Ok so I get it. There are some scary moments when it comes to commenting on the work of other poets, like fearing that your comments may not be appreciated or indeed helpful, or that they may be interpreted as harsh or judgmental. But hey, a comment is your opinion and let me assure you that a writer would rather hear your critique than hear nothing.
I am not saying your fears are not valid, but compared them with the fear of a writer submitting his or her work and then hearing nothing from those who have read it. Yup we have all been there.
Similar to the short story, poetry is one of those rare, once-in-a-blue-moon genres that readers enjoy but may not be entirely confident in how to approach. I know I, for one, had absolutely no idea how to go about offering comments or surgestions to poets when I first encountered online poetry with a comment section.
While there are certainly aspects of our own writing that have prepared us for commenting on Poetry, there are a few topics that are helpful to consider more closely.
Poetry requires a much closer and detailed reading than many other types of work, because of its metaphorical content, and it often employs confusing language, so it can be a little hard to provide feedback for the author to develop or revise their future work because of this, especially when the writer is not present to communicate their goals and intentions to you.
Here are three, general categories that I’ve found helpful
Focusing on the use of metaphors and symbolic images within a poem is a good starting point. Do the metaphors make sense? Are there, perhaps, contradictory metaphors, or separate metaphors that work together well, within the piece that you could point out to the writer?
Maybe something isn’t connecting in terms of comparisons, or maybe one comparison would sound more effective if it was worded a different way. These are just a couple of ways to identify patterns in writers’ poetry!
II. The “Center of the Poem”
Understanding the theme of the poem is just as crucial to effectively focus your feedback. I recently posted a poem about dealing with child abuse, out of over twenty comments on the poem only two close readers understood the metaphors. The other eighteen or so believed I actually committed murder.
When reading a poem it is a good idea to look out for “the center of the poem.” The metaphors pointed out above will help you work this out. And indeed it is true to say that a poem can often be interpreted in multiple ways, there is almost always a central, prevailing theme that drives the piece, an idea or a theme on which the poet relies to pull the piece together. If you see these connections then tell the poet, he or she will be glad that you connected with their work. It is entirely possible that the poem meant something different to you and that too is fine and the poet will be happy to hear that their work has been interpreted differently. What the writer cares about most is an audience that took time to think about their piece.
III. Descriptive Language and Imagery
Aside from that, what other kinds of things might you find to focus on after identifying and commenting on metaphors and the poem’s theme?
Well, if you’ve ever taken a creative writing course, you may be familiar with the age-old saying of “show don’t tell.” This saying can also be applied to poetry. Considering poetry is often marked by its flowery language and striking imagery, focusing feedback on passages of description can be helpful.
Poetry should evoke an image through its use of words. While much can be ambiguous and ends up being left to interpretation, the language should read descriptively enough to provide various meanings to the overall content of the piece.
Suggestions and your own interpretations of the poem will make up the content of a worthwhile comment. Positive feedback is, of course, as much appreciated as the constructive criticism is! So don’t be afraid to submit a short comment telling the poet how much you enjoyed their work.
Hopefully, those of us who, like myself, might normally cower at the task of critiquing poetry can find solace in the strategies outlined here.
Here is a link to a very useful PDF on the subject of analysing Poetry.