Your Serendipity and Thursday Thoughts

23 Feb

9:29 a.m. — Atlanta

Hello, everyone. I am a trifle late getting started. There ought to be a rule about dental appointments at 7:30 in the morning. At least it’s behind me. Ahead, an announcement, a request, two questions for you to ponder and respond to, and a couple of interviews to check out.

1] Julie Catherine has this : I will be announcing a special writing contest for Friday February 24th — ending Friday March 2nd:  “First Line, Best Line, Worst Line”  There will be 2 prizes of a FREE copy of Stephen Francia’s eBook, “Free Dive-Beyond the Blue Curtain”.

Also, just a reminder of my special guest feature blog for March, which I’ll be posting on March 1st; and the Medal of Humor challenge Mar 12th to 16th.

Keep an eye out for the announcements.

2] The request comes from Barbara, aka Briarcat, whose husband has offered her any workshop she can get into. She says: So I’m looking for suggestions.  I did a long weekend last year here in Nashville, (it was at Scarritt-Bennett, pretty place)  and came out of it really energized, but I’d love to find a longer one, at least a week.

I’d like to see what comes in [especially as I have the same offer], so any of you out there who have been to a workshop and loved it, or have heard good things about a workshop, let us know. A link would be champion, but a name will do fine. It might be a good thing to keep a list and I am happy to curate one.

3] The first of two issues I want to throw out there for thoughts, and even lively discussion, speaks to the problem of comments that don’t seem to fit with what an individual is seeing when reading a poem. I heard from a writer, recently, and have received this question in the past:

When visiting other poets in the blogosphere, what if you read a person’s poem and you do not understand it at all?  But you notice that other people before you are giving it high praise?   Should you just ‘jump on the bandwagon’ and give it high praise as well or admit that you really do not understand it?   Or, even if you are the only commenter, should you ever be honest and say you do not understand it?  If not, what should you say?

I suspect all of us have been in this particular boat. I struggle with the issue on two levels: poems where I do not understand what the poem is about, or what it is conveying; and poems that are so-so in quality. The comments, however, rave. What now? I would love to hear from everyone on this as it affects all of us. How much truth do we as writers want, and how much truth should we as readers give? What do we do if we feel we should comment, don’t want to criticise, necessarily, but have a hard time obfuscating [beating around the bush].

4] The second issue is to do with Blogger and its new security verification, using CAPTCHA. I don’t know about you young ones, but I cannot read the scrawled word. I had to skip commenting on someone’s blog this week because she has the new word verification. I would hate to lose the ability to join all of you in the commenting rounds because I can’t read one word. Visit this site for a good tirade on the topic. What she says is my stand, unfortunately.I am curious as to reactions from Blogger bloggers and from the people who visit Blogger blogs.

5] Poetic Bloomings has an interview with writer Claudette Young. To quote Marie Elena quoting Claudette: “I took up writing at the age of 12. I gave up writing to be a “Real Person” during my early adulthood and middle years. Then I learned what “real” actually meant to me and began writing again. Using words set me free. Making sentences, that’s the hard part.”

The second interview is at Poets United, where Sherry interviews Rene Foran. I love how she answers the final question: A Perfect Day Off?

75 degrees
A little sleep
A little writing
and lunch at Great Harvest Bread Company.
I’m not too hard to please.

My kind of person.

I shall see you tomorrow for the roundup; next Tuesday for an image prompt; and next Thursday for whatever comes down the pike. This is the third time I have tried to publish this. I hope it’s sitting in your inbox.

Happy writing, all.


Posted by on 23/02/2012 in poetry, writing


Tags: , , , , ,

31 responses to “Your Serendipity and Thursday Thoughts

  1. Yousei Hime

    23/02/2012 at 11:44 am

    Too many things to talk about, lady.
    1) I’ll watch for your upcoming stuff.
    2) Unfortunately I have no workshops to recommend, being poorly funded from a reluctant husband.
    3) I’m really glad you broached this subject. I’m not sure if there will ever be a standard across the blogsphere. I will say I don’t care for the prevailing trend. I like being told my writing is good, but not if it is not. I like reading about what the writer saw that moved them or really jumped out at them. I wouldn’t mind at all some suggestions or constructive criticism. But that’s just me. I had a real attack once, and quit writing for weeks because of plummeting confidence and fear of another. Even so, it ultimately made me want to write better. As to being a commenter, I try very hard not to follow crowds. If I like a post but only find it so-so (or don’t have time) I’ll just “like” it. Not everyone offers that option. 😦 If I really like a post, I’ll make some kind of comment, something like I’d like to get. I don’t offer suggestions very often, because I’m afraid to, plain and simple. Some sites do seem to welcome them, and I offer them tentatively. Short summary, I’d like less cheerleading and more this did/not work for me and why (without condemnation of course).
    4) I hate the lack of connection between WP and Blogger. There is no continuity in how to subscribe (I don’t want my google homepage filled with blogs). There is no good way to keep track of responses to comments. And I hate the CAPTCHA thing, though I understand its necessity. Unless I really love someone’s blog (and I do adore several) I won’t subscribe and often won’t visit on a regular basis because it is so frustrating maintaining communication.
    5) Looking forward to the interview.

    Squirmy can of rabbit worms over.

    • margo roby

      23/02/2012 at 11:47 am

      Wow, Yousei! Thank you. You gave the discussion a great kickoff, squirmy rabbit worms and all.

  2. Kathleen Cassen Mickelson

    23/02/2012 at 12:06 pm

    Nice post and, yes, an awful lot of things to talk about. I’d like to chime in on the question of comments on someone’s poetry. If a poem is posted for people to read and enjoy, then I don’t really see the point of posting comments that tell the author what is wrong with it or if the poem didn’t click with a reader. There are workshop forums for those kinds of comments and that’s where writers go to specifically get that sort of feedback. Perhaps, what might work if someone is compelled to comment anyway, is to pick out the one line or image that resonates, rather than pointing out flaws. If the images that resonate for the readers are not what the writer intended, then they’ll get the message that their work isn’t doing what they thought it was without all the ripping emotion of negative criticism. At least, they will if they are thoughtful readers themselves. If nothing resonates for a reader, then no comment is necessary. A lack of comments can also point out that something is not working.

    • margo roby

      24/02/2012 at 9:41 am

      Ah! Kathleen, I thought I saw an unfamiliar name go by, as I made my way through the avalanche! Welcome. Glad to have you and very glad you felt comfortable enough to jump right in.

      I usually answer comments individually, but with so many this week, I am going to make next Thursday’s post a synthesis.

      Keep jumping in. We are a friendly, relaxed group.


  3. MiskMask

    23/02/2012 at 12:21 pm

    #4: I can’t make heads nor tails of those weird demento letters that make no sense. My rule of thumb is try twice, and if it doesn’t work – their loss. Bye-bye.
    #3: There’s little worse than writing for yourself and seeing that no one reads what you write. I will always leave an encouraging comment, unless it’s total piffle and then I go by my motto – If you can’t find anything nice to say, say nothing.
    #2: Can’t help.

  4. Joseph Harker

    23/02/2012 at 12:29 pm

    Not so up on the workshops, but: RWP used to have online workshop boards (at different levels of critique as well) which were really cool. There ought to be something like that again…

    As for commenting, I always try to be sincere in my comments. If I feel indifferent to a poem, I won’t say anything (though this shouldn’t be confused with the fact that sometimes I just don’t have time to read it). If I like a poem, but not for any particular element, I would rather keep silent than just say “Wow, I love it!”, since there’s always several people to do that. It takes a specific piece of the puzzle to get me to say something, whether it’s a turn of phrase, a beautiful setting, a well-captured voice, a perfect use of form… And then, I’m never sure who wants critique and who doesn’t. (I usually don’t, because critique in a vacuum is not helpful at all, and most of my work ties into stuff outside of the vacuum.) So, there’s probably a happy medium of time and honesty out there, just haven’t found it yet.

    I use WP because I find it more flexible (if you have the money/knowhow to customize it), more elegant, and more not-owned-technically-by-Google, which makes me feel a little bit safer about intellectual property rights.

  5. b_y

    23/02/2012 at 12:35 pm

    Rant? Whee!
    I know I’m a bad poetry-community citizen, but I don’t go out reading near as much as I ought. When I do, I’m not consistent. Sometimes, something is just begging for a word of suggestion, but I try to resist unless I’m pretty certain the person on the other end would want it. If I can figure out how to communicate directly, of course, that is better.
    If I can’t “like”, and don’t have anything useful, I use some sort of variant of “nice”, or (more often) skip it and go to the next name. As I said, a bad citizen.

    Capcha, itself, is okay. I just keep “another”ing until something comes up that I can figure out. I’ve never tried to check what happens when you’re almost right, but the whole thing is part of a print-to-digital project based on the fact that the human mind can out-do algorithms on shape recognition. Never tried the voice alternative.

    But, seriously, why bother? How many of us get that much traffic? When I use Blogger, I do not require verification. If the spam trolls show up, you just dump ’em. People seem to think the security option has some sort of mojo. It doesn’t.

    What gets me, (and I can’t figure out the difference in Blogger set-up that gives the alternatives) are the blogs without a name/URL signature option. OpenID signing will take 3-5 retrys, and only gives a link to the blog, not a specific post for the prompt you share.

  6. Julie Catherine

    23/02/2012 at 12:54 pm

    Margo, I am so with you about those awful captcha thingys – I hate them, can’t read them most of the time, and usually try twice before giving up and moving on.

    As a writer and poet, constructive criticism is invaluable to me; and I’d rather have that then have people blow smoke up my you-know-what (lol). A wise man once said that when giving a critique, remember to: address the poem, not the poet; make your criticism but also add at least one thing that is positive (even if it’s only the title); and remember that the author also has the right to ‘defend’ their choices – each has an opinion and a right to express them; be prepared to back up your comments with fact and knowledge. If someone takes huge offense to your comment, back off and exercise your right not to read that author’s work.

    As for understanding the meaning of a poem – some people write with extensive metaphor. I have a dear friend who does, it’s just who she is, and she writes beautiful poetry that has layers of meaning that often takes more than one reading to understand, even for me. I use metaphor, but sparingly, because I’m not as comfortable with it. The beauty of metaphor is that it leaves the reader plenty of room to determine what it means to them – and that may or may not be what the author had in mind when writing. Occasionally I see a comment that says, “this sounds absolutely beautiful, but I’m not quite sure what it means” … lol. That’s okay, too.

    Great post, Margo – and thank you for including my announcements; much appreciated.

    ~ Julie 🙂

  7. viv blake

    23/02/2012 at 1:46 pm

    Workshops in Normandy: May 27-31 and June 3-7, Katherine Gallagher “Voices and Masks” – I have done 2 of her workshops and found them very stimulating.

    June 25-29, RV Bailey, “The Words on the Page” I have not met RVB
    but love her poetry. My kind of poet!

    September 307, Wendy French “Body Language”

    The courses take place in residential accommodation, with wonderful food, in a converted barn in the grounds of an old mill in Villebaudon, Manche, which is the finger of France which points up towards England. They provide transport from ports and airports. I live about 8 miles away and will probably take one of Katherine’s and the RV Bailey course,plus the September one if I can afford it. If anyone is interested, email me and I will put you in touch with Kay Cotton (also a poet), the organiser. There is something incredibly inspirational in working round a table with other poets that I wouldn’t have missed for anything in the world.

    It would be fabulous if some of my blogging friends were there too.

  8. viv blake

    23/02/2012 at 2:06 pm

    re honest commenting: I used to say when I didn’t understand a poem, but came unstuck when poets reckoned their work was crystal clear. I used to offer suggestions and correct typos, but nowadays I only do that to people I know well, and who I know will reciprocate. Nowadays in either of those cases, I either don’t comment at all, or focus my comment on a particular aspect or quote.

    Blogger and blogspot blogs: Most of you well know my difficulties with these commenting obstacle courses. Catchpa, and being asked to prove I’m not a robot, are thoroughly irritating – and that’s when I manage any comment at all. Two or three weeks ago, commenting became relatively easier, but it didn’t last. Now it’s as bad as ever it was. I do wonder if the blog owners themselves realise how bad it is. For instance, on Word Press you have actively to opt in to word verification and other hurdles for the commenter. Would it be too much to ask for Blogspot/Blogger bloggers to turn the darned things off? I get very little spam, and it is soon dealt with.

  9. markwindham

    23/02/2012 at 2:14 pm

    Pushin’ some buttons today. 🙂
    2. Not a clue, not there yet. But, would love the opportunity at some point.
    3. I love the constructive feedback. If it does not work Tell Me! As I have told some of you already, my ego is not fragile and I do not get offended. I am still fairly new getting back into this, so someone pointing out problems and issues to me is great. I posted one yesterday that I thought was an etheree; turns out I got confused between that and a nonet on the line count (1-10 vs 9-1). I am glad someone pointed it out so that I don’t keep doing it. I love Margo’s feedback because it is usually very specific: that word does not work, your passive/active is wrong, too many adjectives. I also tend to post a very early draft, I don’t think it is perfect. So for me, comment/critique away. I have no fears from this group of anyone being intentionally mean or degrading.
    As for when i comment; I tend to follow most of what is said above. I generally don’t critique because I feel like I am just learning myself. I am trying to get more specific in compliments as well. Shawna at Rosemary Mint is very good at making very specific compliments.
    4 Blogger is a pain to comment, especially if you are using your WP account. I generally try twice then move on if I cannot get through.

  10. Mary

    23/02/2012 at 2:15 pm

    I have Blogger and don’t find any need for that ‘captcha’ stuff. I don’t get spam, and so-called robots never visit me. I guess I don’t understand what people fear, why people make it so hard for others to comment. If people get annoying responses, I would much rather have them do ‘comment moderation’ so they can deal with things before they allow them to be seen. But I have found no need for that myself.

    I enjoyed what many have had to say about commenting. I always feel that I want people to know if I visited their blog, so I always want to say something. We all like visits, I think. It definitely is hard if I read a poem I don’t understand, so if this happens I do sometimes leave without commenting. Or I try to find something that I do understand to comment on. Julie, I do like your comment about addressing the poem, not the poet. I think sometimes in the blogosphere after a while we get to know one another and perhaps address the poet a bit more than the poem. I am one who does not mind if someone has a suggestion on how to make my poem better. Often it is an early draft anyway, and if someone sees something I could change to improve it I would not be offended at all.

    An interesting post today, Margo.

  11. JulesPaige

    23/02/2012 at 2:45 pm

    On #4 That catchpa thing is a pain. I don’t understand why WordPress and Blogger can’t play nice. And started a blogger account basically just to be able to leave comments. But here’s the tricky part, I have to be logged into both, and then let the ‘web’ make the correct choice as to how I want to be listed. For example if I comment on blogger folks are then directed to my blogger account, and the same with wordpress. So if I comment on WordPress I can’t direct someone to something I wrote on blogspot unless include the specific link. Not all bloggers use the catchpa system – it appears to be an option. Arrg.

    As for #3 I follow the old school of thought that if you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all. You don’t have to understand or agree with everything that comes down the pike. If available, and you just have to say something – contact the person through their e-mail. There is no reason to put something in the public domain that will intimidate, humiliate or otherwise be unkind. And if there is a heap of praise where you think it doesn’t belong… just leave it be. Take a brake from the computer and get some fresh air and then write something for yourself or to share. No one is perfect.

    I get way more spam at wordpress, I’ve only since what now two months, maybe less or more and have only gotten one spam that I just deleted at blogspot. WordPress I have about three times more spam than actual valid comments. I used to try and see if any of the wordpress spam was valid – now if it ends up in spam, I generally just delete it.

    I think you have opened a virtual can of worms, Margo! But oh how I wish I had the time and money to go on a writing retreat. Maybe if I win the lottery…if I buy a ticket 🙂

    • viv blake

      23/02/2012 at 2:54 pm

      I get very little spam on WordPress, and wondered if you have activated the Askimet spam filter? They do sometimes mistake a proper comment for spam, so I do glance over the few I receive, just to make sure.

      Somebody mentioned unkind comments: I went through a patch where a certain lady started a vendetta on me. I tried a couple of times by email to mend fences, but when that met with no response except for anonymous diatribes on my and other blogs, I decided to write it off to experience and move on.

      • JulesPaige

        23/02/2012 at 5:44 pm

        Thanks Viv, I think it is turned on – otherwise how would it be capturing all the ‘ham?’ I’ve only had two false positives. The spam does get ‘trapped’ – but there is just so much of it. I went to look at the Askimet stats and I saw them. It didn’t say anything about turning it on or off. I have been getting less… but I still get ‘vitamin’ ads, and a ton of misspelled and incorrect grammar messages – from other countries. Even after I put up a paragraph on every post that says I will not post ads of any kind. I don’t need folks coming to my site shifting off to get a coupon for a tan, or a used car, or a vacation trip. I don’t consider that legitimate even if the comment is nice.

  12. Annette @ Aspen Meadows

    23/02/2012 at 3:26 pm

    I’m with the other commentors here. I hate that word verification thing. I try once and if it doesn’t go, forget it. And, I don’t try overly hard to get it right. I find that the blogger spam catched does a good job and even though I review the comments before they are posted, it is very rare that an unwanted comment slips through.
    If I don’t understand a poem, I don’t say anything. …unless there is a line that moves or impresses me in some way even without understanding. I like getting constructive criticism (especially from you) but I realize not everyone does so I refrain — I’d hate to be responsible for stifling someone’s creativity if they lack confidence.

  13. whimsygizmo

    23/02/2012 at 7:44 pm

    Have not read all of the above, but here’s my two cents…
    If I stop by the blog to read the poem of someone I don’t know, and either don’t get it, can’t get all the way through it, or it’s not my cup of tea, I simply don’t comment at all. If they’re anything like me, they are happy for the blog “hit.” 😉 If I like it, I try to comment. If I like something specific about it – a turn of phrase, a word choice, the form – I call that out, because those are my favorite kinds of comments to receive.

    It’s a little different with a poet I am familiar with, respect, and have interacted with before. If something catches me up, I will most likely mention it, because I would want the same if they were reading me. I’m careful with this, though, because we all make our poetic choices carefully, and usually for good reason. Everything is so subjective. It’s not often I would feel it was my place to mention something, unless it’s blatant (like a typo).

    • whimsygizmo

      24/02/2012 at 8:18 pm

      One last thought…for the record, if I were to offer up a prompt or challenge, I would absolutely find a way to comment about each poem written for that challenge. I’m ridiculously enamored of words in general, and can always find at least one word combination to smile at. If I couldn’t, I might simply say, “interesting take on the prompt” or some kind equivalent of “thanks for playing.” I love knowing the original site host took the time to come over and read what I wrote for the prompt, so I would want to do the same.

      • irene

        24/02/2012 at 9:30 pm

        It’s what we’d wish for, or even expect, of prompt hosts, but I do realise, life gets in the way. So even to think up of a prompt and posting it week after week already takes up a section of the brain. For the long haul, most prompt host who do the job of prompting for absolutely free, would find energy fizzling out, since visiting and commenting takes up a whole chunk of time. I think the old Read Write Poem team also felt too much on the giving/hosting side, which takes up a different energy, which took away energy from writing poems. It’s a tricky balance.

      • margo roby

        25/02/2012 at 5:40 pm

        I agree with you re hosts, although that’s not where the question is coming from. I’ll have to include that aspect in the synthesis.

  14. pmwanken

    23/02/2012 at 10:13 pm

    RE: Comments…
    I’m sure I’m echoing much of what’s already been said — but I try to leave something specific in my comments. Let the writer know I’ve truly read their poem. There are occasions that I “don’t get it” — then I read others’ comments and then re-read the poem to see if I can see the same thing. If I do — I follow my first rule: leave specifics. If not — I leave without saying anything. (I will say this: I don’t get around to reading nearly as often as I’d like….)

    RE: Captcha….
    I don’t necessarily enjoy the extra steps of having to type in my info and deciphering the captcha codes, but I don’t generally have any technical difficulties with doing so (using the name/URL option — I did give up on the OpenID option a few weeks ago). If I cannot quite make out the word(s)/characters, I’ll click on the option to give me a new code.

  15. wordsandthoughtspjs

    23/02/2012 at 11:11 pm

    Margo, I am glad you brought up topics 3 and 4;

    I always reciprocate visits to my poems. Sometimes I leave a comment and other times not. I also read and comment on people’s poems, who don’t read or comment on mine. I do that because I like their writing, not because I want a comment. I thought that was what this was all about? Maybe I missed something along the way?

    In all honesty I don’t really give much thought as to what people think of some of my obscurity, i.e. use of metaphor. Every piece I write is practice for me, and I would prefer honesty, some helpful critique, however, if you don’t like it, that is fine too. I have read comments by others on what I consider so-so writing, giving it high praise, and I scratch my head in wonder. That to me is the diversity of the world, if we all liked the same things, what a boring world this would be.

    As for correcting people’s typos in an open forum, I find that just plain rude. People make mistakes and we don’t know what is going on in their lives… were they hurried, upset, not paying attention, etc… in any case a simple email to the person works nicely in this situation. Strictly my opinion.

    I hate captcha and my eyes work perfectly fine.


  16. viv blake

    24/02/2012 at 3:48 am

    Can anyone tell me how my comments on someone’s blog, with links to mine, end up on Facebook? I feel as though I am being invaded, and really am uncomfortable about this.

    • JulesPaige

      24/02/2012 at 7:48 am

      I think something of my writing ended up on Facebook, but the person asked first. I don’t have Facebook so I don’t know how that connection works. Google must be connected somehow to Facebook I think. But don’t quote me. I was surprised that when I was googling something else that I found just something that I had written, a disclaimer that I thought was only on my WordPress site was on Google (a piece I had copied and pasted from private document program) , that was when I Googled my nom-de-plume! Does everything we write end up on the web? You just have to know how to look for it. Someone at a class about Identity Theft told me that there was a site you could go to to look up obscure things that were first posted when the net began it’s life. I think it was something like ‘’ but I’m not sure of that exact address. I guess that’s one of the reasons I use a nom-de-plume. Also now with information embedded in digital photographs, a person can find the location of that vacation photo you took in front of that gourmet bake shop that had a cupcake that looked like Elvis Presley…if you know how to get it that is. I think a over twenty years ago when I was trying to look up something about my family I accessed someones private journal just because I had typed in the right ‘key’ words. I know I probably didn’t answer your original question… but maybe someone else can. ~J

    • margo roby

      26/02/2012 at 1:02 pm

      ViV — I would guess that someone who read your comment liked it and gave it a Facebook like. I’m not sure about the ins and outs, but there are few things, now, that can’t be shared unless locked down.

  17. irene

    24/02/2012 at 5:33 am

    Margo, I think on #3, being honest should be the principle. It doesn’t help the poet to grow if someone praises sky high something quite so so or even blah. That is meaningless poo.

    Which may mean, fewer comments. Given an option between fewer but honestly, thoughtfully expressed comments, and plentiful, but shallow praise, any poet will choose the former. If you’re really serious about making your writing better.

    It’s really helpful to say what you like about a poem, that’s what all of us is looking for I guess, in this community.

  18. margo roby

    24/02/2012 at 9:34 am

    Thank you, everyone. I am awed at the response. I am not ignoring comments, but think it makes more sense to provide a synthesis, which I will do next Thursday.


  19. pmwanken

    26/02/2012 at 10:35 am

    One thought re: comment moderation….

    I do leave my settings for moderation…because I do have a couple friends who are willing to tell me when I have typos, suggest an alternate word, etc. — and they are free to do so right in my comments knowing that comment will not be posted.

    • margo roby

      26/02/2012 at 10:40 am

      Interesting. I know. I said I wasn’t going to reply, but this is different. I hadn’t realised moderation could be used in that way. I’ll definitely add this to the synthesis [which I had better start working on!].


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