This aspect of the discussion on Critique is a bit about what it is, and what it isn’t. Many people confuse critique with criticism and actually interchange the two words as if they meant the same thing. They do not. There is, at times, a fine line between the two, but it is there and needs to be addressed.
Critique is mostly a matter of suggestions, about any aspect of a written piece: structure, form, breath line, word usage, grammar, clarity etc. Criticism, however, has a negative connotation. And all too often, when it is used to ‘critique’ a piece of writing, it is aimed at the author, not the expression of that author.
It is one thing to tell someone that he/she might want to soften a certain line or phrase, because that would better emphasize the true tone of the overall piece. It is another thing to tell that same author that he/she appears confused and has simply made a mess of things. Do you see the difference?
The first is a direct suggestion about the poem, the second one suggests there is something wrong with the poet who should have realized he/she was in over their head. It is a direct attack on the skill and ability of the author and does little to help the poem. If the author is seeking critique, then more than likely he/she has some misgivings about the poem itself and what it is saying. Before making a judgment, it might be wise to ask about those misgivings and what the author was aiming at to begin with. Then the person who is doing the critique can begin by saying he didn’t get that, or that she feels the poet has done exactly what was intended in the first place.
Just because we all read and write does not mean we have all achieved the same level of understanding. And much of critique is an attempt to bring clarity and understanding where there might not have been a great deal. The problem sometimes lies in the ability to say, “I don’t understand.” Many, if not most of us, don’t like to admit to that reality.
Since becoming a member of the poetry circuit, there are a few poets that I find difficult to understand. That doesn’t mean I don’t like to read what they have written. They have had different experiences than I have. One in particular writes with an incredible flow of language that fascinates and intrigues me and makes me wish I could do the same. I may not fully understand, but I like what I am reading, like the flow, like the word choices, and find myself going back to read several times. And many times, in that process, some of the understanding actually begins to seep through.
Which brings me to another point about critique. It should not be done quickly or without thought and consideration. Someone has put time and effort into the creation of this piece of writing. Another human being who also incorporates some share in human frailty. One of the best pieces of advice I have ever received about this subject was to stop and think about how I would like this to be said to my own person.
A few weeks ago, Mike said that he would like critique, even harsh criticism. I kinda cringed when I read that. But, again that has more to do with my own background than anything else. I have been the recipient of harsh, even unfair and unwelcome criticism. It didn’t kill me, but it didn’t really help me either. And, on the other hand, I have been the recipient of difficult critique. That made me sit up and notice and start asking questions about what it was I was truly trying to achieve.
The last thing I would like to address is the very real fact that most prompt sites specifically remind us that comments are welcome, but there is to be no critiquing unless specifically requested by the author. I have seldom asked for any sort of critique. That is not because I think I do this so much better. That would be far from the truth.
When I post a poem online, most often it is done to a prompt. I don’t feel that these are finished pieces. I want to live with it for a while. And if I like where it seems to be going, I will go back and play with it. However, I don’t want to have it critiqued at that point. I’m just not done with it yet. When I am, I do send them to certain individuals and ask them to take a look and tell me what they think. The pieces on my blog are works in progress. I will wait until I have taken it as far as I think it will go, and then ask someone to take a look at it.
Several of you, but specifically Neil, broached the issue of respect. That should always be a cornerstone to any critique experience. Respect for the individual and respect for the piece of writing she has offered up. And Mary mentioned that her group actually takes the time to try to critique within the style of the author. I like that idea a great deal. Critique is definitely a learning tool, how better to learn about what we are doing by getting to know the style of the author. And that can only happen if one respects the work and person of that other individual.
Margo has spoken of having a mentor. I have had the same and both of us seem to be somewhat aimed at being of a similar ilk. I believe that both of us are motivated by a desire to encourage others to get on the page and stay there. I believe that another basic premise of critique, good critique, is that desire to see the other individual prosper and continue doing what they already have begun.
We have come to this community and have all enjoyed what it has to offer. I think part of that is to respect that request to refrain from critiquing unless asked to do so. Several of you wrote about doing that in private email. For now, I consider that an excellent idea. Should we decide to do some amount of critique within this group, I would definitely prefer small groups and something that is not open to the general public.
These are some of my personal concerns with this subject. I would hope that if you have others, you would express them here and share them. If you have ideas about how to go about creating a critique format that works for the majority of us here, please feel free to put those before the group as well.
You have the mic: