How do I critique someone's poetry?

One method of critiquing someone's poetry is to focus on the author's intention. Instead of evaluating the poem in terms of how much you enjoyed it, it is more productive to analyze the author's goal and then highlight ways in which the form and devices of the poem serve that purpose.

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Critiquing another person's poem can be a daunting task, especially under circumstances in which you know the author personally. Authors frequently divulge their personal thoughts and feelings in their poems, which can make them difficult to critique; how do you offer constructive feedback on a poem without appearing to critique the author as a person?

One effective strategy is to begin a critique by asking the author: "What message were you trying to convey with this poem?" This will give you a framework from which to begin the discussion; instead of debating whether or not you liked the poem, you can focus instead on how effective it was at conveying the author's intention.

When discussing efficacy, it's helpful to focus on specific, tangible elements of the poem that either help or hinder its message. Many poems experiment with form; some follow specific rhyming patterns, such as limericks or haikus, while others utilize non-traditional line breaks or punctuation. How did the author's choice of form inform your interpretation of the poem? Is there a different form that might allow the author to express their ideas more clearly?

You can also comment on the poetic devices that the author employs in service of their poem. Many authors utilize metaphor, simile, and personification in order to connect their words to concepts more familiar to the reader; others use strategies like assonance or dissonance to create specific auditory effects throughout their work. How do these devices aid or hinder your interpretation of the poem? Are there any poetic devices that the author might consider adding in order to strengthen the impact of their work?

Using your critiques as suggestions towards helping the author achieve their goal allows the conversation to feel less personal and more productive and hopefully takes some of the fear out of the feedback process.

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