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Terreson Profile
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About Poetry Criticism and Workshopping


Yesterday I was combing through the proceedings on a private poetry board, looking for something specific. I did not find it but I did come across a delightful post made by a poet on the subject of poetry criticism. (The thread was called “To Crit or Not To Crit - critting styles) The exchange goes back to Sept. of ‘06, almost three years ago. The poster wrote under the screen name, Ms Parataxis. I’ve not seen Ms P in our environs for some while. So I contacted her, sent her a copy of the post, and asked her permission to post it publically. Permission granted. At her request I’ve done a little judicious editing with regards to personally identifying info.

When I grow up this is the kind of close reader of poetry and poetry critic I want to be. Here is the post:

~~ I’m honored, truly, gents, by your confidence in my abilities. OK, shamelessly flattered. Guilty as charged.

I thought I’d cut everyone some slack, earlier in the thread, when I said ‘keep it to the page’ … but Tere would like more. Which means: Get ready for the ramble. I’ve got little else between that and the ‘terse pronouncement.’ Here goes. Some narrative, ok?

My first teacher, who shall remain nameless, but heretofore shall be referred to as ‘Sarge’ handled poems by virtue of their (let’s all bow in the direction of New Criticism) contract on the page. What does the poem set out to do, how does the poet handle the language. Poems are, according to him and how I misquote him: a combination of the subconscious freed to make associations whose time has come and an awareness of the limits of language: what it can carry, what it cannot. And then there’s Lakoff on the oh, what: logic of the metaphor. Sarge was not heavy handed in terms of revisions except to say “This isn’t working, here are a few suggestions, something along the lines of …” and then would wave in the general direction of the sort of improvement the poet might make, but in terms of the workings of the poem already established, not his preferences. He delighted in being surprised - still does.

(I’ll share an earlier conversation with you that Sarge and I had where he said “P, you don’t know what the f*ck you’re doing with poetry, but you have an instinct for language. I can help you.” Boy howdy, did he; and he still does. A chief delight in my life is finally being able to write and read on a level that allows him to send me his work for my take.)

Then there was X, a Stegner fellow, a self-proclaimed cocky little sh*t who felt perfectly free to cut and paste, suggest and re-write our work. To a certain extent and always with respect as well as imagination. He stunned us with what we didn’t know we could do. If you’re a grown-up, it’s nice to have someone point out to you where the poem is trying to be smarter than your own limitations.

Two extremes in style, both of which I appreciated. Providing I kept my responses to criticism to (wait for it) what was on the page and not my sorry-a$$ed little ego. You know, I would occasionally think I had just re-written The Wasteland, only to find out, No, Girlie, you sure hadn’t. Surprise, surprise.

I made a rule with my easily bruised ego at the time I first worked with Sarge: wait 24 hours before responding to a critique. Real-time workshops came along and I developed a sense of perspective, distance. I’ll never forget writing a real dog of a poem: the deadline came waaay before the poem was ready. We crtiqued poems anonymously. One of the participants in the workshop said “THIS is a P. Poem?!!” … and I had the biggest laugh: “Consider it an act of artistic sacrifice for your benefit: a stinky little learning vehicle for us all.” We had a good laugh and I got down to revising the thing. No use pretending - learning’s more fun than self-delusion, any day.

Now fast forward to a certain Prof. Y who is absolutely the BEST close reader I have ever known. Ever ever ever. And what this man taught me about cadence, movement, juxtaposition, the workings of language within a work, well, Pfffft. Unreal. Unparalleled on Dickinson. Oh, shoot, anyone. Gifted, plain and simple.

Yeah, so what? Each of these mentors has a different style. And from time to time, I channel someone who feels free to delve, cut, paste. I know many here don’t: but I try to keep my motives clean and point to areas where I think the poem is letting itself down, NOT ME. My rich interior life and I have this dialogue: are the tactics of the poem doing all they can to support its strategy? There is much I don’t pick up on the strategy of a particular piece, so I often, then, blow it on the tactics, but I’m learning.

And no, I don’t often take on an entire poem. First of all, this is a sort of workshop, a collaborative effort, not my 10-page essay in fulfillment of an assignment. I address what hits me and it’s often the logic of language, how the image presents, where explication is unearned (within the poem, not it’s ‘right’ to exist or not) and cadence.

In online groups I’ve learned, as we all have, who has preferences, who will or won’t be comfortable when you experiment, try something different, who won’t allow you a range, of both styles and scope. We all get to know one another pretty well after a little time. And hopefully, we’re as forgiving of others as we’d like them to be with us.

This (board) is a good group of readers and writers. People who are FAR more well read than I (notice I don’t exactly jump in with the Hegel connections? Notice the dearth on oh … Goethe? There’s a reason for that, Folks… I’m way hecka behind in the Canon. I’m here to share and learn. Trying not to get caught in the act of comparing: I find that very thin ice on which to skate.

MsP ~~

There you all have it, Ms P’s post. Man, I love the thinking here, its freshness and its perspective. But mostly I love a certain stance assumed: that of the creative dialogue between poet and critic. Read what she says a couple of times. All the nuances of criticism, viewed as an art, are there. And I think Ms P is right about the New Critic attitude with its emphasis on a poem’s contract on the page and that it should be approached as such. After everything else has been said, it is the way to go.

Tere

Mar/23/2009, 7:56 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Zakzzz5 Profile
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Re: About Poetry Criticism and Workshopping


Terreson,

The wonder of it that you would run in Ms. Parataxis again. She's somewhat of an optimist, isn't she? Invite her over, if you will. I wonder what she's been up to? She may have finished her coursework by now. Still putting out good poetry, no doubt. Zak
Mar/28/2009, 12:03 pm Link to this post Send Email to Zakzzz5   Send PM to Zakzzz5
 
Terreson Profile
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Re: About Poetry Criticism and Workshopping


Indeed I have invited Ms P to the board. She has actually stopped by several times as a guest. She tells me her course work has her very busy at the moment. As you know she also has her daytime job. She says she plans to play on the board when she is able.

Tere
Mar/28/2009, 3:34 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Katlin Profile
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Re: About Poetry Criticism and Workshopping


Hi Tere,

I ran across this Pinsky quote last night that I thought you might enjoy:

quote:

EWR: You have quoted Ezra Pound saying, "The highest form of criticism is actual composition." What criticisms have you made in your poetry you feel are most important to your work or legacy?

Pinsky: Criticism is based on the Greek krinos,meaning "to choose." I take Pound to mean that the poet must choose constantly-- what word to use, what grammatical construction, how to order the parts, which is the best rhythm?

In contrast, most critics rarely choose, or they choose what they feel is conventionally or academically acceptable, or aligned with the opinions of their pack. The artist does not have that luxury: the artist must choose.

I hope that in my poems I have made useful, heartfelt, original choices regarding rhythm-- making new patterns of vowel and consonant, line and sentence-- and subject matter, and movement of mind.



http://www.everywritersresource.com/pinsky.html
Mar/28/2009, 7:22 pm Link to this post Send Email to Katlin   Send PM to Katlin
 
Terreson Profile
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Re: About Poetry Criticism and Workshopping


Thanks, Katfriend. The Pinsky comments remind me that, viewed as a profession, lit crit is not even a hundred years old. Personally, I've always felt it was an off-spring of the experiments in language (in poetry and prose) that got started up with the Modernists: Pound, Joyce, Stein, Apollinare, Rimbaud, to name just a few. This would be an interesting thesis to pursue, don't you think? How did lit crit develop? When did it start up? When did it become a profession in its own right? I figure it started with such linguists as the Swiss, Ferdinand Saussure (early 20th C), and the practitioners of New Criticism, and the so-called Cambridge School. I am pretty sure I am right in thinking this. Before them no one ever actually thought of separating out crit from poetry. The poet was her own critic, as Pinsky suggests. Before them the closest you come to lit crit are the philosophers when they turned their attention to aesthetics, Philosophers such as Kant, Thomas of Aquinas, and Aristotle. So when did the crit become a species sui generis?

Anyway, Pinsky's last comment pretty much sums up my own method.

Tere
Mar/28/2009, 9:08 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
dmehl808 Profile
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Re: About Poetry Criticism and Workshopping


I would so absolutely love to catch up with MsP. Melanie--if you are out there looking in--I've missed you and hope you're doing well in life, love and writing.
Mar/29/2009, 11:02 pm Link to this post Send Email to dmehl808   Send PM to dmehl808
 
dmehl808 Profile
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My own feeling about criticism is that one should offer an emotional and intellectual response weighted in proportion by whatever the piece may demand, and to be qualified that response is opinionated and subjective based only on the reader's life experience, background in reading, and aesthetic tastes and preferences. Nothing drives me more wild than someone speaking about my work or someone else's as if they were God, understanding every facet fully, and without curiousity or qualification, stating their opinions as if they were objective facts. I have absolutely no problem however with someone rewriting a piece as a form of demonstration or shorthand criticism--this can often be quite helpful, so long as it's understood that this is qualified as opinion and their personal way of responding to a piece of writing as a reader trying to offer improvements or work through a piece. I will do this with someone else's piece if i think they won't mind--though I understand this can really upset some folks. All writing is about choices--what to include, what to withhold, discovering why one way to say something enhances or detracts from another way of saying it. Writers who are readers can sometimes work through these questions with other's writing more easily than their own by rewriting. I recognize this can be a thin and dangerous line however.
Mar/29/2009, 11:18 pm Link to this post Send Email to dmehl808   Send PM to dmehl808
 
Katlin Profile
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Re: About Poetry Criticism and Workshopping


At one of the boards I post on, the guidelines offer this gentle reminder:

"Do not assume that all members agree with your definition of poetry. Evaluating poetry is subjective and one member’s idea of what constitutes a good poem may be different from your own."

http://www.poets.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=10256

It has occurred to me recently that what constitutes a good critique also varies from member to member. Some people value indepth critiques that refer to other poems, for example, while other people can't stand these same critiques and feel the critiquer is being annoying and merely showing off. The critiques that drive me crazy are the ones that don't take a poem on, on its own terms, but which amount, IMO, to little more than a poetic manifesto by the critiquer.

quote:

Writers who are readers can sometimes work through these questions with other's writing more easily than their own by rewriting. I recognize this can be a thin and dangerous line however.



I sometimes rewrite a poem as a form of critique, but I always try to keep to the spirit of the original when I do this. My rewrites are limited to suggesting word changes, word cuts or perhaps to rearranging stanzas. I make it a point to refrain from a wholesale reworking of the piece. Mostly, I try to give the kinds of critique I would like to receive, but over time I have come to realize not everyone appreciates the kinds of critique I find helpful.
Mar/31/2009, 3:28 pm Link to this post Send Email to Katlin   Send PM to Katlin
 
Katlin Profile
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Re: About Poetry Criticism and Workshopping


Over at Babilu, Rus Bowden posted an essay entitled "Wranglers versus Stranglers," which is worth reading:

http://pochapocha.com/babilu/read.php?3,2915,2915#msg-2915
May/1/2009, 12:27 pm Link to this post Send Email to Katlin   Send PM to Katlin
 


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