Member Rara Avis
Visiting Earth on a Guest Pass
I don't spend much time in CA, though some folks have said I ought to, and others that I need to....which makes me an instant expert, so here's my, um, two scents' worth.
It sounds utterly simplistic to say so, but what you do in a critique depends entirely on the poet, not on the poem, nor on the one who is lending a hand.
To do critique right, you have to be able to assess --to feel-- exactly where that poet is in developing their craft, and what they'll be open to receiving. Then you have to identify those things in the poem that they will be able to improve, and in so doing improve their writing overall, not the full laundry list of what the poem might need in order to become deathless verse. You give them what they can put to use in the poem, that they will learn from in a general way while doing it, and what they're able to handle personally.
In giving the critique, you have to express it in a way that particular individual will respond to. What is appropriate talk for one poet may blow another out of the water. Things that one person may stretch to apprehend, might be too simplistic for someone else. Make a mistake in either direction and your critique will be rejected.
Most important of all, you have to leave yourself out of it. I've seen far too many critiques that were done by someone whose real interest was in making himself (yes, it's mostly men who fall into this) feel or look better in some way than the person he's working with, or perhaps the other people who will read it in the forum. Such critiques are often brilliant, but they almost always fail to reach the person who is seeking help, because they've ignored the person behind the poem, and so failed to communicate.
So -- my opinon on this question is: what may seem like fluff to one person browsing through the forum, maybe exactly what that particular poet needs most, to become a better writer. Not a perfect writer, a better writer. In the same way, a critique that would devastate that poet, may be just right for the next poet in line.
General rules might be, to give no critique that doesn't focus on the positive points of the poem and its creator's style, as strongly as on the points that you feel should be improved; to do it (and make it obvious that you're doing it) solely because you like helping and want to help that person become a better writer; and to look honestly both at that poet and at yourself, before you say a word.
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