Monday, June 04, 2007


In a post at the blog Very Like a Whale the writer wonders about critiquing, especially in an online workshop then says, “Once a writer has got beyond the usual yeek-cliches-and-abstractions stage and has stopped obssessive-compulsive telling, once they have a good grip on the basics of the craft - what is there to separate one poet from another but the personal taste of the reader? We respond to what we read the way we are. Critiquing others’ work now just seems an exercise in talking about myself. And a rather futile one at that.”

I left the following comment:

I’ve recently become part of a small poetry group/workshop, having not done such a thing in several years. I find it much easier in person than on line.

When I was heavy into an online poetry workshop I would write comprehensively about the poem, which was a lot of work and, even when appreciated, it was hard to tell what got through to the poet, what mattered to the poet, what was needed, what a waste of time. When I stopped learning through the experience (a big part of why I did it) I shifted to quips — making quick comments about a particular piece of a poem, praising a sharp metaphor or chiding a lazy one, for instance.

It’s a relief to be working with two poets face to face who have writing poems 20 or more years whose egos seem not easily bruised. In workshop I go thru the poem top to bottom, giving a reading as best as I understand it, saying what confuses me or delights me as I go along, making general comments about poetic strategies, and summing up with what pleases me most &/or what leaves me unsatisfied. The idea (at least in my mind) is no longer offering fixes for another poet’s work, but exposing to the poet what is going on in this close reader’s mind as he is going through the poem. If the poet sees that his poem is not doing on the page what he thought it was doing perhaps he can see a way to shift it toward doing so. But I’m mindful not to make prescriptions. It’s better for me not to, as then I won’t feel I have some stake in (my view of) the poem’s success.

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