Monday, September 12, 2011

Honor Among Poets

The second step in the submissions list I posted recently involves getting an honest critique of your poems before you offer it for publication. For some of us, this is an easy step. We have long-standing relationships with other poets intent on good work. We live in an urban area where writers' groups abound. We have thick enough skin to accept well-intended criticism. And ill-intentioned criticism rolls off us, puddles around our feet, drains away, dries up.

It is very important to know the difference. My current critique group meets weekly, core members (three or four) show up regularly, they read carefully and keep the focus on the poems. No one attacks another's beliefs or personality. We are specific: "I don't think the second stanza is as strong as the first and third, because . . ." That sort of thing. We also say what we like, mention specifically good line breaks, startling images, musicality, etc.

I listen, say nothing until everyone else at the table has had a chance to comment. If asked, I may explain my intent, if I had one, when I wrote the piece. Maybe I have to clarify the situation of the poem. Sometimes it is startling to hear an interpretation that diverges widely from what I thought I wrote. Ultimately, it's still my call. I revise as I see fit. Often the comments from the group do improve my poem. Sometimes I dig my heels in and keep most of the original. But at least I know how several accomplished readers have responded.

Please, if you don't have a group such as this, find one. You may contact a few poets in your area whose work you take seriously (Just don't take yourself too seriously.) and try a few meetings. Go to an open mic and take names and numbers. You may be able to find worthwhile comments on line, although in that case I see an awful lot of poems poorly conceived and carelessly raised. They are selfish, ill behaved, and ought to be kept in the corner until they grow up a bit.

No comments: