem to revise. If it garners a mediocre response, lukewarm, I usually come back to it later, much later, if at all.
     
  12. ReproveTheCurlew
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    ReproveTheCurlew Member

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    Generally I wouldn't take the 'laughing' reaction too much to heart. Tastes differ, and one danger in writing 'formal' poetry is a tendency with some inexperienced writers to write in an archaic, or overly sentimental fashion. Not saying that you do, but that might be one reason why your friend laughed (can't judge of course without having read your poem).

    I know the frustration in finding decent people to critique your work. Sadly, this forum isn't your best bet - most criticism is on very few details, if you're lucky. Most of the time it is one-line comments on how great or not so great they found the poem or a particular part in a poem, which I really don't find useful. If the general consensus in this forum was the mark for great poetry then this forum would be the centre of the greatest poetry ever written.

    Truth is, one's work is never as good or as terrible as one believes, and I think it is insulting to the poet who posts something here to just dismiss it with a sentence. Poems, like any other writing, are works-in-progress and can always be improved. There is no perfect poem; even the 'greats' have bad moments, and I'm sure if you go line by line through any given work you can find plenty of things that are amiss with it.

    As I said, I also always seek people to have close looks at my work, and have a very harsh time finding people to do that. If you like we could work something out, if you feel brave enough to send me a poem? Then I can show you the style of criticism I have to offer, if that helps. If, after that, you don't want to work with me anymore, then just see it as a one-off thing. The other side of it, of course, would be for you to look at my work, if you don't mind...

    But generally the best way to improve poetry is to read good poetry, esp. from the 20th century onward. Poems written before then are great and can teach one a few things, but at the beginning of the century many things changed, and it can be difficult to trace what one should keep from what came before and what to omit. Considering you like 'formal' poetry I could recommend Yeats (if you can put up with his sometimes complicated rhetoric), Frost (occasionally a bit simplistic, but overall beautiful work), or more recently Geoffrey Hill (can be quite difficult). If you take only one thing from my post, then please let it be this :)

    All the best
    Reprove
     

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