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poetry critique

‘Sharing Creativity Workshops’ are one of the many events organized by Living Poetry. The title of the workshop sounds less intimidating than ‘poetry critique,’ but that is essentially what we get together and do every month.

Some writers (especially non-poets) are lost when it comes to providing feedback on a poem. I remember one of the earlier times I attended a fiction critique group and I asked everyone if they would mind critiquing a short poem. You would think I had asked them to clean a toilet. Scowled faces, glances at the door–they looked like they wanted gloves to hold the poem and wouldn’t even pick up the paper.

Uh, I don’t know what you want me to tell you. It’s good? I guess.

Yeah, that’s a poem. What are you looking for?

I like it. Is that all?

These were just a few of the responses I received. I should have known not to ask non-poets for feedback on a poem!

What I love about our poetry critique group is that everyone is constructive. Yes, we share our opinions on whether or not we liked the poem or not, but the discussions leave you with solid feedback you can immediately apply to revise your piece.

What do we provide in our critiques?

  1. Cutting. Usually you can cut a line or a stanza or two to make the poem tighter. Sometimes we’ll say the poem really starts here–and that could help eliminate or move whatever came before then.
  2. Cliches. If something moved as fast as lightning or the smell of fresh cut grass was overwhelming, we point those cliches out so that the writer can return to each spot and replace them with a strong and unique alternative.
  3. Choice. Not all word choices in a first or third draft of a poem are the best. The critiques help identify weak or distracting word choices and suggestions for replacements are given.

One of my favorite things about our poetry critique group is that the same people attend regularly, which means we get to know each other personally and each other’s writing styles. We know who is going to nitpick punctuation, who will ask you to re-write the poem in the present tense, and who will take all of your figurative metaphors literally and try to convince you the poem is unrealistic. Knowing all of this helps me critique my work myself before I even send it to the group. (And, yes, I may still send one with no punctuation, in past tense, and as full of metaphors as a dog’s belly after raiding the trash on Thanksgiving.)