Commenting on Your Serendipity and Thursday Thoughts

01 Mar

7:12 a.m. — Atlanta

Hello, all. Everyone facing the late winter storms, I hope you are provisioned and burrowed in. Looks like some nasty stuff and more coming.

Speaking of burrowed, this post is going to be long, unless I have a brainstorm as I write. Grab some tea, or coffee; or, leave the tab open and dip in and out. As I copied and pasted the comments and reordered material so like comments stand together, it occurred to me that you are intelligent people, perfectly capable of synthesis, if the material is presented in a clearer form than the comment stream.This will be a two-parter. The second part will come on Thursday, 15 March.

The comments are worth rereading. I learned more from them than I realised, when I reread them in their new order. I want to thank the person who suggested this as a topic. I came to some important conclusions that have altered how I will approach people’s poems. The change is internal, so no, you won’t see a difference :-).

I learned, or was reminded, that our community is not a critique forum. Our community is one that is composed of writers of all levels and abilities, who love to write and read poetry. Some of us may revel in metaphor to the point of losing a reader’s comprehension, but we have a blast coming up with the metaphors, so who loses? The reader can move on to another poem. Some of us struggle to find metaphors [Sigh]. People who read our poems may well think: So where are the analogies to help me understand the poem?

Part of the equation is that we have become a community. We ‘know’ each other, and will know each other better, as we continue to read, comment and smile at each other’s work. No one wants to hurt anyone else, especially with regard to something as vulnerable making as putting out something we have written, for everyone to read. Mark said something important for us to remember. He assumes none of us sets out with the intention of being hurtful, or malicious. That’s not to say an attack will never happen. I know a couple of you have had problems, but Mark’s assumption is a nice one to start with, isn’t it?

I was also reminded, by Jules, that we do not have to understand every poem we read. I think we want to because of the community thing. We also do not have to like everything we read. Good grief. Look at the variety of styles and focuses we have. It would be odd if we did like everything. But, as Julie Catherine reminds us, it is about the poem not the poet. We need to understand that both as writers and as readers.

Several of us say we want comments and critiquing. Some don’t. Not everyone revises. Some of us publish our poems for the sheer fun of having written them, and having them read.  Joseph makes the point that out of his context a suggestion isn’t always helpful. Some of us try to make specific comments, as the most helpful, even if it’s to say: That line, in stanza two, that is a terrific image because… Sometimes it is as helpful to know what does work, or to learn how the reader interprets something we have written.

I know both Mark and I have said, at various times, that we have no ego where the critiquing of our poems are concerned. I think a couple more of us feel the same way. We probably already know if we have a so-so poem, or a poem that has legs. We probably already know that part of the poem is cliché, that one stanza is not as strong as the rest, that word choice can be better. It helps to know what other people see and hear, where their minds take them. Sometimes, we get the nudge, the boost we need to take the poem to another level. Maybe we have known each other long enough, now, that we can state when we post a poem if we wish suggestions and if we prefer them emailed, or don’t mind an open forum.

My son is an extraordinary poet and while he was in High School, I asked him to teach one of my classes. He brought four of his poems with him to take my students through the process of analysis. I watched as he put a poem up on the screen and asked the kids what they saw. Because he was only a year or so older, they were not shy about telling him. What struck me were his responses. As each told him what they saw in his words, he said: “That’s interesting. I see what you mean.” Or, “Wow! you’re right. I hadn’t noticed that.” Never were the words “No, that’s not it” said. After, I asked him about it [this was as I was starting my own writing] and he said to me “Mom, their reading is as valid as my writing. They have to make their own truth. I can only hope it is close to mine.” Wow!

Alright, I’m losing focus. Reread the comments. I’ll meet you at the end.

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.

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.

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 break from the computer and get some fresh air and then write something for yourself or to share. No one is perfect.

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 but I realize not everyone does so I refrain — I’d hate to be responsible for stifling someone’s creativity if they lack confidence.

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.

Julie Catherine
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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….)

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.

I’m not sure if there will ever be a standard across the blogosphere. 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).

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.

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 a prompt and posting it week after week already takes up a section of the brain. For the long haul, most prompt hosts 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.

Me: You with me still? Staggering to the finish line? I thought it important enough to what we do, given how much of our time we spend with each other and each other’s work, to have this post as it is. Part Two? There’s more? Three days after the original post, I published a poem in response to Wordle 45. Juxtaposed with the comments on commenting, I found it fascinating and think it will be of value to take you through my revision process as based on the suggestions.

See you tomorrow for the roundup; then I am dark for the week while meeting my granddaughter :D, so will see you on Tuesday the 13th for our last prompt on place; and the following Thursday for comments and the revision process.

Happy writing, everyone.


Posted by on 01/03/2012 in poetry, writing


Tags: , , ,

25 responses to “Commenting on Your Serendipity and Thursday Thoughts

  1. vivinfrance

    01/03/2012 at 9:22 am

    Phew! On the basis of what most people are saying, I have decided to leave a permanent message on my profile, welcoming constructive criticism, thanking people for pointing out typos, word repetition and rhythm problems. Then nobody should hang back, but please do it nicely!

    • margo roby

      01/03/2012 at 10:55 am

      Exactly! That’s what I am thinking. I figure, eventually, we’ll internalise what each person likes. Is there a way, oh tech goddess, to leave a permanent message?

  2. annell

    01/03/2012 at 9:28 am

    I liked the comments so much. I love to write, and sometimes tickle myself, I love the comments, too.

    • margo roby

      01/03/2012 at 10:53 am

      annell, you made me laugh right out loud. I love that you get a kick from your own enjoyment. And, I agree with you. I find comments fascinating.

  3. Mary

    01/03/2012 at 10:22 am

    Hi Margo, I found your comments invaluable. And I will send the post on to a few others who are not regular here. I think you are right about the typo thing. Actually last night I posted a poem, and when I looked at it this morning I found typos and corrected them. Some had already commented on the poem, and I found myself being embarrassed that they had seen the typos. (And had not commented) Oftentimes I find my own errors if I give a poem a bit of time. I make it a point to visit everyone who visits my blog (if I mess up sometimes, it is unintentional). I do think as we get to know each other well we sometimes do address the poet and not the poem, thinking that all poems are about the poet and the poem relates directly to his/her experience. Most of the time I try to comment ON the poem, and I think after reading these words I will try even harder.

    Irene commented on prompt hosts. I host a prompt a month at Real Toads and one or two prompts at Poetry Jam. I do make it a point to visit everyone who posts in response to my prompt (unless they put in something that has absolutely nothing to do with the prompt and I sense they are placing it there only to get comments and give nothing in return. It is time-consuming, but a ‘labor of love,” I guess. It is helpful if everyone at a prompt site reciprocates and comments on one another’s poems; but there are always some people who place their poem and wait for the world to discover them….and pay no heed to anyone else’s efforts.

    I do not mind people commenting on something that I could improve; but I also realize each poet is individual and we all have our own style, so I think one has to be sensitive to someone’s ‘style’ before suggesting. That’s my opinion anyway.

    Margo, I enjoyed your son’s comment to your class when he was teaching a class on poetry. Yes, indeed people may interpret a person’s poem in a way that the poet did not intend it; but each reader CAN interpret poems differently; and no one is wrong. Your son is wise.

    Thank you for taking the time to compile all of this information! Enjoy your time with new grandchild next week!

    • margo roby

      01/03/2012 at 10:52 am

      Mary, thank you for the response. I like that you have given your own synthesis. I agree with you that we need to remember poem, not poet, and that we may have make disclaimers like: “For Heaven’s sake tell me if you spot something wrong!” If people don’t make disclaimers or ask for suggestions, then we hope they manage alright on their own.
      My son is wise. After all, he just gave me my granddaughter!

  4. Julie Catherine

    01/03/2012 at 11:37 am

    Margo, excellent, excellent post – a real keeper for me, thank you! I can’t wait to read part two. And I definitely agree that your son is a very wise man – his comments to your students prove him to be an excellent role model to follow; kudos to him!

    Just a suggestion to poets, and it is not an easy one to follow, especially when we’re still on a ‘high’ from completing a poem that we want to post – let it rest before posting; preferably overnight, or at the very least, an hour, before hitting that publish button. Take your focus away from your poem for awhile, then go back and read it with fresher eyes. Usually errors like typos and incorrect word usage will pop out at you and you can fix them – before you post your poem. I know it’s difficult when you’re enthusiastic, but it’s worth it to take the time.

    ~ Julie 🙂

    • margo roby

      01/03/2012 at 3:52 pm

      Thank you, Julie. You make a very good point about walking away and coming back. The brain sees as if completely new.

  5. The Happy Amateur

    01/03/2012 at 12:27 pm

    A very interesting post, Margo, thank you. A lot of good old common sense here. For me personally, I guess, the ‘commenting rules’ are: do the best you can (in terms of visiting other people’s blogs, and leaving comments) and be positive (I don’t know if I’d be able to refrain from a negative comment, if something really appalled me, and I considered that something dangerous – nationalistic, racist stuff, for instance – but thank goodness, I haven’t encountered anything of the sort in this poetic community.)

    And your blog, Margo, is not just a great place to be, it’s a great place to learn, too. I do consider you a writing instructor, and value your comments, suggestions, insights, critique… very much.
    (One more thing: I see that pretty much nobody posts poems directly to your threads (except me.) I write something during the week, and then post on my blog the following Monday. This gives me a chance to put the poems aside for a while, then come back and edit them. Please, let me know if that would be OK with everybody if I continued posting ‘raw drafts’ directly below your prompts.)

    Thank you again, Margo, for taking time to put together your post.

    • margo roby

      01/03/2012 at 3:55 pm

      Sasha, I thank you for your kind and supportive words. Our community means a lot to me.

      There is no problem with your publishing in comments. Jules sometimes does. And, occasionally someone hasn’t wanted to put a poem on a blog because of personal stuff, so have posted in my comments. Whatever you are happy with works.

  6. Yousei Hime

    01/03/2012 at 3:39 pm

    Wait … I need to wipe my blurry eyes. 😉 That was great. Thinking through these things, no matter what each blogger’s decision, is really essential to blogging. Even if we don’t comment on other people’s posts often, we still have comments to respond to on our own site, right? I just remembered that last year (I think) one of the WP blogs (hmmmm…, had what I thought a useful post on commenting. I made a notecard and kept it by my computer to use. Can’t find it now 😀 but I still try to run down the list when I’m making a comment. I look forward to reading your next post. (Did we walk the talk?)

    • margo roby

      01/03/2012 at 3:59 pm

      Yousei, You walked the talk. I was pleased.

      I think the main value of everyone’s response is setting to paper their thoughts, clarifying each of us for ourselves what we believe and getting to see other’s thoughts. Thanks for the link. I’ll post it with Part 2.

      • Yousei Hime

        01/03/2012 at 5:02 pm

        I agree. That’s what has helped me. I just have to refocus from time to time, re-evaluate. Your questions and subsequent post(s) are helping me do just that. Looking forward to it. 🙂

  7. Joseph Harker

    01/03/2012 at 10:14 pm

    I think de is trying to guilt me… 😉

    But thank you for this post, it is a good collection of thoughts on the subject. I don’t think we can hope to invent some kind of standard for how we interact, but it’s good to get it all out there.

    • margo roby

      02/03/2012 at 10:12 am

      I agree, Joseph. We’re not exactly a standard bunch 🙂 But, now that we have read thoughts, it will be interesting to see if more people ask for critiques and whether some readers are willing to do so.

      It’s never a dull world.

  8. Hannah Gosselin

    02/03/2012 at 10:18 am

    I’m so very new, to this particular community but I’ve felt extremely welcomed and respected also I’ve been pleased to cross paths with people from other writing areas of my life. This thread has been super valuable and I look forward to the continuing process.

    I’ve been trying to be fair in the reciprocation of comments and also have been putting some time into getting outside my own little blog, “box,” and making comments on people’s blogs that have not commented on mine. It is all such good process and I tend to, as some have already stated here, pick an image or lines that are striking to me and let the writer know what, “got,” me. On the other hand I am open to constructive criticism, I’m just not comfortable with, “dishing-it-out,” so to speak, as some are not seeking that type of feedback. Playing it safe, I suppose!

    Thank you all, for what you do, making the writing world more meaningful for yourselves and others! Smiles!

    • margo roby

      02/03/2012 at 10:27 am

      What a lovely response, Hannah.
      The whole comment/response thing is a tough one, more because of the time it takes, than anything else, and the desire to make nice and play fair. However, and I am grinning now, when someone says “Come on. have at the poem,” dish away!

  9. Hannah Gosselin

    02/03/2012 at 10:41 am

    So very true, Margo, good thought-out comments can be very time consuming and, I’ll speak for myself here, if the sentiment is not returned I tend to feel a little less motivated to comment and bit emptied of the reserves and time I’m willing to put forth in commenting.

    I believe all of life is about relationship, (human and otherwise), and that healthy relationship is based on balance. True balance, I believe, is achieved through a respectful give and take.

    Any way, I’m sounding a little “Proverb-y,” but I do think this way. Lol!

    Thanks so much for your thoughts on my comment, Margo! 🙂

  10. MiskMask

    02/03/2012 at 11:41 am

    It was very good of you, Margo, to so thoroughly analyse our comments for easy reading. It seems to me that we’re all signing from the same hymn book, just with different pitches. Personally, I find that realisation comforting because it seems that we’re all like-minded.

    I hope you have a wonderful visit with your granddaughter, and that you make some very special and long-lasting memories. It’s difficult when family live so far apart, and those moments together are very special. Enjoy, and safe journey.

    • margo roby

      02/03/2012 at 12:03 pm

      It’s something I enjoy doing, Misky. I love ‘the same hymn book, different pitches’. Perfect metaphor.

      Thank you for your good wishes.


Join the discussion and feel free to critique, or suggest an idea for any poem I post.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: