Monday, September 28, 2009

Sometimes I will critique a poem on a poetry board that somebody has posted as a draft. Often these are the outpourings of teenaged angst, or young person angst, the standard 'moon june spoon'/'he left me and I am in six kinds of pain' poems.

I think most beginning writers go through this, having discovered that their fingertips are the most fascinating part of them (not unlike the way babies discover the world they belong to starting with ME and moving outward from there.) and there has to be certain period where they work out the rough spots. Now and then I take pity on one of them and while not directly critiquing the poem suggest that they might want to consider rewording some of the more angst-laden bits, cut down on the weeping eyes and rent flesh. Now and then they get it immediately, and return a draft that while not perfect, shows improvement.

All too frequently, however, all they want is praise for what they did and have no intention of reworking anything. I'm fairly wary of 'rough drafts' but now and then, as I did yesterday, I took a leap. Her friends came in and told her, basically, the poem was perfect as it was and they LOVED the way the inverted language sounded, don't change a thing, they said.


She hasn't been heard from since. Either she is somewhere hunched over her draft writing, writing, or she has moved on to Facebook.

'rough draft' is a two edged sword. Either the writer is so enamored of this thing that he's afraid to say it's finished and hopes no one will make him work on the masterpiece, or he's too lazy to
actually do the work himself. He wants us to rewrite his entire poem, line by line, and then takes credit for agreeing with us. In a way it's like teaching a kid to ride a bike by showing him a training film, or making him watch OTHER kids ride their bikes.

My own feeling is, if it's that rough a draft, clean it up, work on it, learn how to revise and not worry about "spoiling" it, and when you can't get any forrader alone, THEN you post it.


  1. I know nothing about poetry so a critic I'm not.
    But I do criticize some things. I criticize my granddaughters music, because I don't like it...any of it. It doesn't mean its not good music to many listeners, its just I don't like it. How do you accept or reject a poem? Do each of us have the ability to judge others work? I see woodworking projects that I like or dislike, but I'm not really sure its such a bad piece of work, or if I just don't like it. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, perhaps something you don't care for is beautiful to another. I don't accept criticism very well, if you had told me it was shoddy, I probably wouldn't write any more poems period. But then again, I'm not a poet.

  2. I see your point, Harvey. but we all know good stuff when we see it, even if we don't like it much.

    The board Im on is directly devoted to getting people to discover how to write better. often all it takes is pointing out the rough edges in a piece (otherwise know as Other Eyes) and letting them clean it up. Other times someone will post a poem intentionally to have it looked at, often something that they just wrote ten minutes ago and havent looked at as to spelling, grammar, etc, and expect us to do the housework for them.
    some poets react very well to criticism (and this doesnt meaning telling them their work is a piece of crap, by the way) and will often take the criticism as positive, since it forces them to reevaluate what they've done.

    Telling someone work is shoddy isn't helpful, no, it's just mean and arrogant. Showing someone how they might be able to make it better (as is often asked) is very different.

    But now and then you get someone who thinks they have written the next Shakespearean sonnet, and bristles at any suggestion that it might need work.

    It's a two way street, and both agree to that at the beginning.

    and what you said about telling someone their work is shoddy, you're absolutely right, most people would never try again. Which is why we don't do it. *g*