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.
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.
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.