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10The Alienist

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Just recently I joined an internet workshop. The critiques are merciless but I am learning so much about the art of poetry.

I just read on here an argument about 'defending English' and a discussion on low scores.

If you are going to offer critique then it has to be purely on the writing, not on the intent or content of the subject matter. Otherwise it becomes confused.

Taking 'pot shots' at an author is not critique, it only makes you sound insulting to the author. If you critique a piece of work and cannot explain why based on the literary tools of writing poetry then you should not critique at all, simply say, nice poem I understood your message etc.

If you have anything nice to say then don't say it at all!!

But if you want to critique a piece of work on it's structure, meter, use of cliche, use of abstracts, adjectives and modifiers. Then do it!!

But don't personally assault the author!!! That is NOT critique.

If you disagree with a message of a poem, be it contraversial or not, then you can say so, but I learnt on this site that things can go too far.

Okay, rant over.

Alex :-)

Ask not what you can do to poetry, but what poetry can do to you.

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The following comments are for "Offering Critique"
by londongrey

Well intentioned, but I'd say misguided.

First, yes, sometimes it makes sense to critique style, mechanics, and process, as you've indicated. If that's your fancy, go for it. But those characteristics are not usually the most interesting parts of poetry, and don't always provide fodder for commentary. There's no reason to restrict commentary (or "critique," as you call it) to the formal characteristics of poetry per se.

Second, to continue, sometimes what makes a poem interesting is its content -- its topics, themes, imagery, opinions, attitudes, and so forth. Why prohibit comment on that? To do so would be to render commentary superficial and dull. There's no point in having content if it can't be discussed. That needn't render it "confused," unless the people on this site are such dullards that they can't distinguish between commentary on content and commentary on mechanics.

Third, although I agree that a commentary informed by knowledge of poetic tools is often better than less informed commentary, why restrict the right of comment to only those who have this knowledge? A sure way to alienate people and prevent them from contributing to the site, I should think. If elitism has a place at all, it isn't here.

Fourth, we need feedback (comments) on what we do wrong so we know what needs to be fixed, what to discontinue. In addition, we need feedback on what we did RIGHT so that we know what to continue doing. Commenting only on the negative is demoralizing and counterproductive.

That said, I agree with you regarding the all-too common practice of taking pot shots at authors (Hell, even the shining paragon of virtue that is Viper9 has fallen into that trap!). It isn't critique or commentary or even menaingful feedback, and rarely results in any sort of positive outcome.

No offense intended by the way -- and did you notice that I dodn't comment on your mechanics at all?


( Posted by: Viper9 [Member] On: November 14, 2004 )

Couldn't agree more
To state a differing opinion is one thing, but to say "Well, you're obviously an ignorant whiny douche..." is just uncalled for. It only makes it look like YOU are the one who is the douche. No one wants to be the douche, this we know. Douche douche douche. Have I used that word enough?

( Posted by: Spider [Member] On: November 14, 2004 )

Mechanics, Form, Content and Elitism
Viper9 brings up an interesting point in labeling the discussion of mechanics (apart from content) as a form of elitism. I differ from his view, in that I think a great many of the writers here are interested in learning more about the various schools of poetry and that I think that elitism is defined by the sense in which criticism is rendered.

Dispensing criticism is only elitist if the critic hands out their opinion with the omniscient aura of Moses handing down the Ten Commadments on Mt. Sinai. It's not elitist when that critic can label the source of their opinions, whether it stems from an unusual break in meter or a difference in opinion over what the point of writing is. Labeling one's sources has the potential of removing a personal vendetta from the aspect of lending criticism, allowing both the critic and the writer to say this is the place from which my opinions stem -- that holds true, whether the topic is form or content.

I think there is a positive value in discussing the effect of content -- it can allow the writer to understand the impact of their writing, to absorb the impact their words have left on their audience. This kind of criticism is negative only when the critic decides they have the authority of God and defines the irrefutability of their impressions with the inarguable logic of "because I said so".

I think, ultimately, as a writer, the worst commentary is "This is good" or "This isn't so great" because these words leave so much to be desired in the area of feedback -- they're not very descriptive.

Londongrey, I love that you've stretched yourself in learning more about your chosen craft -- diligence is truly the sign of passion and I'm eager to see the commentary you'll be leaving in the wake of your new experience with structured criticism.

( Posted by: hazelfaern [Member] On: November 15, 2004 )

with rogan
"If you have anything nice to say then don't say it at all!!"

I'm with you and Rogan on that point. Never insult the writer, and even on a bad review, try to offer something positive (there's nothing as discouraging as a completely bad critique). And yes, there have been plenty of poems here that I've read but not commented on because I simply couldn't find anything positive to say about them.
(Sometimes I go and find another piece by the same author that's a bit better, just so I can say something nice at the same time as giving a bad critique of the first one).

However, I don't agree with your other main point

Now, I am not schooled in the finer points of poetic techniques. I like to think I have an intuitive grasp of what makes good poetry, but I certainly don't know the formal rules. But I don't think that should stop me from critiquing. For a start, I've learnt so much from reading and critiquing others - probably more than I have learnt from receiving critiques on my own work. I'm sure others have found the same, and I wouldn't want to deny that to anyone. In any case, much of the poetry here can be criticised without having to resort to looking for flaws in technique.

All the same, one must make an effort to actually criticise the poem. It's no good saying "You're my favorite poet here, I love this one because you always write about such nice things." - that simple doesn't help anyone, especially not the poet. Make a point to look for the best and worst parts of the poem, as you see it (even if you like the whole thing), and tell them why you thought so. This is how I've approached it, and it is why I've learnt so much from doing it. Trust me, it works.

( Posted by: Spudley [Member] On: November 15, 2004 )

Good discussion
This is a good discussion to have, and people are making good points. I think Spudley missed your point re: "If you have anything nice to say then don't say it at all". Oh well.

I wasn't saying that critique of mechanics is elitism -- not at all. I said that restricting critique to those who havbe studied the "poetic tools" is elitist. That's all.

( Posted by: Viper9 [Member] On: November 15, 2004 )


'If you have anything nice to say then don't say it at all!!'

Is it just me, I smiled as I thought this was a typo!

I thought you had meant to say :

If you do not have anything nice to say then don't say it at all!!

Please tell me I'm right!


( Posted by: ivordavies [Member] On: November 15, 2004 )

I wonder how many people have been waiting for me to toss my two cents in on this one!

Grammar is mother.

Grammar is father.

Grammar is life.

Before you can experiment with the rules of the English language, you have to know what they are in the first place! There are a lot of people generating some fair work, and not all of them have much training in writing styles, or even a very conscious appreciation of what they're doing.

That being said, think of how much better they could be doing if they took active control of their writing, and purposefully manipulated that which they are doing almost randomly.

If you ~know~ how to use different forms of rhetorical devices, if you know how to correctly apply metaphor, or elipsis, or parallel structure, then you're so much the better for it!

Content reigns supreme. Writing with no message is like a car without gas. It might look pretty, but it isn't going to take you anywhere. (Simile)

But to make that content stand out, to make it more powerful, you need to dress it in as fine ensemble as possible. That ensemble, my friends, is where a strong understanding of spelling, grammar, and advanced form of language structure pays dividends.

Critique is worthless if you don't learn from it. If you learn from critique, then you are building up a repository of grammatical and style guides in your head that you can choose from and blend together to make something new and vibrant.

I would never tell someone their work was great if it sucked, but I'd be reluctant to out and out say it sucked either. I'd point out what worked, and what didn't. If possible I'd offer suggestions on avenues to explore that might make their message more effective.

( Posted by: capulet [Member] On: November 15, 2004 )

to critique the critique
I think you are trying to make the distinction between honest criticism of a work and criticism of the writer. This is always a fine line in any event, but in essence, I couldn't agree more.

( Posted by: brickhouse [Member] On: November 15, 2004 )

relaxative Demeter
That camcorder of yours doesn't have much to do with your movie making. Do you set it on a tripod and then never touch it again while people walk in front of it, deliver their lines, then exit left?

I'm sure when you make your movies some thought goes into lighting, scene setting, placement of actors within the frame, where you put the microphone, what props you'll use, how long you wait before characters come into the frame, how fast you fade in, do you fade in? How fast you fade out, do you fade out?

If you don't consider all these things when you make your movies, consider how much better they could be if you take active control over all of these elements and use them to their best effect?

Everyone has the choice to vomit their emotions all over a piece of paper or their word processor. If that's what makes them happy, more power to them! Fellow touchy-feelies, only interested in heaping praise in hopes of encouraging reciprocation, will line up to tell them how wonderful they are. That should satisfy their need for acknowledgement of their amateur efforts.

But if you put your prose up in a public forum, be ready for people to call a duck a duck. They'll just have to learn to ignore the actual writers telling it like it is.

( Posted by: capulet [Member] On: November 15, 2004 )

One of the things I always try to put across is that knowing proper grammar and writing techniques will help your overall writing. If you are a sculpture and painter then you can appreciate knowing how to mix paint properly, what strokes accomplish what, symmetry, and proper use of shading, and how it all can add dimension to your work.

Hell, it can even inspire you! You might mix up a pretty red, and the idea for the painting comes from it. Or you could learn something about refraction, and go "wow, I want to paint that!"

( Posted by: capulet [Member] On: November 16, 2004 )

See, this is the reason I love being here, I feel like we're all singing a ballad and swaying together, LOL!!

Your right Ivor, it is supposed to say:

"If you have NOTHING nice to say, then don't say it at all".

I agree that critique can be off putting, especially when somebody does not ask for it. But can be good if you do! So long as it is in a positive environment.

Viper that is a very good point you made, but I must admit, I would be extremely hesitant to critique somebodies work if they did not want it, I would look like a wanker (US people do NOT ask what that means I am not explaining it).

Keep'em coming!!

Alex xx

( Posted by: londongrey [Member] On: November 16, 2004 )

Two things to say:
First, Capulet still hasn't got the point that grammar is simply less rigid in poetry than in prose, owing to 'poetic license'; the economy of words characteristic of poetry makes this necessary.

Neither of my parents is named Grammar.

Second, if any of you uses LiveJournal or anything similar, beware of very pretentious, arrogant and psuedo-intellectual 'poetry slammers' who say 'We judge your poetry, HARSHLY!'.

They mostly have simply built a club for themselves and are very self-congratulatory but from what little work I've seen from them they are merely imitating the current big trend in 'the poetry market'. That is to say that they think they're the reincarnations of the Beat Poets, who sucked anyway.

Those people really wrecked poetry.

( Posted by: The Alienist [Member] On: November 16, 2004 )

Hey -- I AM a wanker, so don't knock it!

And let's not knock the beat poets. Poetry was dead until they came along to reinvigorate it.

( Posted by: Viper9 [Member] On: November 16, 2004 )

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