Reviewing Poetry by Patrick Bernardy
Some Thoughts on Reviewing Poetry
There was a time not very long ago that I didn't think much of poetry. I didn't prefer to read it, didn't understand it, and certainly didn't feel as if I could write it. Review it? No way! In fact, my first "Poetry" folder here at WDC had the following subheading: "Not my area of expertise, but I have a few."
Then, I began a poetry group with my girlfriend Mandy who is, herself, a very talented poetess. From that point to now, I have changed my opinion of all of the above: I love to read poetry, I understand it, I do a pretty good job of writing it, and I feel qualified to review it. How did this change come about? What factors transmogrified me from apathetically clueless to confidently knowledgeable? In the next section, I will try to answer those questions, for I believe they are foremost in your minds as well.
Reviewing poetry well is not easy. It is a daunting task to try and decipher a poet's meaning, and an even more difficult task telling a poet how he or she can improve upon their effort if necessary or when to leave it alone if flawless. No one wants to look like a pompous fool when reviewing, and poetry may very well be the hardest genre to review. Recognizing good poetry from bad is the key!
If you truly want to review poetry with a critical eye, here are some tips that will help you do just that:
Read reviews of poems from people on the site. I recommend looking at my "Passionate Mindscapes" reviews under the "Community" tab in my port. My girlfriend Mandy and I run the poetry group, and we have reviewed dozens of poems over the months. Please, also look at her reviews under her "Community" tab. I would recommend reading her Invalid Review to start off.
Feel free to read my "Invalid Item" and my girlfriend's "Invalid Item" These are two of our favorites and we think they show how poetry conventions can work to create a quality poem.
Just about every member here has poetry in their portfolio; and every poem you read, you learn a little more. Read a lot of poetry! I recommend Mandy , DRSmith , Teargen , Robin Millstone #TheRhymeMaven , Kathleen , 🌓 HuntersMoon , CeruleanSon , warriormom and SWPoet (This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the great poetry available on this site!) Also, here are some of my favorite poems from WDC members:
"Invalid Item" by CeruleanSon
"The Temerity of Toads" by Teargen
"Tributaries" by SWPoet
"Invalid Item" by Mandy
"Invalid Item" by Barnaby Aloysius
"Too Late -- Too Soon" by Winnie Kay
Review, review, review poetry on the site ... and then review some more of it. After that, take a nap, and review more. You could do a lot worse than reviewing the poems I have listed above.
Use this resource to understand terminology and conventions. Mandy and I use it religiously. I recommend reading it all the way down. Retention begins by reading.
To recognize what makes a good poem, you first have to learn what to look for; I call this a poet's toolbox. Inside a poet's toolbox are big tools and small tools, general tools and specialized tools, seldom-used tools and tools that are worn with use. Another name we use for these tools is "conventions." Here is a general breakdown of the types of conventions we see in poetry:
Lesser Conventions (Symbolic):
Lesser Conventions (Linguistic)
If you really want to not only review poetry critically but write better poetry, you must learn what these concepts are and how to recognize them. I seriously recommend starting with the above link and looking up these terms.
I have a blurb I use often in my reviews when I believe a poet is not familiar with certain symbolic lesser conventions:
I have spoken in past reviews of a need for figurative language. I do not wish to beat a dead horse (hyperbole), but a poem without figurative language is like a Christmas tree without lights (simile). Symbolic language is the garnishment, seasoning, and flavor of a home-cooked meal (metaphor). Figurative language reaches out and gooses a lover of poetry (personification), and its use lends the poet the ability to create subtle screams of meaning (oxymoron). Perfect poetry possesses a passion-play of colorfully conceived conventions (alliteration). When these figures of speech are used as tools, the poet begins to see his or her expression as a work of art, a unique expression of the self and not simply color-by-numbers. It is the meticulous and judicious use of these devices within various poetry forms using an infinite number of subjects that creates unique and original poetry. I believe your poetry would benefit from bolstering your use of these tried-and-true poetic conventions.
I struggle sometimes with coming off arrogant or condescending in my reviews. I try my hardest not to, but ultimately I am trying to help a poet with an informed opinion about their work. The ones who realize that they are not perfect (and better still, that I don't think I am either!) and really want the help will take the review in the spirit it is given. The ones who look at WDC as simply a showcase for their work will undoubtedly not be impressed with constructive criticism. There is nothing you can do about this as long as you have been diplomatic in your review and offered an informed opinion. The problem lies with the receiver of the review, not with you.
I hope that some of this has helped you understand that reviewing poetry can be rewarding and fun. And anyone who can write at all, can learn to write quality poetry. Good luck and get to those poetry reviews!