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Poetics of Poem Perceptions & Sensitive Poets

A discussion took place here and here on the sharing, criticizing, and commenting of poems.
It seems the subject came up as a poet questioned whether or not that one should
share their poems with the public or not and how criticism affects a poet.

My first reaction to this plane of thought is to raise the question,
“Who and What do you write for?” Do you write for yourself,
for others, or maybe both? Do you write for fun, for money,
or just for the release? Do you write to find yourself,
to let others find you, or to guide others on their own self discovery.

Everyone has their own reasoning as to why they write poetry.
I would suggest asking yourself these questions, and determine
your driving force. Upon, sharing your poem to the public, it becomes open
to discussion through the readers perception(s) of the poem.
This is a given, and should be understood from the moment that you make your
poem public.

Whether to make your poems public or not and the value of doing so
can be determined by your answer to “Who and What do you write for?”
and how well you can handle the readers perceptions of your poems whether they
be what you intended through your poems or not. Some may argue that they
don’t want to pollute or influence their unique writing style from others
critiques. However, who can say they have not already been polluted and molded
from their everyday environments making us into who we are.

Who we are… shines through our poetry. Poems are personal.
This is what makes it difficult for many poets to share their poetry and accept feedback,
as they often take the comments personal as well. Our poems show a part of us through
an often cryptic design. Don’t be surprised if someone sees something else then what
you intended. Just as a stranger walks by you on the street, they can only form an idea about you
from that immediate experience.

Experience in any form, moves us. The writing of the poem, the movement of the pen, the blank page,
the ink, the keyboard, the comments/criticism, the lack of comments/criticism. Often our poems never seem
quite complete, even when we’ve told ourselves we finished the poem. Why? Because the poem is part
of us, yet we are always changing, moving, aging, and the poems words, are just that. Static words.
Which we’ve just left behind like footprints in the sand soon to be washed away by the shore.

I write to release myself, release my creativity, to empty myself,
so that all things following my emptiness can flow through me like the wind blows through a window.
- Fresh, and unfiltered.
I am the window opening, and the dust and grime accumulating at the window seal
are the poems in which I write – washing them away.

People are welcome to my dust and grime if they want, they can say what they want.
I am still just the window opening.
I’m open to any criticism. It’s up to me to determine which critiques I feel are valuable to me
and will help me improve on my poetic adventure.
Even those critiques where the critic totally misinterprets the poem can be valuable to me.

I am just the window opening, and you’re welcome to fly through.

23 Comments

  1. Of course people feel precious about what they have written. In the blogosphere it is an easy matter to turn off the comments section if you don’t want feedback. People like positive feedback and critical feedback may suck- thats life if you put your poems out there. I like positive feedback, but I enjoy the challenge of critical feedback. I either agree or disagree with the criticism. I enjoy reading through comments on others poetry as well, and have found most useful the critiques that discuss poetical technique as well as meaning. In general I dont think criticism should be taken personally, but nor should it be phrased offensively – as I have seen. Poets 101 is my favourite poetry site as generally people are supportive of each others efforts. Better yet is that there are a lot of individual voices and styles and takes on the world. Here in NZ there is quite a small clique of ‘actual poets’ and a lot of power is held by a few dominant voices. It is refreshing to get exposure to a range of poetry of international flavour.
    One other thing, I have found it really worthwhile to critique other peoples poems as I find it makes me think harder about my own poetry and instils a form of discipline to writing. I’m quite new to all this and I started mainly with comments about content and a general like or dislike note. Often I fiind it is better to say nothing than to say I don’t like something. I recommend all poets should engage in making comments – for the improvement to their own poetry, and also as a way to slowly get to know other poets with whom you can engage in interesting dialogue.
    I would also recommend people have a look over at Po’et`shipfor further discussions about poetry.
    Cheers
    Glenn

  2. Glenn, thank you for your thoughts.

    You mention, “I find it is better to say nothing than to say I don’t like something.” which happens to be the philosophy of many out there. But what I am seeing in so many poetic communities is an overkill in praise, and very little in honest constructive criticism. People are afraid of hurting the authors feelings, and therefore comment in praise when they actually may have seen something legitimate that could have been improved.

    Dry honesty can easily be taken as offensive comment when in all actuality the commenter is often just trying to give some constructive useful help to the poet. However, there are few occasions when we may receive an obvious straight out attack which is unacceptable. Nevertheless, since we know better, we should simply disregard those types of comments and move on, rather then participating in a verbal battle based on the individuals stupidity, for by participating in such an occasion would display our lack of understanding as well.

    I’ll take dry honesty over praise any day. Unless of course the praise is honest. Honesty, is kinder then any false praise we could ever receive.

    Anyways, you said, “I find it is better to say nothing than to say I don’t like something.” But I am quite the opposite. Often, I will not comment on a poem unless I can offer something to the poet that may be of benefit to them. Yes, Praise can boost a poets confidence, and tell them they are doing something right. But what happens when we praise a poet on a poem that could have been improved and we make no mention of it, or offer any comments on what we feel could have made the poem better. Well, they get left in the dark, and keep writing the same way until they realize on their own their errs, which could have been pointed out long ago by an honest aware reader.

    The poem that leaves me in awe, I praise. The poem that leaves me in dejavue, like I’ve read it a thousand times before, I comment on the parts I felt were cliché. The poem that I don’t understand, I don’t comment. The poems I find could use improvement in one way or another, I point out those areas hoping they understand that it’s just my perspective and don’t become offended.

    I understand that there is a gentle way of offering advice to the poet, but at least it should be offered, and not left In the windy trails of praise.

  3. I would agree with what you say.. note I modified that statement with ‘often’ . There are times..
    This morning I posted a post of old poems which make me cringe, but in part it was because I know that I wrote a lot of cliched and poor poetry in my younger days. A lot of it is just experience, but I find it hard to offer comments to writers who are undergoing what we probably all go/went through. I would comment on a more experienced poets poem if I didn’t like something.

  4. Glenn, I understand your thought process, but I would expect that good honest feedback would be especially valuable to even the virgin poets while in the process of searching for and developing their own unique style. False praise would only misdirect them, and silence obviously would do nothing for them.

    From the commenter’s angle, it should be as simple as always being honest with the poet on the poem at matter without having to worry about the poet becoming offended.

    From the author’s angle, the author of a poem should understand that the poem at hand is subject to the reader’s perspective and should not take comments so much to heart as to allow them to disturb him or her. The disruption would be by the authors mind, not the commenter’s comment.

    I do my best to offer what I felt was “good” in a poem and what I felt could be improved, highlighting my perspectives of the “good” and the “bad” of the poem…which are obviously relative and determined by my discriminations and opinions. Discriminations and opinions in which we all try to steer clear of in order to move with the world in all unbiased clarity. Once again, I take it upon myself to assume that the author understands that my comments are mere perspectives of the content put before me.

  5. I am a big fan of detailed critiques, be they positive or negative. On my own poetry, I enjoy reading both perspectives; but they have to be specific. A simple, “This poem was great” or “I didn’t like it” doesn’t help me develop at all, whereas detailed feedback on particular imagery or metaphor or word choice or tone is very helpful, both positive and negative. I almost always try to leave detailed feedback on poems I read&#8212unfortunately I don’t often have the time to do as good a job as I’d like.

    However, and I think this is somewhat particular to blogs, I think leaving very brief, general comments are good from the point of view of knowing that somebody read your poem. I appreciate short feedback like that on my blog writing because then I know it’s been read, and I understand that not everybody has the time to dissect aspects of my work and give detailed feedback.

    But I love it when they do!

  6. Mike, that is an excellent point – defining constructive criticism.

    Constructive criticism is not: “I thought this poem sucked” or “this was an excellent poem” for these types of comments are far too general to be effectively constructive to the author.

    Constructive criticism is: explaining the details of what you thought was excellent or not about the poem and explaining why.

    According to Wikipedia: Constructive criticism is the process of offering valid and well-reasoned opinions about the work of others, usually involving both positive and negative comments, in a friendly manner rather than an oppositional one. In collaborative work, this kind of criticism is often a valuable tool in raising and maintaining performance standards

  7. Well, much of what I would say has been said already. Except to say that a single poem is but a paragraph in a life story. Like any other story, when we take one paragraph out of context and try to analyze it we make our own sense of it. If you follow a poet you will see a pattern in their work. You will see their highs and lows, their loves and hates and their longings and fulfillments. Only then, can you relate to the poet and not just the poem. Working in the newspaper business, there were many times when I saw a reporter or editor publicly ridiculed for their spin on a story. They were nonetheless thrilled that someone read the story and it sparked a reaction…good or bad. The ultimate goal is to be read and to raise an awareness in the reader. If they get anything at all out of your sharing you’ve accomplished your goal. You lit the spark…where the fire leads is out of our control!

  8. “They were nonetheless thrilled that someone read the story and it sparked a reaction…good or bad. The ultimate goal is to be read and to raise an awareness in the reader. If they get anything at all out of your sharing you’ve accomplished your goal. You lit the spark…where the fire leads is out of our control!”

    Shirley, great points!

  9. Shirley – I agree! The most fun and intriguing posts I make on my blog are the ones that somebody happens to disagree with. Very interesting dialogue develops out of those. As you pointed out, it’s chaotic & unpredictable. We have no guarantee on what response we’ll ultimately get to our writing.

  10. This is a really interesting discussion. I have taught academic english english to international students and I think what I learnt about criticism and feedback also applies here. At first I found it really hard to get beyond ‘well done’ or ‘interesting’ or ‘needs work’ or whatever none of which are very helpful if they want to improve. You need to break down what is needed to create a good piece of writing. The obvious thing is accurate use of language, in the EFL context that means vocab. choice or use of tenses etc, for poetry the choice of language needs be consistent, for exampe don’t use a really coloquial word if the rest of the language is quite formal or vice versa. The next thing is organisation of ideas. In the context of poetry this gets tricky cause in free verse there are few hard and fast rules, but there still needs to be a logical progression of images or whatever. Poetry also deals in things like rhythm and tone, often “bad” or poorly developed poetry in inconsistent in one of these. I’m sure there are more points than this but this is all I can think of right now. Criticism on this level isn’t personal and will almost certainly help develpoing poets. It’s also quite difficult to do and as a teacher of high level students is a skill I have had to develop.

    Having said all that, when commenting on a poem on a blog I tend to say something along the lines of what I took from the poem. Which as a reader makes me stop and think about it and lets the poet know what his/her poem said to someone else.

    As a writer of poetry so far I’ve only published two on my blog, and don’t actually write poems that often. The first received encouragement, which I needed, but I would have appreciated some constructive criticism to let me know if I was on the right lines or not. The second got comments which were along the lines of ‘this is what I imagined reading this’. No one “got” the scenario I was trying to conquer up, but that’s Ok cause I could’ve chosen to write prose and explain exactly what I meant.

    Anyway, I think if you want to develop and improve in your writing constructive criticism is a must. We are usually too close to our own writing to see its strengths and weakness, although again this is a skill that can be learnt. Some trusted readers who can make useful suggestions must surely be invaluable. I’ve read some blogs which were full of praise and nothing but positive comments but which I felt were stuck in a rut artistically. It’s hard to know if a new reader’s criticism would be welcomed. I hope that I remain open to criticism, which as long as a reason is given is fine. After all sometimes its’s just down to taste, which there is no need to take personally.

    In conclusion, to critise my own comment before I hit ‘Add your comment’. Too long and rambling!

  11. I have spent a decade as an efl teacher also which has certainly refined my knowledge of English and it’s usage. I concur with kamsins points. I have also seen firsthand the effects of critical analysis on students and their writing (mine and others). In general , constructive criticism is appreciated, but there are some who find it difficult and it results in a lessening of their desire to write.
    It was also obvious to me that praise for good work (then noted by other students) was as easily as powerful in motivating students to improve.

    Cheers
    Glenn

  12. Glen, I can understand that. First get them motivated, then get into the details later. Don’t want to scare them away from the start. Makes sense.

  13. I agree Glen! Encouragement and praise are needed in whatever we choose to pursue. Especially in children. The funny thing is, the more talented the writer, the harder it is to comment unless you are equally talented. Therefore, an excellent writer with a shining vocabulary may receive less comments. That does not make their work any less brilliant only less understood by the majority. I have read poetry that was music to my ears but I don’t have a clue what was said!

  14. Wonderful piece here Travis. Thanks for sharing it. Poetry is personal, but so is everything else in our lives. I remind myself that everyrthing I experience is personal. It all comes through me before I know it.

    I write poetry for myself. It’s a part of my daily practice to be and live in a conscious way. Poetry opens my creative and intuitive sides. It gives me balance in how I approach each day. I am always pleased to have others read my poetry. If it touches others, I am always pleased.

  15. Don, I’m glad you liked it and thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  16. The problem with poetry I think is that you have to enable yourself to achieve a certain “mood”, both when writing or reading. I love to write poetry myself, although it’s very (even extremely) hard to find the correct words, since I speak Dutch instead of English. When reading someone else’s poem, I face the same problem. My improper knowledge of the full vocabulary often makes a poem incomplete or hard to understand.
    But then again, you write poetry to share your own point of view on a certain aspect of life, covered in your own emotional words. I don’t see anything wrong with that. And if you don’t like it, you were never forced to read it or hear it…
    I could write much more lovely poems in Dutch as the ones that currently reside on my website, but I want to create a global-accesible site, so English is the logical choice.
    About the criticism, it depends on how you interpret it. Do a cross-exchange and try to view to positive as negative and vice-versa. This will certainly improve the way you are able to look upon your own creations.

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