The Need for Good Criticism
As a poet who has written poems for a relatively long time, I find that I can often trust my own judgment on a new poem – whether it is any good, what it means, how people may react to it. However, a writer who has just written a poem, I find myself in a position similar to the one I held when I first decided to treat myself as if I were a poet. It is still uncertain to me whether my latest work has value beyond its use to me as self-expression, or therapy, or experimentation. I need someone, an audience of critical readers to evaluate the poem. I also need the insight of interpreters to work through what the poem may means beyond my own overt intentions. Finally, if I intend to write “more of the same” I need the advice of friends and other poets whether the track that poem sets for me seems likely to lead to an improvement in my abilities as a poet. This is why I post poems in the forum of the Poetry Archives: to get critical interpretations of my poems that will help me write new poems. Does that seem like a sensible attitude toward the forum and the other poets in it?
Does that seem like a sensible attitude toward the forum and the other poets in it?
It's sensible to have high expectations, but it's probably not likely here. Those who like your work will say so. Those who don't will probably not comment.
Some people will find fault with everything.
Some will find fault with nothing.
Those with serious intentions often end their stay here like Lisa. No one wants to hear dissenting opinions, no matter how open-minded they pretend to be.
I prefer to not underestimate the general public or even beginner's at poetry. My freshman students used to knock my socks off on a regular basis with their insight and creativity when all I asked for was explanation of works.
Peter, I don't underestimate anyone.
But, based on what I've seen on the USP here, very few people take a genuine interest in helping poets improve. Some do, such as Brucefur, and K.Q.
But most readers, I've noticed simply don't have the time to try to help the likes of you, or me.
I usually put a fresh poem away for a couple of days or even weeks. I trust my instict to tell me what is good in a poem and what is weak, but immediately after I have written a poem I am emotionally too attached to it. And I am not as critical as I should be and I ignore the gut feeling.
When I started writing, I would read my new poems to a poet friend as soon as I have finished them. I asked and expected of her to tell me what she thought of them. Soon she got tired of it and told me that if I really am a poet I should know what is good and what is not, and not rely on other people for it.
But I find feedback very always useful, because it shows me how others perceive my poem. That is not to say they are right or wrong, but they always give me something to think about. For me it is very interesting to observe what my poem does to people (if it affects them at all!) and how they hear it, what do they hear. The best way to feel this is in a reading, where I can feel the audience, the listeners. And also reading aloud I can hear/feal any imperfections, places where the poem stalls, stumbles. And it is not the same as reading it aloud on my own. The presence of others gives it an another dimension.
As for telling other people what I think of their poetry, I avoid it if possible. After all who I am to tell anyone how to write, as I am still learning myself. But if they insist, I start with the good points and try to make them think about the poem, tell them that if I was writing it, I might explore such and such possibilities. And at times I find this "diplomatic" approach almost as bad as telling someone their poem is not any good or not a poem at all.
I think everyone has to learn to write by themselves, by writing and reading and writinig some more. Maybe someone can help you to learn how, but I don' think anyone can teach you what to write.
but I don' think anyone can teach you what to write.
Good point, Veronika. I agree with much of what you have to say.
I think criticism is essential to growth as a poet. When I comment on USP postings, I try to be as concise as possible, whether I like the work or not. I avoid commenting on a lot of postings because I simply have nothing of value to say, usually because I either don't understand what I've read, or I consider the work to be beyond help...at least from me.
When I first started visiting here about 3 years ago, I used to comment frequently, especially about improper punctuation, spelling, and usage...all in an effort to help others improve. While I'm far from the foremost authority in these areas, I think it appropriate to help when I see the need, whether others appreciate it or not. When I submit my own work I expect and welcome criticism, and I have gotten some valuable assistance from a few readers, which I truly appreciate.
I understand what you're saying. I often resist the urge to proofread other's poems simply because some of these writers will get more out of an encouraging word that another grammar lesson. If they seem open to dotting i's and crossing t's, I'm glad to proof without making anyone self-conscious about it. I love to interpret other people's poetry and find they sometimes know more about my poems than I do. Not that I write stream of conscious stuff, but I'm just not much of a control freak. Be that as it may, I am delighted with the quality of work I find here on a regular basis, even the "experimental" "beginning" poetry of the young 'uns.
No one wants to hear dissenting opinions, no matter how open-minded they pretend to be.
In the last two months, this is the only thing I have heard you say that does not ring true, which means I can't figure out why you would say such a thing. The only evidence I have for not believing it is that it has never applied to me, and I do not find myself in this kind of thing particular or unusual.
I love people who donot see things the way I do. They have always been a primary source of stimiulous to me.
No one wants to hear dissenting opinions, no matter how open-minded they pretend to be.
I guess what I was getting at here, Peter, is not that most of us aren't willing to HEAR dissenting opinions, but that after hearing those opinions many of us do not accept them as having equal value to our own.
There are of course exceptions to this. But it has been my experience on the User Submitted forum, that those who most vehemently voice their openmindedness are also guilty of promoting their own preferred styles of delivery, usage, punctuation, and language, etc. If they were TRULY openminded they would accept all forms and styles as equal to their own without comment.
There are a few readers who do just that, read non-judgmentally. Nolon, John Summers, and Tempest come to mind.
Post Edited (03-11-05 23:24)
I don't think it is incompatible to advocate a position and to take in other positions for consideration at the same time. It's like, some of the writers here dislike punctuation. I happen to think it is essential to precise communication. Yet, I try poems without any punctuation at all, or try to use commas for breathing markers etc. instead of in their grammatical uses. I think most of these things you can have both ways if you are only a little experimental in your attitudes. I find you interesting because you seem to have definite opinions on many things, and yet you also seem willing to listen to others. And I think each us is sometimes more open to criticism than at other times. That flexiblity keeps us honest.
Keep on keepiong on.
and yet you also seem willing to listen to others
To me listening, nonjudgmentally, is one of the most primitive ways of learning something new.
That is so true. Reading or listening to other opinions while at the same time trying to see if, how and where it fits in with your own is like reading a book with the cover closed.
And it is so hard not to do!
I'd agree with that, Les, anytime. In my mind, listening is as close as we get to merging with the cosmos itself.
Unfortunately Peter, in American society, the opportunity to chat is often bypassed in favor of other "worthwhile" pursuits. I do not believe that the social circle in other societies has been bypassed as much as it is here in the states.
It sure is hard to account for, the fact that listening is cultivated in some groups and not in others. A very positive note, I think, is that story telling is common in almost all civilization. And you have to be a good listener to tell a good story, I think. Ask Vic Jeffries and twotenranch about that.
Post Edited (03-14-05 01:55)
I've recently re-read portions of Matthew Arnold's "Essays in Criticism," first published in 1865. Though some 140 years old, they offer still-valuable insight into the crucial importance of critical thinking - not only to the evolution of literature, but to that of politics, science, philosophy, and religion, as well.
The Victorian age in which Arnold lived was truly an age of enlightenment. Arnold's essays, and those of many of his contemporaries (John Stuart Mill, Thomas Carlyle, John Henry Newman and others) spurred people to look more closely at the social, political and philosophical issues of their day.
There are many striking parallels between life in the mid 19th to early 20th centuries and our society, today. And I don't think it's a stretch at all to label us here in the 21st century as the New Victorians. When you consider the ramifications from the resolution of such volatile political, philosophical and religious issues as cloning, euthenasia, and genocide that confront us today, surely we can use as much enlightenment as our Victorian brethren. Thoughtful, well-structured criticism can shine the light on what we ought to be thinking about. Literary criticism can provide the spark.
Interesting conversation. To pick up on many scattered issues, I agree Joet that:"Literary criticism can provide the spark." And also see the point , Peter is making as valid in terms of being good listeners. I can understand that perhaps Les' cynicism derives from the fact that many want to be read but not read others themselves as genuinly. It is funny how when someone posts a poem they suddenly comment on all other poems. It may be because they are available and interested at the time, which I like to believe. But it also may be a give to take process as well.Either way it is beneficial to others somehow. The interaction itself is healthy in my opinion although , yes, we do learn more by doing, and what we do wrong teaches us more than what we do right, cause we take that forgranted! To be non judgemental and genuine is the ultimate goal, and that needs patience and desire. I think as long as something is going on we will get somewhere......in the end the journey is more important thant the destination itself. Don;t you agree?
I left this site for a while and it made me feel much better and breathe easier at a time when I was at my lowest. I feel that if a poem is posted, it is being shared for objective advise (I'll refrain from using the word criticism for now) from all readers. That is how I will always approach a forum such as this. Open mics are different matters---people are there for a night out and to simply share and laugh and cry a bit.
When I first wrote about 7 years ago, it was for therapeutic reasons. But that led me to read poetry and to take classes because I wanted to learn how to become a better writer. The criticism was tough at first, but then again, my writing was very immature. My best teachers in all art forms have been the toughest ones who pushed me, but with diplomacy and a kind heart.
It's almost impossible in a situation like Emule to understand everyone's needs. How does one know who is sharing just to share and who wants objective ideas to help their piece for whatever their reasons are.
Motivation plays a critical factor too. Who wants to be published in literary journals and who doesn't, and who posts and yet never revises? I can't worry about everyone's needs here. All I can do in good conscience, if I decide to become interested in this forum again, is to give my best objective advice to everyone's poems that I read.
My attitude is that it's only one person's opinion and that each poet can take what they want and leave the rest.
My reason for leaving a few weeks ago was due to a personal attack. I will do my absolute best to never do that to anyone and to remain objective to the poem at hand.
Joe, I find myself in complete agreement with you on the ways in which the Victorian writers were a spark to thinking across the board. If contemporary critics are as honest with themselves, and I would say, as encyclopedic in their learning, we all may have great grand children whose kids make it out of the twenty-first century in an enlightened atmosphere.
Noone desrves tobe attacked personally, and from what the moderators say, such attacks should be reported to them so they can be expunged. I have missed your mind while you have been gone. I have missed disagreeing with you, but,more, I have missed your insight. You were teaching whenyou were here. Your lack of tact is probably something we should just put up with, just as people have learned to ignore my arrogance and my typomania.
Hang around and hang in there.
Post Edited (03-14-05 01:57)
Lisa , I appreciate all what you said , in particular the idea of sharing rather than criticism, although I fear not the word itself. I too miss your honest words and opinions. In the end, motivation is personal and so is sharing a thought. Hang in ; you are needed and appreciated!
Thanks Khalida and Peter and Les for your encouraging words.
I will try to always present my thoughts with an opening statement that simply says this is only what I would do if the piece were a poem I was working on . . .
that way---it leaves the door open---because of course it's not my poem.
When I left the door open, my mom would say "hey, do you think you live in a barn?"
My mom said that too Johnny!!
Watch your arse or it'll get slammed on---oops
I forgot that you don't have one, n'est ce pas?
Post Edited (03-14-05 12:55)
I had a friend who lived in a converted barn, and his brother left the door open, and he said "hey, what do you think, I live in a .......oh just shut the effing door!"
That was one of Jesus' advantages. If Mary said 'Were you born in a barn?, he could say yes.
I'm not criticing you at all I never did in the passed.I guess when you get in with a group of people who have some predjust views about everyone its easy to criticice you to.Not to say that any of it was ment at all in a bad way.
Besides the point realy is that you can't be predjust in anything realy.Like having the kkk or something would just reduce the insight of what they realy look like of anyone of them because everyone is created equal it says in the declaration then why would blacks Indiand chinese or arabs not be created equal to like a blond boy in the USA and how would that put pacific pressure on criticism of them anyways.Which claerley means if the USA people think that all men aren't created equal then the declaration is construed and therefore unrelaible and unlawful which abolishes it completely.Just because of a certian race of color dosnt mean that is to be taken to your offence at all.I have come to the conclusion that being from achiant decent it has nothing to do with your culture at all.Therefore I wouldnt blame you or critice you for any poem you wite just applad it no matter what it is and Im sorry if anyone ever did.I love it!
Back in my old Army days, the Sergeant yelled: Hey, were you born in a barn? Someone called back, Yes, and every time I hear a Jackass bray, it makes me homesick....
macaroni and cheese
is a wonderful combination.
Boil water in a pan
and then add the pasta.
After a bit
the pasta will become soft
and then you can add
the butter and milk
and stir in the cheese
that came with the pasta.
it tastes good
well, it was either this, or to say bump
At which time, the Sergeant requested and required 20 pushups?
The 'blue box,' one hopes. I recently discovered that buttermilk makes a good milk substitute.
I don't actually eat it, but liked the phrasing.
when you re-heat it, just toss a slice of processes cheese on top. It gets chesier without getting hard.