Comments as a Critique Mechanism: Thursday Thoughts

15 Mar

2:55 p.m. — Atlanta

Hi everyone. Thank you for so many lovely responses to Hazel’s photographs. I have bathed in the glow of grandmotherhood. This is an updated posting, so those who have read this, you are not going mad. I received a suggestion from Yousei that I post this over at dVerse, something I would love to do.

The prompt is from Charles Miller and can be found at Meeting the Bar: Filling in the Gaps. The gaps being filled here are those that happen during the crafting of a poem. Since the original posting, I have revamped the poem yet again, thanks to a comment from Barb. She saw what I didn’t, that the poem had lost something when it lost the word ‘cement’. A third draft is underway. Welcome to new readers; you’ll know what I am talking about in a minute.

Now, to other poetic paths:

I can find no way to make this post shorter, but it isn’t as long as it appears. I wanted you to have the before and after poems within sight. My objective is to show the value, to me and anyone who says, ‘Please critique,’ of comments, especially those that are specific with suggestions. Even if I end up not following the suggestions obviously, without them I might never have reached where the poem ends up.

How many memories can she cement
into the circuitous windings and back-
trackings of her brain

with its corrugated pelt, its ridges
and folds and lobes, its soft grey
sponginess, its thick

cumbersome workings, dense
with nerves and neurons, its
mazy meanderings?

How many memories can she cement
before the map becomes increasingly
difficult to follow

as senses shout and murmur, emotions
stray, and reluctant memory is slow
to answer, before

she stands entranced at doors of smoke-
fogged rooms, fire licking at the foot
of memory?

I added a title, which I changed, once the poem shifted during revision.

Some of you feel the poem reads well, as is, so that is the first thing to take into consideration. Forgive me for not mentioning your names. This is going to be a long post, as is.

Yousei says, and Teri agrees: ‘I think part of the reason it feels split into two is that you only repeat “How many memories can she cement” the one time. May take some revision, but if you use it even one more time it will take on refrain qualities instead of dividing nature.’

Teri: likes the ‘layering of memories. As for your question for suggestions, I do feel a slight break between the first bit and the second. The first bit seems more factual – like a Doctor’s observations. The second bit seems a bit more dreamy and takes on the quality of the person with the issues of memory blending. As I said above I would love a way to link these to parts somehow. Big help-huh?’

But she has been a help. When I read your thinking on paper, even if you don’t have a specific, my brain is working away on what you say. From these two comments I have already started working on ‘link’ and the two sides of memory.

ViV joins the refrain chorus, and I do love refrains: ‘I agree about the ‘how manys’: a refrain is something I should use more, as it’s an effective technique for pulling disparate thoughts into a coherent whole.’

The poem does have two distinct, apparently disparate focuses: a description of a physical brain, and the events happening to the character’s brain. I am now determined to link or mesh the two parts. Brain continues working.

Annette tells me, ‘Those first three stanzas are very strong and I think the last line is as well (fire licking at the foot of memory). I did sort of drift in the fourth stanza but I can’t tell you why.’

That’s okay, because all I need is the knowledge that I need to look at the fourth stanza and to see if anyone else chimes in on that stanza.

Enter Mary: ‘Actually, Margo, I like the fourth stanza and would not toss it out. (I may be the minority.) Perhaps because I identify with it. LOL. It goes well, in my opinion, with the first three stanzas. I am not as enamored of the last two stanzas.’

Now I have two aspects of the same thing to consider.

Mark says: ‘I actually like the last one better than the fifth; would rather it get moved around than lost. Snip, snip.’

Before reading his comments, I had switched the last three stanzas with the first three. I like the poem better already.

Barbara: ‘I really like the images, Margo. But when that dissatisfied feeling takes you, it’s a good time for radical revision, cause you never know what will have been wanting out of the back of your mind.
If it were mine to play with, I’d begin with that last stanza, like a short story with a killer opening para.’

Interesting possibility. I don’t think I would have thought of this one, at least not for quite a while. I shifted the last stanza to first.

Cheryl is specific as to how the poem works for her: ‘I don’t feel a break. Only the repetition of the first line, and that gives it a good feel. It describes the brain, then it describes the memory fog, so it works for me.’

Traci: ‘It brought to mind my grandmother, whose short-term memory is failing her more and more these days.’

By Cheryl and Traci telling me specifically what the poem does, what they see and what they are reminded of, I know how the poem is coming across, for probably a wider audience.

We all respond to different types of critique styles. Richard‘s is the one that is most effective for me. I read his remarks and reminded myself he is a teacher, so did not immediately send him a half-dozen poems to go through (but, if I ever get a chapbook put together, Richard…).

He says: ‘… since you mentioned some possible suggestions… I like the specificity of the imagery in the first half, and the link between cement, gray matter, and a suggestion of hardening. Perhaps the second half could go in a different direction, instead of cementing, hardening, keeping, you go with something that has to do with the opposite, the losing, so that the “entranced at doors of smoke- / fogged rooms” is evocative of what has been lost.’

I loved R. pointing out the thread of ‘cement, gray matter, and a suggestion of hardening’ and suggesting the counterpoint of losing. [I know from a couple of poems, that Mark can critique in a similar way.]

What happens to the poem now, is one of the wondrous things about writing. While assimilating your comments, I switched the order of stanzas, events first, brain last; put the last stanza first; turned a line into a refrain; added a final stanza; thought some more about Richard’s comment about the contrasting of lost and losing to the cementing and realised that the poem had lost the word ‘cement’ while morphing, but has more of a counterpoint than before [I think]; changed the title.

A final comment, from Jules, gives me a new final stanza.

Taken together, all the comments, no matter your style and what you are comfortable saying, have an effect, are of value. The final consideration must be mine as the creator of the world of this poem. But, all the comments taken together provide me with possible directions, ideas, knowledge. I have the second draft for your perusal and, yes, I would love a continued critique. I need to know what does and doesn’t work; I love suggestions and possible directions. [There should be a space after the title; the spacing has been giving me fits. I stopped playing.]

she stands at doors of smoke-
fogged rooms, fire licking at the foot
of memory.

How many can she rescue
before the structure crumbles
to ash and cinder — already,

senses shout and murmur, emotions
stray, and reluctant memory
is slow to answer —

how many can she rescue before
she loses her way in the circuitous
windings and back-trackings of her brain

with its corrugated pelt, its ridges
and folds and lobes, its soft grey
sponginess, its thick

cumbersome workings, dense
with nerves and neurons, its
mazy meanderings;

how many can she rescue before
her memories become her new truths
and the new truths become her memories?

I need to work on punctuation among other things and, this is only a second draft. I may end up on another continent. This is one reason I love revision (new vision, right? I have heard the word so often, in my life, I forget the real meaning).

That was fun. Thank you all for participating. Whether I say so, or no, please always feel welcome to jump in, on any poem I post. I need to go try to do what ViV has on her blog, with a permanent note.

I shall see you tomorrow for the roundup; next Tuesday for a prompt that plays with motifs (and an introduction to the following week’s prompt, so you can prepare); and next Thursday when we are back to Your Serendipity and announcements. Send them in if you have them.

Happy writing, all. I am heading for the Bar to post and read other contributions.

Richard‘s grey, cement, hardening is niggling. Another poem? See how this works?!


Posted by on 15/03/2012 in exercises, poetry, writing


Tags: , , , , , , ,

40 responses to “Comments as a Critique Mechanism: Thursday Thoughts

  1. vivinfrance

    15/03/2012 at 9:31 am

    A superb summation of the collaborative creative process – it takes me back to my studying days, when we had a fabulous critiquing forum, in which poems and stories sometimes went through several metamorphoses before landing at a definitive version (although I think that a poem is never truly finished). Sometimes I find some of these old chains of poems on my files, and gasp at the progress that can be made in this fashion.

    • margo roby

      15/03/2012 at 11:42 am

      I agree with you, ViV, that a poem is never finished. When I go through my notebooks, which I don’t do often enough, or my computer files, I almost always see more that can be done to a poem, as I learn more and more about writing.

  2. booguloo

    15/03/2012 at 9:55 am

    I have so enjoyed this. I haven’t been witness to a critique before at this level of communication. Early in my life i did hear things like, “That sounds stupid” or “My way’s better”; so I stopped writing for a long time. Since I’ve picked up the pen so to speak I realize these statements were from young teens who haven’t a clue on what to say or how to critique without damaging the writer; but they do have an effect on self critique. Thanks again for showing how a good critiquing is done. I look forward to reading more.

    • margo roby

      15/03/2012 at 11:48 am

      Or, a teacher saying “No, that’s not right. You need to do this,” even when every writerly fibre in you screams “No!”.
      I was lucky. I started writing when I was long out of school and when I did start, I was in a safe place, with great people around me, all teenagers to my thirty-eight, but they, and I, were taught how to critique by the creative writing teacher. And that is the key; we were shown how by someone who knew.
      I’m glad you started writing again, Michael. I find it hard to come to terms with the thirty-eight years that I didn’t write.

      • booguloo

        15/03/2012 at 11:52 am

        I was 13 then. 44 years later. I’m just happy I’ve found my outlet again.

        • margo roby

          15/03/2012 at 11:54 am

          Particularly at our ages 🙂 I have one year on you. What an outlet to have at this point in life. The writing should keep us young.

  3. b_y

    15/03/2012 at 2:22 pm

    Really interesting to see the process working. The two poems are so different.

    Not very good at critique and understanding why things do and don’t work. I like the logic of the new poem. When I was having memory problems, I was always trying to give things structure, and that rings true.
    Wish I could figure out why the new version seems to have lost the urgency of the first. Maybe it’s that section (which I still like) that you start with now. It’s passive. She stands, we watch. Makes the following extended metaphor almost clinical. Or like one of those math problems: given thus and such, how many?

    Is it that “rescue” is almost languid compared with “cement”? There are a lot of slow words in the poem, aren’t there? Long “a” sounds: mazy meanderings, gray, stray, loses her way.
    Revision makes me crazy.

    • margo roby

      15/03/2012 at 5:15 pm

      You say you aren’t good, Barb, but you have given me a wealth of information, so, please, talk your way through my poems, anytime.

      I realised the second draft had lost something. I’m not good at figuring out what, but I do know I can revise the life out of my poetry. What you said, I needed to know. I will now go back to the original and see how I can make it work with this new knowledge. I sense Richard’s comments coming back in. I knew something about them pulled.

      He suggested a contrast of the hardening with the consequent loss, so I need the disparate back and a bridge.

      This is why I love revision, but it makes me crazy, too.

    • tmhHoover

      16/03/2012 at 6:48 pm

      I love that you see a loss of urgency… it makes me want to go back a re read it. Perfect insight.

  4. Hannah Gosselin

    15/03/2012 at 3:34 pm

    cumbersome workings, dense
    with nerves and neurons, its
    mazy meanderings;

    I really enjoyed the flow that sounded much like this part. Great conversation all around this one, Margo et. all! Smiles!

  5. tmhHoover

    16/03/2012 at 9:58 am

    Unable to post comments to wordpress

    • margo roby

      16/03/2012 at 10:04 am

      A lot of people are having that problem, Teri. They must be undergoing a big update.

    • tmhHoover

      16/03/2012 at 6:54 pm

      I signed in earlier today and am just leaving my “new” blogpress account open. I am afraid if I shut it down I will loose the ability to comment. Thanks for letting people know there might be a problem. I am LOVING this post. This process is incredible to follow. I am wondering if there might be a new weekly thread… something like Critiquing Wednesday… . I know I am taking it a bit far. But this has been really helpful. xo teri

      • margo roby

        20/03/2012 at 2:36 pm

        I seem to have lost track of a half dozen comments. I am now tracking them down. You are the first found! I think a weekly critique thread would be fantastic, if someone else hosts it! It takes a lot of time, but I am intrigued at the possibility and will continue thinking about how this might be organised.

  6. Yousei Hime

    16/03/2012 at 1:09 pm

    Seems to me this fits in very well with the latest dVerse prompt– . You might want to post it there and possibly garner a few more critiques. If my brain ever reboots, I’ll toss a few things your way myself.

    • Yousei Hime

      16/03/2012 at 1:09 pm

      You’ve got 11 hours until the link closes.

      • margo roby

        16/03/2012 at 1:14 pm

        Post the whole posting, comments and all, Yousei?

        • Yousei Hime

          16/03/2012 at 1:18 pm

          Yes, I think it is fine as is. You’re call though. You might want to add a baseline, what led you to the subject in the poem initially. When you’re ready to go just add it via Mr. Linky and then throw a comment into the comment pool. You might visit around the other links to lure people over to your place. Obligation is a wonderful thing.

          • margo roby

            16/03/2012 at 2:33 pm

            Wonderful! Thank you. I shall tidy up and post the link.

  7. Laurie Kolp

    16/03/2012 at 3:18 pm

    Margo- Although I enjoyed your first version, I love what you have done with the piece through your editing.

    • margo roby

      16/03/2012 at 3:29 pm

      Thank you, Laurie. I may have to post my next draft, as I feel it belongs to the group!

      • tmhHoover

        16/03/2012 at 6:55 pm

        This made me smile and I am not sure why…

  8. claudia

    16/03/2012 at 4:24 pm

    nice…i like how you let us in on the can surely be helpful to have a fresh pair of eyes, looking at a poem..…i like but def. agree that the final consideration must be that of the creator of the poem..

    • margo roby

      16/03/2012 at 5:08 pm

      Thank you, Claudia, and I appreciate the visit.

  9. brian miller

    16/03/2012 at 7:08 pm

    wow was cool to watch the transformation of this one…i do like that grey matter, cement and hardening in the first…i think the second stands alone well and i think has stronger visuals licking the foot of memory is a great line, though i would get rid of the at….well done margo…great to see you at the pub as well….

    • margo roby

      20/03/2012 at 2:49 pm

      Whew! You are the last of a half dozen comments I misplaced, Brian — don’t ask; but I am sorry it took me so long to respond, as a result. The ‘at’ is gone and I like the line much more without it. My objective now, I think, might be a diptych, so I can accomplish both the cement and the visuals.
      I attend the pub religiously, but it takes me forever to write a poem [the wordles are the only thing that jolt me into instant poem draft], which is why you don’t see me. I’m there at the end of the bar, quaffing a good ale.

  10. tmhHoover

    16/03/2012 at 9:10 pm

    Ok – I am back… Still pondering Barb’s comment “the new version seems to have lost the urgency.” After re-reading the two pieces I can see urgency in both. I am drawn to the second. The use of “she” seems clearer to me. “She” seems to be more aware in the second piece. Her awareness ties me to her plight. So sensing the loss more keenly- I feel something more for her than I did in the first. So maybe the first one is more urgent – but the second is draws me into her world more.

    Other things:”Fire lickimg at the foot” seems to set the tone of the rest of the piece for me. I still love the pause or space you created between “thick” and “cumbersome” . It stood out for me more in the second -don’t know why. And as for the loss of cement — I find that rather ironic… because that is what she is losing. Her cement is turning to “ashes and “cinder” (I love that line too). Thanks Margo- again this has been truly insightful.

    • margo roby

      20/03/2012 at 2:41 pm

      And here is your second comment, Teri! See, I knew I had things from you. This is fabulous. You just went on my list of people to send poems to! Thank you for the comments.

  11. pandamoniumcat

    16/03/2012 at 9:17 pm

    Hi Margo, what a fabulous blog you have and I really liked this post, seeing the workings of producing a poem and taking into consideration the critiques and the process of revising your poem. I too like the revised poem…I thought it flowed better…just my two bobs worth but great stuff I will be following… 🙂

    • margo roby

      20/03/2012 at 2:44 pm

      Thank you, Dianne! I am sorry I took so long to respond. I seem to have misplaced a half dozen comments! I’ll take your two bob anytime. Welcome and I’ll look forward to seeing you again 🙂

  12. Chazinator

    16/03/2012 at 10:27 pm

    I think incorporating the group interchange on your poem does indeed provide the details of how your poem is what it is. I really enjoyed the resulting poem and think it is effective in its revised stage. There’s a lot about group discussion that I admire in this, since I think poetry and all other art forms are social constructions.

    • margo roby

      19/03/2012 at 7:37 am

      Thank you, Charles. I enjoyed the entire process.

  13. Diane Belleville

    16/03/2012 at 10:31 pm

    This is a powerful poem for me. My husband has younger onset Alzheimer’s, and this poem speaks to my experience observing and living with his disease. If this poem is about Alzheimer’s, then the first version is perfect. I didn’t find the email to critique the poem. I think it is great that you asked for critiques.

    • margo roby

      19/03/2012 at 7:42 am

      Diane, I am so sorry, if I may.

      The poem, though, is about my mother who, at 83, is beginning to lose short term memory. Because I live with her one month every summer, I can see the stages, and have written quite a bit about her.

      I need to find the widget that let’s me put an email where people can see it. I know it’s somewhere, as I do get emails. However, it is: margoroby[at]gmail[dot]com


  14. Mr. Walker

    18/03/2012 at 1:28 am

    Margo, thank you for this look at the revision process. It was enlightening – and your specific praise of my comments was more than generous. I like how you start with her in the revised poem, that image of her standing, and then move into what she is doing internally, but “rescue” doesn’t have the same punch as “cement” – and I’m not sure the last stanza works that well. I like the first two lines, but the last line doesn’t work for me because I don’t see the “new truths” or anything new for that matter becoming “memories” for her. Maybe “rescue” and “cement” can both be used, without either one being repeated. Again, thank you for your kind words – and for the courage/openness to share this with us.


    • margo roby

      19/03/2012 at 7:49 am

      Oh, Richard. That chapbook I mention? If I ever pull it together, it will be on your doorstep for critique. Thank you for these further comments. I now feel ready to tackle this poem and am excited about what will come from the revision.


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