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A word on critique in poetry

By June 9, 2022No Comments

As any writer knows, the editing process is essential to creating a polished and professional piece of work. However, editing someone else’s poem can be a delicate task. 

It is important to approach the poem with an open mind and to be respectful of the author’s unique voice and vision. Remember that you are not trying to shape their voice, vision, or poem to match your own. Rather, you are trying to help them make the most out of their own style.

The kindness sandwich should be nutritious.

At the same time, it is also vital to be honest and objective in order to identify areas that need improvement. Giving or receiving praise is lovely, but it is not useful on its own if we are looking to improve our writing. Editing another person’s poem requires a delicate balance of tact and objectivity. Be kind! What you say can have a powerful impact on the writer for a long time.

Identify what you notice rather what you like.

When you like a line, a word, or a turn of phrase, try to understand WHY. This will be immensely useful to the author as they will be able to strengthen their writing ‘muscles’ in areas where they excel, while training areas where they may still be weaker.

Any artist who has ever shown their work to others knows that critique, even from professionals, is not always gospel. Just because someone doesn’t like your work doesn’t mean it’s bad. And just because someone says your work is good doesn’t mean it’s great. 

Critique is subjective, and as an artist, you have to learn to filter it and take what is useful from it. Otherwise, you’ll never be able to develop your own voice and style. So the next time you get critique, remember that it’s just one person’s opinion. Take what is useful from it and leave the rest.

A professional editor will usually be able to give a more informed and objective view based on experience and expertise, but at the end of the day, the final word remains with the original author of the piece.

Set aside personal attachment.

The act of writing is a creative one, and the initial vision for a piece is often nebulous and hard to articulate. As the author, you have a clear sense of what you’re trying to say and how you want to say it. However, when you’re editing your work, it’s important to set aside your personal attachment to the piece and consider whether it actually works on its own. Is the meaning clear? Do the images flow together logically? Are there any typos or grammatical errors? These are all questions that you need to be able to answer objectively in order to produce a strong piece of writing. 

Similarly, when giving feedback to someone else, it’s important to try to see the piece from their perspective. What is their initial vision for the piece? Can they explain it to you clearly? If not, then it’s possible that the piece is not yet finished and still needs some work. In any case, the goal should be to help the author produce a strong, coherent piece of writing that they can be proud of.

Respect the poet’s voice.

If you want to be a good critic, it’s important to respect the style, genre, or topic of the piece you’re critiquing. This doesn’t mean you have to like everything, but it does mean being open-minded and willing to engage with the material on its own terms. For example, if you don’t normally enjoy rhyming poetry, this should not weigh in directly on your judgement of the poem.

There’s no need to be brutal, but don’t sugar-coat your critiques either. Be specific in your comments, and try to point out things that could be improved. Finally, remember that the aim is to make the writer better, not just the piece. So focus on offering constructive criticism that will help the writer grow and improve.

Miriam Calleja

Author Miriam Calleja

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