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How to Critique Poetry

By Gary R. Hess. Category: Poetry

Critiquing poetry is not only about analyzing the writing, it is about helping the writer to become a better poet. Nonetheless, it is important to understand the elements of poetry. So before you begin, make sure you know all the tidbits and insights on poetry. If you don't, you might not be able to help the author.

Once you have established at least a basic knowledge of poetry, be sure to follow these simple rules in each of your critiques:

  1. Start every critique with what you like about the poem or writing and end with reiterating the same points.
  2. Balance your critiques and suggestions with positive observations. Being positive helps build up the self-esteem of the writer. You don't want to break the poet down to where they never want to write again. You want the author to know that there are a few things to enjoy about the writing but also know that there are areas for improvement.
  3. Be sensitive to the writer. The point of a critique is to help improve the poet and not to insult their ideas and creativity.
  4. Include a disclaimer that says you recognize the poet has the right to throw your critique into the nearest dumpster. "Take these for what it's worth." is a very common way to say "This is what I have to say, but you don't have to listen." Remember, poetry always changes and art is generally in the eyes of the beholder.
  5. Label the critiques by line number, if they are line-specific. Simply writing out that you dislike the alliteration doesn't make much since unless you state, "I dislike the alliteration in line 5." and then be sure to state why you dislike it.

Before writing the critique:

  • Read the poem several times, including once or twice out-loud.
  • Find out the poem's purpose. What is the poet trying to accomplish? Is he telling a story? Is he trying to persuade the reader? Does he want to scare the reader? Does he want the reader to laugh?
  • Decide which poem type is used. Keep it in mind when critiquing. Does the author use the form correctly?

What to critique on:

  • Clichés.
  • Redundancy, is anything repeated one too many times?
  • Weak emotional venting.
  • Rhetorical questions to the reader.
  • Little variation between syllables or meters.
  • Simple vowel rhymes.
  • Originality. Be very careful with this one. Just because it's the same topic and same form doesn't mean the writing is unoriginal.
  • Bad selection of words.
  • Emotion, does the writing give an aesthetic experience?
  • Incorrect poetic form usage.