Good critiques make the experience of attending workshops or
participating in critique groups worthwhile and they make you look positively brilliant. After all, no poet wants hear faint
praise. They are there to learn and seek objective help with their writing.
The first step in evaluating a poem, even
your own, is to read it over silently, then aloud. It helps to listen to poetry to fully appreciate it. When you are familiar
enough with the poem to consider offering an opinion, do so in a supportive, tactful, friendly, but constructive and intelligent
Begin by acknowledging the good points: Tell the poet what impresses you about the poem. Many of the poems presented
at workshops are still in draft form or the developmental stages. The poets want some feedback and ideas to help them revise
their work. You can help by indicating the strong points which should be retained. They need to hear what you like about their
poem and why.
The next step is to consider the meaning: Can you determine the premise or message the poet intended?
Ask about any element you do not understand or you think is unclear. Your questions may help the poet focus his or her message.
Finally, offer suggestions for revision:
1. Point out obvious errors in spelling, punctuation or grammar.
2. Indicate where the poet can cut a line or word without losing the integrity of the poem. A well written poem is
3. Suggest which ideas or images could be expanded or trimmed to better focus the poem's meaning.
If the form or syntax is archaic or unusual, you might question if it was written that way for a good purpose. If the form
obscures the message, the poet might want to consider another approach.
5. If the arrangement of the poem is inappropriate,
suggest how a rearrangement of lines or stanzas might help.
6. Point out any clichés. Some figures of speech are so
familiar in everyday usage that a poet might not even notice a line lifted from Shakespeare or the Bible. Slang may render
a poem trivial and should be avoided unless the purpose justifies it.
7. Consider the images used. Are they fresh
or predictable? Is the imagery crisp and clear or overblown?
8. Are the poet's word choices appropriate? If the word
selection misses the mark and fails to convey the intended meaning, make suggestions for alternatives. If the words are appropriate
but do not sound right when the poem is read aloud, suggest words or phrases which might enhance the flow of the language.
9. If the poet has chosen to use a fixed form, such as a sonnet, sestina or villanelle, point out errors in meter
or rhyme schemes which fail to comply with that form.
These suggestions may seem like a lot to consider, but they
will make you a better poet and arm you with the skills you need to offer intellegent critiques which will endear you to your
fellow poets and workshop facilitators