How to Critique Poetry

When someone asks you to read a poem, sometimes, “It’s good”  isn’t very helpful. Always nice to hear though.

Critique is not one of my strongest skills so I’ve made a point to learn how to do it properly. I’ve scoured the web to come up with a list of things to do when critiquing poetry. Thank you to the poets in the Urbis.com forums, as well as the poets of Poet Sanctuary. Your help was invaluable.

  • When doing a critique of a poem, read it several times. Some things, especially in poetry, are not obvious in the first read.

 

  • You will come across poetry that is very abstract. Sometimes there will be obscure metaphors or images that mean nothing to you. It’s okay. Neither you, nor the author are complete morons. You have two options at this point. Put it down and come back later or just go find something else to read.

 

  • Be specific about what you liked or didn’t like and why. Make sure you are judging the writing itself and not the subject. Poetry is one person’s perspective on a subject. It isn’t a philosophical debate, whether you agree or disagree.

 

  • Explain as clearly as possible the meaning that you found in a poem. You may interpret it differently than the author actually intended. How did it make you feel? What senses did it invoke? Did it surprise you at all or was it completely predictable?

 

  • Notice, if possible, the techniques used in the poem. Is there allusion, irony, metaphors? Is there personification or repetition? Did you understand it? If you didn’t, how could the writer have improved it?

 

  • Make sure to talk about the rhythm and not flow. Notice any changes and how they affect the poem. Is there some pattern that has been broken to enhance a point?

 

  • Line breaks are terribly subjective. There aren’t any rules for it. Some (me, included) end lines where there is a pause in speech. Some end with words like “and” or “of”. Try to just go with whichever the writer has chosen and spare yourself a headache.

 

  • Notice rhyme schemes. Not just eat/beat/meat but the other rhyme styles as well. Also notice if the rhyme is so forced that it ruins the meaning of the line.

 

  • Notice word choice. Why was one word chosen over another that means the same thing? Is the word inappropriate in context? If so, explain why.

 

  • Notice long-windedness. Look for parts of the poem that are useless and really don’t add anything.

 

  • Alert the author to minor typos if you catch them. In the case of major typos, spelling, and grammar, proceed with caution. They might not be writing in their first language or they might not be serious about their poetry.

 

  • Notice when perspective or verb-tense inconsistency is present.

 

  • Notice and point out when the author contradicts themselves.

 

  • Lastly, try not to be an insulting jerk. Harsh criticism is perfectly fine as long as it’s constructive. “This poem sucks” is not very helpful at all.

And that is what I have learned about critiquing poetry! Happy reading!

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