TABLE OF CONTENTS
- First Impressions
- Word Choices
- Line Breaks
- Poetic or Literary Device
- Grammar, Spelling, Punctuation and Capitalization
- General Observations
- Read the poem silently and then read it aloud. It is a good idea to read the poem over several times.
- What is your first overall impression of the poem?
- What is it you like about the poem? Quote directly if possible.
- What is it you dislike about the poem? If you don't like a poem, try to figure out exactly why. Chances are it reflects something you don't like about your own poetry.
- Does the poem have a title? Is the title appropriate or vague?
- Does the poem have a strong opening? Does it grab you interest right away? Does it set the mood of the poem?
- What is the mood of the poem? Is it reflective, sombre, joyous, humourous? Is it effective?
- What is the style of the poem? Is it general, narrative, rhetorical, didactic, abstract, surrealistic? Is it effective?
- Does the poem use a specific format such as a sonnet, sestina, haiku, ghazal, dramatic monologue, lyric or pantoum et al? Was it used correctly and effectively?
- Is the poem written in rhymed or non-rhymed format? Is there a mixture of rhymed and unrhymed lines?
- If rhymed format, is there a consistent rhymed format? Does the poet use exact or near rhyme? Is there a consistent rhyme pattern?
- Does the poem appeal to the senses, ie the eye, ear, smell, tactile or the imagination?
- What is the theme of the poem?
- Is the theme an innovative idea or is it a rehash of an old theme such as love, angst, et al?
- Could the poem be improved by use of stronger verbs or adjectives: e. g. use "scarlet" instead of "red" or use "scream" instead of "said"?
- Has the poet avoided the passive voice and used active voice?
- Are the verb tenses in the poem consistent or do they switch back and forth between past present?
- Is there any technical or scientific jargon in the poem? A foot means one thing to a doctor and another thing to a poet? A mouse has different meanings for a biologist and a computer technician.
- Conversely, are there any words that will have to be looked up in the dictionary or would more simplistic language be more effective?
- Are there obscure references or words used? For example, if the poet is a Canadian writer who refers to the conflict of orange lily versus fleur de lys, will a non Canadian critiquer understand that the narrator may referring to Ontario-Quebec conflicts of 1885? What state is Springfield in?
- Are there too many words or could the poet delete words such as "and, a, the, but, so, etc. Look particularly at the first word on each line.
- Do the line lengths vary? Are some overly short or overly long? Could they be made more effective?
- Could any of the lines be inverted or written in reverse order?
- Does the poet use any run on or enjambed lines? Are there places where the poet could use enjambment?
- Are the line pauses natural?
- What point of view is used in the poem? First, second or third person? Is it consistent or does it switch back and forth between persons and times?
- Does the poem speak for itself or does the poet try to explain too much. Is anything added on the end by way of an afterthought?
- Does the voice of the poet intrude in the poem?
POETIC OR LITERARY DEVICES
- Does the poet use literary devices such as metaphor, simile, personification or symbolism? Are these used correctly and effectively
- If similes are used, are these fresh and innovative? For example the comparison of love to a red rose is an overworked comparison?
- If metaphors are used is the comparison indirect and implied. Is the metaphor sustained throughout the poem?
- Does the poet use imagery? Is it clear or vague? Can you visualize the images the poet is trying to convey?
- Has the poet used sound devices such as assonance, consonance, alliteration, or onomatopoeia? Are these used correctly and effectively?
- How does the poem sound? How does it sound when read aloud? Does the rhythm or cadence vary or does it sound catchy, ragged or monotone?
- Is there any repetition in the poem? Is it effective or could it be eliminated?
- Have any cliches been used in the poem?
- Does the poet use stanza breaks? If not, should there be some and if so where?
- Does the poem progress? There should be a reason why the first stanza comes before the second, the second before the third, and so on. Are there any stanzas which might be eliminated or switched around?
GRAMMAR, SPELLING, PUNCTUATION AND CAPITALIZATION
- Are there any spelling errors or typos?
- Is the poem grammatically correct or are there errors?
- Does the poem use any capitalization? Are the beginnings of lines all capitalized or does the poem have a mixture of styles? Does the poem use "I's" or "i's"? Has correct punctuation been used with the capitals?
- Does the poem use punctuation? Does the poem need it? Are there places where the poem could be improved by adding or deleting punctuation? Is use of punctuation consistent? Are there too many dashes or ellipses?
- What kind of conclusion did the poem have?
- Did the poem end in the right place? Could it have ended earlier?
- Did it come to a natural sense of resolution or was the reader left with a feeling of wanting more?
- Did you feel that the poem carried a message? If so, what was it? Was the message effective?
Was the poem's format an effective medium for the message?
- What are the strengths of the poem? Be specific and try to quote directly?
- Is there an area where the poem could be improved? Offer positive criticism and be specific. Don't make a general negative statement. At the same time don't whitewash the poem with praise and say that the poem is so wonderful that you wouldn't change a word.
- Can you sum up your critiquing in a sentence or two?
- Have you avoided rewriting the poem? This is a NO-NO for a critiquer!!!!
- Have you as a critiquer been constructive? Have you used words such as "Consider doing this" or "You might try the line this way". Have you been tactful? Will your critiquing make the poet feel defensive or encouraged?
- Have you addressed the poet directly by name and have you concluded your critique with an ecouraging message for the writer of the poem that you have critiqued?
ALTERNATIVE PATHS FEEDBACK
Another approach to giving good feedback to your fellow workshop members, is to perhaps give suggestions about alternative paths the poet might want to take his/her poem down.
- For example, maybe you feel the free verse format of the poem doesn’t quite work for that poem. Maybe it has a concept within the poem that cries out for a form using repetition (blues, villanelle, sestina, kyrielle). Then give that suggestion when giving feedback on that poem.
- Or maybe the poem is written in third person point of view but you as the reader would like to read it as a first person poem – which usually makes the poem more immediate and personal-sounding. Tell the poet that.
- Perhaps the poem is done in a rhyme pattern that comes across as too hokey so perhaps a form poem with a specific rhyme pattern such as a villanelle might work better. Let the poet know your thoughts about this.
- Maybe the poem comes across as with a flippant attitude, but the reader senses that it’s really disguised anger, so then it might work better if written as an angry-tone poem. Suggest that the poet consider this idea.
- Perhaps the poem’s narrator is giving his/her side of the story, and the reader senses that the other side of the story also needs to be told. In that case, the suggestion could be made that the poem be written as a duet or poem in two voices.
Compiled by Gwen Austin, September, 2005
Remember that a critique is only one person's opinion. The final format of any writing is up to the author.