Apr 30, 2008

The Poet and The Critic

Have you ever submitted a poem for critique? The web is full of poetry forums. Some of them are dedicated to giving and receiving critiques. Many have boards dedicated to critique. Each has its own rules and mission. 

Here are a few guidelines that should apply to all of them. Following them will help you get the most out of any forum.

Rules for the critic:

  • Read the poem once without being critical.  Give it a chance.
  • Read the poem three times before starting your comments.  More is better if it is a difficult poem.
  • Be honest.  Trust the poet to know that you are discussing the poem.
  • Make sure you are discussing the poem and not the poet.
  • Resist the urge to entertain yourself at the expense of the poem. Clear and concise are more important than fun to read or write.
  • Understand the difference between a literary critique and a forum critique.  The first is to help the reader, the second to help the poet.  You want to help the poet.
  • If you want good critiques give good critiques.  Put some thought and effort into what you say, and give more than you get.

Rules for the poet:

  • Post one poem at a time and spread them out over a reasonable period.  If you dump on the forum you'll wear out your welcome and receive fewer quality critiques.
  • Refuse to take any comment personally, even if it is personal, especially if it is personal.  Arguing with the critic is a no-win situation. If the comments are more than you can endure, contact a moderator privately and let them deal with the problem.
  • Give the critique some thought.  You don't have to agree, but you should understand.  The critique that completely misunderstood your poem may have the insight you need.
  • Always thank the critic.  Ungrateful poets are uncritiqued poets.

Rules for the critique:

  • The subject of a poem is neither good nor bad.  Stick to how well the subject is supported or presented.
  • How well you like/dislike a poem is critique only if you support it with examples and explanations.
  • Correcting grammar and punctuation is valid critique, but it is also the least valuable form of critique.  Give your opinion, and back it up.  Share insights about the structure or subject that may improve the poem.  Suggest a technique that might apply.  Be more than a reference book.
  • Learn the forum's formating commands. Use them to make the critique easy to read.  Use quotes from the poem where applicable.  Observe and follow the standards of the forums where you post.
  • Rewrite poems only if there is no better way to illustrate a point, and then only if it is an acceptable practice on that forum.  If in doubt, ask.
  • Everyone has pet peeves and standard lectures.  Be sure they apply before using them. Occasionally the poet really did know what they were doing.

Rules for the poem:

  • The poem should be your best effort. If you know how to improve it, do. Then post.
  • Check the spelling and grammar before you post.
  • Unless it is essential to the structure of the poem do not center align. It makes the poem harder to read.  It also makes it harder to format a readable critic.
  • The poem must stand on its own.  If you have to explain it then it wasn't ready to leave home.  It it gets beat up wait until you get home to apply the bandages.  Critique is a rough game.

Rules for the human:  Caution, humans, highly fragile, this side up.

  • There is a person on the other end of that critique or poem.  Fallible, opinionated, and prone to misunderstandings these creatures are attempting to communicate through the substantial barrier of the internet.  Give them credit for tying and meet them halfway.
  • You can not learn if you are not willing to be wrong. Poems die in critiques. Sometimes the poetry dies too. Then, if you are lucky, you get to start all over again; a new poet, new poetry, and better for the experience.

  • Forgive your critics.  Forgive yourself.  Write on.


Melissa Donovan said...

Mikel, These are great guidelines! I wonder which forums you would recommend for poetry?

Melissa Donovan at Writing Forward

Mikel said...


For serious poets I recommend:
Poetry Free For All
The Gazebo

I've known about The Gazebo and Eratosphere for some years, and used to make occasional posts there. Poetry Free For All is new to me, but the site looks great and the guidelines are sound.

It has been some years since I gave poetry serious attention, so I'm warming up in an easier environment, The Poet Sanctuary is a friendly place with a good critique board suitable for beginners.

You can take a looksee at all my collected links here or using the link under My NoteBook Pages on my blog.