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  1. Baywriter

    Baywriter Contributing Member Contributor

    May 31, 2007
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    Critiquing Poetry

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by Baywriter, Oct 23, 2014.

    I'm a bit saddened by the inactivity in the poetry section of the Writer's Workshop. When I was around years ago, it was more alive. I've noticed that many reviews will say something such as "I don't know how to critique this" or "I don't understand the process of critiquing a poem." Due to this observation, I thought it might be helpful to post a few tips on critiquing poetry. I'm not an expert by any means, but I'm an avid reader of poetry.

    Tips for critiquing poetry:

    1. Read the poem out loud. This might seem/sound silly, but you will probably understand a poem better by reading it this way instead of just skimming over it, which we are so prone to do when reading online. You will also notice more about a poem, such as its sounds and line breaks. The more observations you make about a poem (good or bad), the easier it will be for you to form a response to it.

    2. When you're finished, ask yourself some questions. The first question most of us are probably inclined to ask is what does this mean, but I believe other questions should be answered first. Instead, try asking yourself what the emotion is behind it. Is it sad or happy or angry or something else? This is to help you identify the tone in the poem. Then ask yourself what is happening in the poem. Read it again. What are the images? What are the objects? What are they doing? And finally, what does this mean?

      If you don't know, then don't be discouraged. Ask this yourself this: why don't I know? What, in the poem, is unclear to me? Look for lines or images that are vague. Use this in critiquing the poem. If you don't understand a poem, that's not necessarily on you. It's important to remember that.

    3. The above brings me to my next tip, which is to stop doubting yourself. Don't be afraid to simply let yourself react to the poem. If you have nothing bad to say about it, then it's okay to say that you like it, but do the writer the courtesy of explaining why. If you don't know why, you should read the poem again and look for lines/sounds/images you liked.

    4. Read other poetry. The more you read, the more you will understand. I don't mean read poems that people post on the internet. I mean, read some current, contemporary poetry. It's hard for people to define what is a good poem and what is a bad poem. Reading good poems will help you make that distinction. It's great to read classics as well, but if you're critiquing current poems, then you should probably also read current poems.

    5. Remember that poetry is not prose. It's a different animal. You do not read it the same way. It is something that can and will take multiple reads and work to fully grasp. Even if you get the gist on the first read, accept that if you're critiquing it, you're probably going to have to give it a second and third.
    Anyway, those are just some things off the top of my head. If anyone has anything to add, feel free!
    ladybird, jannert, Darkkin and 4 others like this.
  2. thirdwind

    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

    Jul 17, 2008
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    Good stuff. It's especially important to read a lot of poetry. Knowing a bit of theory helps as well, though it's not necessary. Your last point is important as well. When I critique poetry, I could easily read the poem ten times, and if the poem is good, I learn something new each time I read it. So I agree that multiple reads are important.
    Baywriter likes this.
  3. Lemex

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

    Oct 2, 2007
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    Northeast England
    Good guide. I see a lot of 'I don't know a lot about poetry ...' in original poetry pieces on this thread. I know it's a defence mechanism, but now we have something like this it might be worth asking a mod to sticky it to the poetry section so members new to reading poetry can at least see it's there and hopefully find it useful.

    While I'm currently doing an MA in English Literature, which includes poetry, I wouldn't in any way class myself as any expert either. But I've been tempted for some time to make a quick little thing like this, only about writing poetry.
    Baywriter likes this.
  4. Fullmetal Xeno

    Fullmetal Xeno Protector of Literature Contributor

    Jul 15, 2011
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    Kingdom of Austniad

    I'd post my poetry a lot more often, but i don't want to spam the thread. ;) But i do agree, it feels like poetry is a dying art for some reason.
  5. Darkkin

    Darkkin Reflection of a nobody Contributor

    Jun 21, 2012
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    Following the footprints in the sand...
    Very well put. I would like to add: Be honest. If something seems odd, or you don't understand it: Say so. Pieces are in the workshops for feedback.

    Don't worry about wounding a writer's feelings by saying you don't like something. Keep it professional, but honest. This is where the armor of the thick skinned is earned. The critiques that I have found the most useful are the most critical. Share it.
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2014

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