What to Look for when Critiquing

Some ideas to help you when offering a critique
- Lemonthief and *black*swan* (Sofey and Frankey)
1) Spelling When posting a poem yourself, please use spell check if writing on Microsoft Word. Misspelled words make the reader stumble, and it shows laziness on the author’s behalf – you should want to communicate your message to the reader, and misspelled words significantly lessen the impact of a piece. This should be something you rectify before posting, and at least be the one thing you are sure of getting right! Sometimes misspelled words can work in good poems, as can made-up words and odd forms of punctuation, etc. However, this would only be used for emphasis and on rare occasion. If you see any misspelling of words, point them out to the writer so that they can correct them. 2) Punctuation If you know that you struggle with punctuation, this site might prove helpful: Grammar Book Punctuation is important! It can totally change the way something reads. E.g.: Dear John: I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we're apart. I can be forever happy--will you let me be yours? Gloria -----------------------------------------------------------------------

Dear John: I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we're apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be? Yours, Gloria I hope this highlights the importance of punctuation! Comment on punctuation if you feel it has been used inappropriately, or if you notice it has been used to particular effect. 3) Abstractions An abstraction is when a poet expresses a thought or feeling without a concrete image. A way of coming to a decision as to whether something is an abstraction, is to ask yourself if you can see it, hear it, feel it, touch it, taste it. If not, then it is most likely an abstraction. Examples: You cannot touch sadness But you can smell smoke from birthday candles You cannot feel dreams But you can taste creamy chocolate torte Try to help people see where they are moving into vague abstractions, and advise them on how they could find more clarity and focus within their writing. 4) Clichés Aha, my favourite! Clichés are phrases we have all heard before many times in the past, and which should be avoided in most cases, in favour of fresh phrases and descriptions. Clichés often crop up when we are not paying close enough attention to language – for example, if we were quickly jotting down a view of the moors, we may say: “rolling green hills”, but this is a time-worn expression. Ways to identify clichés:

1) Is the phrase particular or non-specific? E.g.: She’s always there for me Where exactly is there? Wouldn’t you prefer it if she was here when you needed her? 2) Do you really know what you’re saying when you use the particular phrase? Flotsam and jetsam They’re rarely seen apart. But what are flotsam and jetsam anyway? 3) When you use the phrase, do you get a sensation? Or are they simply vague, generalised impressions? E.g.: Cold as ice Does this phrase make you feel shivery? Not really. Also, avoid fancy diction that has become dull throughout the ages, and which you would not say nowadays, E.g.: Thou for you Ere for before If you notice clichés in someone’s work, tell them so! 5) “Show, don’t tell” Example: To say that the young girl enjoyed the book is telling; to say that her she craned her neck over the teacher’s knee and listened with baited breath is showing. Most often, when you're "telling," you're also generalizing. If you use specific and concrete detail, it most often means that you are "showing." If you spot someone generalising – “telling” rather than “showing” – suggest that they think about using more specific detail in order to avoid this. Here is an excellent example of showing: Away and see the ocean suck at a boiled sun – Duffy She could simply have said “go where you can see a sunset out at sea”, but that would have been telling, not showing, and this is Duffy we’re talking about.

The main thing is to share the experience with the reader and make them feel it – this is done through showing. Telling just describes it – it doesn’t draw them in. 6) Language By this, in some respect, I mean the style the poem is written in. It isn’t just line breaks that separate poetry from prose – poetic language is usually used, along with either structure, symbolism or similes/metaphors. Here’s a few ways to tell the difference between poetry and prose: Poetry relies heavily on its use of language to convey its point, including similes, metaphors, wordplay, rhyme, metre, structure and careful line-breaks. It is usually in a more condense form than prose. Prose tends to be longer, and less organised. It reads in sentences, not lines, and hence lacks line breaks and often contains less ‘flowery’ language or complex metaphors (this is not always the case). If you suspect someone’s “poem” is more likely to be prose, do let them know – they may wish to repost it elsewhere. I’ve mentioned similes and metaphors, so I’ll talk a little about those. The difference between them: if something is likened or compared to something, then it is a simile – if it said to be something, then it is a metaphor. Examples: He peeled off my mask like an orange – simile Her face is a mirror to mine – metaphor Make sure your metaphors and similes make sense – don’t just include them for the sake of it and, if they are too complex or abstract, they will not make sense to your reader, either – if you spot a poem with incomprehensible similes and metaphors, do let the author know! Suggest they make them a little clearer. A few more typical poetic devices are used: these include alliteration, assonance, dissonance, euphony and cacophony. Alliteration is when two (or more) adjacent (or nearly adjacent) words deliberately begin with the same letter, such as road rage, beautiful baby or green grass. They are used for stress and emphasis. It is common to see novice writers to include alliteration all over the place so as to make their piece more poetic – unless this alliteration serves a purpose, it’s usually pointless to do so. Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds – a few examples: mellow wedding bells and crumbling thunder. This usually results in the poem sounding smoother

and tends to make it flow more readily. By contrast, dissonance is when the poet deliberately avoids assonance. This can be for a variety of reasons, but most usually to enhance cacophony (see below). However, it can be a bad thing – if you don’t think it worked, let the author know. Euphony is when a poem ‘sounds’ pleasing, and just slips from the tongue like syrup (that was almost an alliteration), often including extensive assonance. Cacophony is the exact opposite – the poem includes lots of ‘harsh’ phrases, deliberately unpleasant, such as hissing snake. Lewis Carroll made great use of cacophony in his poem Jabberwocky. The first verse is quoted below: (note the use of clashing consonants – and note also the use of extended alliteration) 'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wabe; All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe. The final point to cover here is that of rhyme – there are many different ‘classes’ for rhyme (masculine, dactylic etc.) but let’s not discuss them here – take a look at the “further” chapter at the end. In the good old days, rhyming was a little less restricted – “move” and “love” would be considered to rhyme (and indeed are used in this way in “The Passionate Shepherd to his Love). These days, such “eye-rhyming” isn’t as acceptable, but by no means is it rare. Perfect rhymes are easy to spot: lime and time, night and flight, cat and mat. This works for more than one syllable too: failing and flailing, for instance. However, although lime and fine may seem to rhyme at first sight, this is actually an example of assonance rather than rhyme. Look out for these slips when critiquing a piece of rhyming poetry! The rhyming part of the words can be on any syllable so long as it is stressed the same in each, but often “imperfect” rhymes are seen – an example is ‘ring’ and ‘caring’ as the stress is different in each and doesn’t quite sound right. This is often a sign of forced rhyming – another thing to watch out for. This is when the author has tried so hard to stick to the rhyme scheme that it no longer sounds natural, but forced, often with rhyming words that are a tad inappropriate to the context – beware of this! One way to avoid the predicament of forced rhyming, yet still maintaining a rhyming piece, is to make use of internal rhyming. This is where rhyming words are found within lines rather than at the end, often just a few words apart – it’s less restricting, allows more freedom, and usually results in a much less ‘forced’ feel.

7) Imagery Imagery is when the author paints a picture in the reader’s head – it ties in closely with ‘showing’. Imagery, though, isn’t necessarily restricted to ‘sight’ – any of the senses can be referred to – often authors make references to smell, and how things feel. Any evoking of the senses in a piece of writing is imagery. It is easy to spot whether imagery is effective – if you are made to feel and see and hear things when you’re reading this poem, if it takes you to another place, then the imagery is working. If it doesn’t make much sense or doesn’t have much effect on you, let the author know that their imagery doesn’t work for you. If you can’t imagine what it’s like to see or feel it, then this is most likely the case. Below is a particularly effective example of imagery – you can really picture the thistles – it evokes an intense picture in the readers’ heads: Thistles spike the summer air And crackle open under a blue-black pressure – Ted Hughes 8) Active Verbs Think very carefully about your word and verb choice. Some verbs such as “went” or “said” are very dull – think of something more imaginative. If a poem you’re reading is full of boring verbs, suggest a few alternatives. Here, “went”, could have been “left” (depending on the context), “broke away” or “travelled” (again, depending on the context). Similarly, “said” could have been “hissed”, “told” or “murmured”. Hint: use a thesaurus to look up synonyms if you suspect the verb in question is too bland. 9) Line breaks and Enjambment Line breaks are very important in a poem – it’s one of the things that separates poetry from prose. Line breaks should be carefully considered – short lines can make the poem sound choppy but long ones can make the poem seem very laboured. Different line breaks suit different poems, and you may wish to suggest to the author that they alter their line breaks if you don’t feel they’re working. The use of punctuation is very important with regards to line breaks – unless the sentence is being continued over multiple lines, then the lines ought to be separated by commas, full-stops, colons or semicolons. Check poems thoroughly to make sure that this is the case.

Line breaks should be vaguely uniform. Short lines after long ones are effective, but a miss-match of both all over the place should be avoided – a pretty regular line-length is the best way to go. Enjambment is when a sentence carries over two or more lines, i.e. line breaks occur in the middle of sentences. Often this is effective, but it must be used with caution – it can horribly disturb the flow in some poems so, when critiquing, indicate whether you thought the enjambment worked and, if it didn’t, suggest alternative line breaks. Below is an example of enjambment: I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach... – Elizabeth Browning In structured poetry where it is necessary to follow a rhyme-scheme, it is often common to see enjambment (most often in sonnets) so as to avoid forced rhyming – it’s a clever trick! 10) Scansion Scansion refers to the meter and rhythm – let’s deal with the meter first. The meter is basically the patterns in a poem, the rhythm and stresses. Syllable count is important too – for instance, Haikus demand a certain number of syllables per line (see more below). Sometimes, there are a fixed number of stresses in a line regardless of what the syllable count is – poetry like this is easy to set to music and nursery rhymes are written around such poetry, as the ‘stresses’ fall on the main ‘beats’ in the music. By contrast, some poems have a fixed number of syllables regardless of how many stresses there are per line – this is harder to pull off – read poems that you are critiquing very carefully in a way so as to exaggerate the stresses – it should become clear whether or not the author has stuck to the rules! On other occasions, both the syllable count and the stresses must be regular i.e. the same in each line. If the author has clearly written poetry of this type, any occasional slip-ups are errors – this style isn’t nearly as free as the first style I outlined. Sonnets are an example of this – ten syllables per line, and five stresses per line. That’s why sonnets are so hard to write – when reading or writing a sonnet, check it very thoroughly for inconsistencies, and always do this when offering a critique. It is also worthwhile to note that there are both long and short syllables. “Red” is short, but “loan” is long.

The rhythm of course is made up of the stresses in a line. The patterns of these are called “feet” – for example, a sonnet has five feet in a line and ten syllables, the stresses coming every two syllables. If you like the technical term, this is known as “iambic pentameter” (unstressed, stressed, unstressed, stressed, etc.) The opposite of this is “trochaic pentameter” (stressed, unstressed etc.) Above all, it is important that whatever meter the author has chosen, they stick to it! Check for consistency when offering a critique – it’s very important. 11) Voice and Tense The voice refers to “who” is saying it. It is very common for poetry to be written in the ‘first person’ – here’s an example: When I am an old woman I shall wear purple With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me. – Jenny Joseph First-person narrative is effective in getting across personal experiences and feelings, and is the most natural form to write in. Writing in the ‘second person’ is less common – another example: You could travel up the Blue Nile with your finger, tracing the route – Duffy This is often highly effective as it invites the reader into the poem – it’s like talking straight to them. Often, first and second person are mixed within one poem, most commonly in romantic poetry – it enhances the impression that it is between two people. Finally there is ‘third-person’ then – have a read of this: So he went; they found the horse by the big mimosa clump, They raced away towards the mountain’s brow – Paterson This style is a lot more ‘isolated’ – it invites the reader to ‘watch’ rather than experience events and feelings. It is often used for descriptions and ballads – it’s a good way of story-telling. Author’s commonly use the third person to disguise themselves as the ‘he’ or ‘she’ they are talking about in order to avoid an autobiographical poem.

Tense refers to ‘when’ it is taking place – past, present, or future. Past and present are most commonly seen in poetry and prose – future-tense only poetry is rare. Present tense, like the second person, is effective in order to draw the reader in and invite them to share experiences. The past tense is often used in autobiographical poetry. It is not uncommon to have a progression of tenses in a poem, for example, three stanzas – the first in the past, the second in the present, and the last in the future. This is probably the only case where tensemixing is acceptable – always draw the author’s attention to any places where they may have flitted from one tense to the other – it’s jumpy, doesn’t make sense and should always be avoided. It may often be worthwhile to tell the author whether you thought they wrote in the most effective tense they could, and suggest alternatives. 12) Subject matter Now we get down to the nitty-gritty – what is the poem about? Love, probably. Either that or a personal experience or event. Love, together with break-ups and depression, are clichéd subjects and if the poem you are reading is about one of these, let’s hope the author approached it from a new perspective – if not, it could be a very boring read. If the author has been unimaginative with their subject matter, tell them that in no uncertain terms – every poem you read should be a new experience – you shouldn’t get a feeling of déjà-vu. Erotic poetry, although extremely common, never seems to become clichéd. However, there are some very clichéd phrases that are probably to be avoided: “love-making”, “the beat of your heart against mine” and anything to do with looking into each other’s eyes is overused, obvious and often cringe-worthy. If the author has veered into dangerous territory, try picking out one or two more imaginary parts from their poem and suggest they focus on those instead. This applies not just to erotic poetry, but to all poetry. 13) poetic forms I suspect the easiest thing to do here is to list some common forms and define them. Here goes: * Acrostics – where the first letters of every line spell a word or message * Ballad – a story-telling poem, often with repetition and refrains, and adheres to ballad meter (see “further”) * Haiku – a Japanese poem with three-line stanzas, with syllable counts 5-7-5 respectively

* Sonnet – traditionally love poems, with 14 lines written in iambic or (less commonly) trochaic pentameter. It is made up of an octave and a sestet, and usually ends with a rhyming couplet. For more, see “further” * Limerick – I think we all know what these are! If not, limericks are five-line poems following an AABBA rhyme-scheme. The “A” lines have three feet and the “B” lines have two. They are usually humorous and light-hearted * Pantoum – these are made up of four-line stanzas, where the second and fourth lines from the first stanza are repeated in the first and third lines of the next, and so on, until the final stanza whose last line is always the first line of the first stanza, and whose second line is the third line of the first stanza (the first and third lines are the second and fourth lines of the penultimate stanza) * Free Verse – Anything you like. Free verse is written, well... freely, as the name suggests. It refers to any poem that does not follow a formal or organised structure, whether that may be syllabic or metric. 14) Further Were the last thirteen chapters not enough for you? Very well then – for all you brainiacs who are just crying out for further knowledge, here are a few extra titbits of information for you. We’ll start with sonnet form, shall we, as it’s often touched upon... I’ll list a few types of sonnets and explain the rhyme-scheme: * Petrarchan – named after Petrarch – ABBAABBA CDECDE (or CDCDCD). These are traditionally written in iambic pentameter, and the octave is supposed to present a situation/problem and the sestet is supposed to provide a solution, comment or resolve to this (not always adhered to) – also referred to as ‘Italian sonnet’ * Shakespearean – named after the great master himself – ABABCDCDEFEFGG. The problem presented in the octave is then touched upon in the next four lines before being fully concluded or dealt with in the final couplet. It is fairly common for these sonnets to contain lots of enjambment. Written in iambic pentameter – also referred to as ‘English sonnet’ * Spenserian – named (unsurprisingly) after Spenser – ABABBCBCCDCDEE. Unlike the last two, this one doesn’t have a “problem” and “resolution” and is treated more like three quatrains and a couplet than an octave and a sestet. Although this may seem freer, there is a catch – A, B and C repeat four times, so it would be unwise to choose a word such as “Meerkat” to end the last line (prizes for anyone who can find one perfect rhyme for this, let alone three). Prizes also for anyone who can spot why “Meerkat” would be an unwise choice in this context anyway. Again, written in iambic pentameter * Keats – named after Keats (honestly, they don’t think of very imaginative names for these things, do they?) – ABCABDCABCDEDE. This can be in any meter * Pushkin Sonnet – ABABCCDDEFFEGG – again, any meter * Sonetto Rispetto – ABABABCC DEFDEF (or DEDEDE) written in iambic pentameter * Sicilian – ABBACDDCEFEFEF in iambic pentameter

So that’s sonnets covered then. They are of course traditionally love-poems, but nowadays they can be about anything. I promised you an explanation of Ballad meter and form (although I don’t know why – you’ll probably never critique a ballad in your life) – here it is: Ballad meter is iambic (what a surprise) and each stanza has four lines – the first and third have four stresses, and the second and fourth have three. As I mentioned, there is a great deal of repetition, and often refrains. Now for the interesting bit – rhyme. I pointed out at one stage that there were many different ‘classes’ of rhyme, so here goes: Masculine rhyme is when the stress is on the final syllable of the word, like in “away”, “today” and “betray”. Feminine rhyme is almost the opposite – the stress is on the penultimate syllable of the word, like in “roaming”, “gloaming” and “foaming”. Dactylic rhyme is when the stress is on third from last syllable, like in “Eratosthenes” and “cacophonies” Imperfect rhyme is when the rhyming bit is between a stressed and an unstressed syllable – “baring” and “wring” for instance Semi rhyme is when one of the words has an extra syllable, such as in “choose” and “loser” Oblique is a rhyme that’s ‘not quite’ a rhyme – it doesn’t have a perfect match in sound, like in “mow” and “no” or “some” and “sun”. These are sometimes called ‘slants; Consonance is when the consonants are the same – like “her” and “dark” And an ‘eye rhyme’ or a ‘sight rhyme’ are when the spelling makes it look as though it should rhyme, but it doesn’t – “plough”, “rough”, “through” and “cough” are very good examples, as are “prove” and “love”. As I mentioned, these were permitted as proper rhymes, back in the day. Bonus points for ‘holorhyme’ (or holorime)– two lines made up entirely of homophonous (same-sounding) syllables: In Ayrshire hill areas, a cruise, eh, lass? Inertia, hilarious accrues, he'las! Impressive, wouldn’t you say? Anyway, if you still want to know more, there are some very good links below that cover most of these topics. Do enjoy! And happy critiquing!

A comprehensive list of forms of poetry A guide to sonnet form - includes links A glossary of the many different types of rhyme A cliché finder! - type in the subject matter, and you get a list of clichés