Saturday, July 08, 2006


k: So I was reading some older emails to put together a couple of posts for po’et’ship yesterday and that got me thinking about poetry critics and the you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours society that poetry lives in at the moment.

I don’t think this is the way poetry has always functioned in the media and in criticism. I think that there are plenty of examples of poets dissecting and understanding and even denouncing fellow poets’ work. That isn’t happening today, or at least there isn’t enough of it happening today. There are a few people who bear all and tell people when they do or don’t like something. There are forums for poets where you’re invited to post something specifically for harsher review. So maybe the problem is more with blogging? Or with those uber gracious rejection letters that say “hey, you’re stuffs really great, but it’s not *exactly* what we’re looking for”.

The main issue lies in the lap of blogger though. i think that there’s an all-to-easy to see reason for it as well; we only read the blogs of poets we really like. Why would we go about reading and criticizing someone’s poetry that we dislike? We wouldn’t. Simple. I gave out plenty of reviews of poems I didn’t like on the critical poet forums, but I only ever tell a poet of one of the many blogs I read that I dislike something if I feel it undermines or ruins the poem (and typically, I’ll only get into it if there is an easy fix that I can see, other time I will just leave the poem un commented on [[[disclaimer: this doesn’t mean that every poem I don’t leave a comment for is one that I dislike]]])

I don’t know that there’s any solution to the overwhelming niceties of blogger, but I thought I’d bring it up for discussion.

a: I think you bring up several good points. I agree that criticism hasn't always functioned as such, although I am sure there was always the risk of getting personally acquainted with the artist and consequently jeopardizing the "objectivity" of the criticism--hence the power of "networking". And I think that is precisely what is happening today with blogging, the formation of personal networks that limit criticism. As anonymous as blogging can be, I think most people don't use it as such: we end up knowing each other as individuals. But I hasten to point out that that is especially the case in our kind of "amateur" blogging. And within this model, I think you bring up another very observant point, that when we don't like something we tend not to comment rather than comment negatively. And that is a very prevalent, though more difficult-to-read, form of "criticism". Yes, that doesn't mean that every post we don't comment on we don't like, but I would argue that it is more likely than not the case. Again, as you pointed out, there are different sorts of "don't like": there's the "fixable" don't-like and the "I can't relate to" don't-like, and everything in between. And within the limits of our amateur status are the privileges of not having to read or comment if we don't care to. Which is why we end up reading what we like, because we are doing it for our own enjoyment ultimately, rather than out of duty for a magazine, say, or "the good of poetry" in general. I would hope that that isn't the way things operate in poetry programs, for example (though I wouldn't know; but I don't think so); or journals (even though it seems there is such a scarcity of poetry criticism compared to the abundance of its production). And it might be that amateur blogs simply aren't the most appropriate forum for critiquing poetry, that they are more of format where the critique is by "voting with the feet" (or rather the finger, in this case)--even though, first, I don't think such a populist system of valuation is very valuable (I do tend to be an elitist when it comes to the arts); and second, I think that a highly "influentiable" method. What do you think?

k: To the topic at hand then: (this is good, while we always have other things to talk about, I like to get my brain in gear and think critically about my pastime—I guess it justifies why I do some much of it).

No wait, an aside first. I have put up a poll on my blog (right below my profile, can’t miss it). What do you think? I said I was going to do it. As soon as poetisphere and poets101 are up and running again, then I’m starting my campaign for Billy as Mayor. I feel like, he does so much to bring blogging poets together that we all ought to do something for him. I think I’ll make a banner for people to put on their blogs and websites like a badge of support, or is that too tacky? I am going to have fun with it. It’s not serious, so why not take it a little bit over the edge? Hehe.

Okay, to blogging poets and criticism then… yes. Agree with you completely. That’s pretty much the end of the conversation, isn’t it? I mean, unless you invite people to criticize a poem of yours, people probably won’t. We read who we like, and we don’t speak out against poems of those people as an act of some sort of social obligation (aka politeness).

You also bring up the matter of blogging as being anonymous/not anonymous. We’re friends, we text message each other. That’s anonymity completely broken down and ground to an electronic pulp. I hardly knew Yasmin a day before she started telling me about her love life (which, somehow, was in no way awkward). Not that I think I’d recognize her if I saw her on the street, not right away, but I know where she is, why she is, what she’s doing (am starting to sound creepy, hehe) because the barriers were instantly knocked away. I get the feeling that this is happening all over. Scott Glassman, another example for me… he’s opened up completely in emails without any prompting and now I feel as though I know every motivation behind every line of every poem of his. I can’t criticize that; how could I? It would be as if I were criticizing my own work—for which I didn’t have to do any of the work.

Am going to go make that banner/button now… or watch doctor who… or both.

a: So, we're back to our former momentum? :) See, with these e-mails, when I'm trying to respond to more than one e-mail in one, I never know where to start or how to go about it: earliest to latest? other way round? (I tend to dwell on the insignificant.) But what really amazes me is, how do you keep up with everyone?

First, Billy's campaign. I have actually already voted for him on your new poll thingy. (I was vote #2). I don't think it's over the top at all. I think it is quite gracious of you, and I am sure it'll mean a lot to him. He does, after all, put a lot of effort into this whole poetry blogging thing. And people have a choice to put the buttons up on their sites or not. I don't think you can be tacky even if you tried!

Regarding that anonymity thing, I have a question for you: do you find that lifting that veil of anonymity ruins the experience of reading that person's poetry for you? Or heightens it? Or not affect it at all? (You know, that whole question of magic and autobiography that we approached before.)

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for further reading please see

they shot poets - don't they?
zen moon

more to come on the matter of audience and critique later. stay tuned!


Erin said...

Re: critiqueing poetry on blogs - I'm a firm believer in a good critique. I enjoy giving one, and enjoy receiving one. The "art" of thoughtful critique is what I credit for the difference between what I write now, and what I wrote 5 years ago.

Unfortunately, I tend to give fluff commentary on blogs because I rarely know the author well enough to know whether that sort of thing is what they're looking for, or if they're the type to be sensitive and be offended, or if they've blogged their poetry because they want to showcase rather than revise/edit/improve it.

I also sometimes refrain from commenting at all, not because I don't like a poem, but because I like it well enough to feel it deserves a deep critique, but don't feel comfortable doing so on their blog.

Now, put me in a positive forum situation where the "rules" and expectations of the writers are apparent, and I'll critique all day.

Maybe we should make up a banner or something to circulate through the poetry blogosphere that would denote the blogger's openess to deep c&c?

katy said...

i like the idea, erin, of some sort of marker. "open season on this blog" sort of something or other?

there are some really nice forums for poets to get work revised and critiqued. the critical poet is one of them. though, forgive me, i haven't been on it for what feels like years.

i understand, too, this hurdle of feeling as though you don't know the poet well enough. this, i think, somes with blogging too and especially a communitee of blogs like the one blossoming and growing around

maybe we should get someone to design a sort of white flag - ribbon type logo as a sign of surrender... the idea being that the person who uses the logo surrenders their poetry to criticism. it can be posted on the blog perminantly or used on specific poems.

arch.memory said...

That's a cool idea, though I'm not sure what color my banner would be!

Travis Jay Morgan said...

I feel that when a poet posts their poems online via their blog AND leaves comments open on the poems, it's a given that the poem is open for review, discussion, criticism, comments of any sort. If the poet closes comments on the poem, then obviously it’s a showcase and the poet is not interested in feedback. But by leaving the comments open, it should be understood that poems are subject to any sort of feedback such as criticism, praise, and the oh so common, fluffy reviews.

katy said...

as much as i'd like to agree with you on the assumption of comments implying the call for criticism, travis, i think that too many people (and i too am guilty of this at times) leave comments open on poems they wish to showcase in order to welcome people to praise their work.

just my opinion, but like i said, i am guilty of this, in at least a half dozen instances. (will not disclose for what poems i have left comments on with the intent of ego-boosting.)

arch.memory said...


While I agree with Katy that leaving comments open is not exactly an invitation to be chewed up (and yes, I too prefer reading pointless praise to pointless criticism), I also agree with you that, by the very public nature of the medium, one should necessarily expect to hear critique as well as praise.

I would like to take the argument a step further, however, to dispute the value of criticism. It seems to be the thing that almost everyone is taking for granted: that constructive criticism is good. Aside from the difficulty of determining what make for constructive criticism, I would like here to express my doubts about the constructiveness of criticism. That idea by itself implies that, one, criticism makes better, and two, a deeper seated implication that we agree on what better is. And that is what I think is the shaky foundation. I might criticize your work to the best of my judgment, but who's to say that my judgment is good? And second, I think that dormant within the assumption that criticism makes better is the belief that ever one has the potential to be good. I tend to disagree with that. I don't think poetry can be merely taught. I believe that one has to have some innate predisposition or sensibility (now whether that is born or grown is another question). I do believe that people can improve—mostly from reading, but I absolutely don't believe that, even given the best of criticism, people can be equally good. Now that is a very devastating idea, I realize--which explains its lack of popularity--because when I admit to it I am risking acknowledging that I will never be that good (whatever that means, again). Still, it is one that is important to keep in mind when we're waxing rhapsodic about the virtues of criticism.

katy said...

ah, the value of critique. i was going to write to you via po'et'ship-stylee email, and think i might still do.

but let me just chime in here with a quick word about my feelings about it. there are useless critiques and worthwhile critiques, in my experience. useless ones being fluff. the worthwhile ones are the ones that get you, the poet, thinking about the desicions made while composing and/or editing the poem under scrutiny.

will write more on this later, promise to all.

feel free, though, please, to help me generate some ideas!

Travis Jay Morgan said...

And just as there are useless critiques and worthwhile critiques, the same goes with praise. There is useless praise and worthwhile praise. The value of both is ultimately going to be determined by the author of the poem, through our discrimination, and indifference between "good" and "bad". We have the ability to disregard what we determine to be useless, and gain from what we determine to be useful to us. Either way, the door is open to both when we leave comments open. If somebody wants praise only, whether is be phony fluffy praise, or honest praise, then maybe they should put a disclaimer: "Praise only please." Otherwise, I'm going to give my honest full-hearted perspective of the poem at hand. The author of the poem can take it or leave it.

If we really want to help each other grow as poets, false praise will only mislead well spent efforts. I feel it is our responsibility and it is respectful and kind to give each other honest feedback on a poem. Yes, false praise is soooo much easier to comment with, heck, one could use generic canned responses. We don’t even have to read the poem with those. Is that what poets want these days? Strictly ego boosters.

For clarification, I’m in no way talking about “bashing” as bashing is quite inappropriate. I’m simply talking about giving honest feedback, and not false praise. If the reviewer is praising in all honesty, then praise away, otherwise I want to hear the readers true honest perspective on the poem.

define: constructive criticism - Constructive criticism is the process of offering valid and well-reasoned opinions about the work of others, usually involving both positive and negative comments, in a friendly manner rather than an oppositional one. In collaborative work, this kind of criticism is often a valuable tool in raising and maintaining performance standards.

Crunchy Weta said...

Hehe the poetry world could use more backstabbing to liven it up!

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Crunchy Weta said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
arch.memory said...

I certainly agree with that, Crunchy!

Daniel Barkowitz said...

So, case in point. I posted "Weep, Like a Cedar in Lebanon" on The Critical Poet and got all kinds of feedback on it, some very helpful, some (frankly) not.

I too struggle with how to deal with constructive criticism. If I change all of my words to please the specific "you" commenting, does it remain my voice any longer, or do I run the risk of pandering to the point where what's left isn't worthwhile.

So, I struggle with the criticism piece as well.