Week Four: ~ Critique Etiquette Part 2 ~
Greetings and welcome on our much-anticipated critique series, now in its fourth week. Take a moment to get comfortable, gather your thoughts, grab yourself some refreshments or a smoke before settle down with us. Ready? Here we go…
In Part I of Critique Etiquette, we touched on the best way to comment and respond to negative comments on a poem. This week we’d like to expand on that and go a little deeper by outlining the power of a critique to inspire the writer in an encouraging way to improve; or, discourage them from writing altogether.
So who should be critiqued?
1) Since Deep Underground Poetry is an all-age inclusive site, it’s important to recognize your audience, and perhaps the level in which s/he is writing. Most professors and high school teachers who’ve taught poetry to school children caution against in depth critiquing, as it’s an effective tool that attempts to improve the quality of the writer’s work.
2) In depth critique simply has no place at the early stages, when encouragement to explore poets and write lots of poetry is paramount to keep them engaged. It can prove highly discouraging to start critiquing their work when they’ve discovered the nerve to write telling the writer what you particularly like. This is a time for broad encouragement, not criticism.
3) Critique is useful when the writer has relaxed into the initial stages of introduction, e.g. – writing, sharing, exchanging positive feedback. The writer should then be consistent in quantity. This consistency typically leads to an attention shift from production toward how to improve their work. The writer will begin to question themselves as to how to attain the recognition of a master poet or mentor who inspires them. Or, perhaps they feel they have, and are confused as to why others don’t see this.
When a writer begins to question how to improve or get others to recognize what they themselves feel they know, they are ready for critiquing. Please note in the case of the latter example, you can tactfully help a writer who thinks he's perfect (as long as he wants more acceptance).
4) There’s a difference in teaching and critiquing that should run parallel to the stage of the writer. This distinction should not be ignored or writers who are critiqued too early may lose hope and forgo writing altogether. Also, they could doubt themselves to the point of revising work endlessly to achieve a perfect poem, and end up abandoning it. When a poem works (delivers the message), it's good enough and can always be improved.
I’ve written many poems that I’ve gone back and revised years after the fact. There's no time limit on revisions. As Paul Valery once said, "A poem is never finished, only abandoned." A writer who endlessly revises hasn't learned to decide the piece is done. The difference in a professional and novice is completion of the poem. While I reserve the right to return at some later date to revise, I don’t wait for the poem to reach some impossible standard because of a critique I received too early.
So how do I critique a novice?
1) While it can it feel like navigating a war-zone (blindfolded) when trying to critique a young writer, it can be done gracefully and tactfully. Recognizing the different levels of writers assists in determining their actual needs vs. what they feel they need and thus request, e.g. – honest critique or friendly feedback.
2) Remember, many young writers feel they’ve already mastered a level of writing and are seeking validation. We should never compromise our integrity by lying. While genuine attention to the strong points of a poem is a polite way to lead into a critique, never praise “strong” if you think it’s really weak just to have something to say. It’s better to not respond than compromise your truthful observation.
3) One of the most common lies I observe daily is when a flat-line poem is praised as moving. Of course, when the writer is expressing their sorrow regarding a death, it takes courageous tact to critique on the poem’s areas of improvement. This could be a case where the writer is too close to the poem and it may be best to say nothing rather than compromising your integrity to comfort them through the poem.
Remember that your decision to critique or encourage could be a determining factor of a future writer's failure or success! Imagine their success with you as a contributor to that goal by the mere words you choose.
We will be taking a break next week from the series to feature our February’s Poem of the Month, but will return the week after with some examples of solid critique from two DUP members who have honored us by agreeing to provide them.
We’re very excited about that so stay tuned!
If you’d like to initiate and/or join in the discussion please feel free to comment here, or visit our facebook page and join there! Week Four Part 2 https://www.facebook.com/DUpoetry/photos/a.10154508509648665.1073741826.148635498664/10154904045043665/?type=3&theater