Reviewing Newsletter (2012) Topic: Reviewing Poetry
|REVIEWING NEWSLETTER --- REVIEWING POETRY
Thanks to Jace for your help.
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all. (Dickinson)
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
that cannot fly. (Langston Hughes)
1) About this Newsletter
2) Letter from the Editor
3) Selected Poems
ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER
Hello. I am njames51 and I am a Guest Editor for ths issue of Reviewing Newsletters. I had been asked to discuss Poetry, more impotantly to discuss Reviewing a Poem. I have written, read, and am fascinated by poetic forms established 100 years ago. I am not an expert. I have read excerpts from Famous Poets who vehemently disagree over "what Poetry must be". It has been said that every poem written is a poem completely different from every other poem ever written. No two poems are never and will never be alike. Tp quote from " A Writer's Handbook" - written by the distinquished poet Mary Oliver (winner of a Pulitzer Prize and The National Book Award), Oliver places emphasis on a poet removing himself from a poem or inside the piece, detaching his need to be in the piece even if states this was his experience. Poems may begin with an experience, idea, mood, yet revisions enable a poet to disappear. It is a poem, not a journal of a poet's persona, identity, and the outpourings of personal baggage the writer believes must be included. Mary Oliver put the construction of a poems this way:
"I like to say that I write poems for a stranger who will be born in some distant country hundreds of years from now.. It reminds me, forcefully, that everything necessary must be on the page I must make a complete poem ---a river-swimming poems, a mountain-climbing poem . Not my poem, if it's well done, but a deeply breathing, bounding, self-sufficent poem. Like a traveler in an uncertain land, it needs to carry with it all that it must have to sustain its own life -----and not alot of extra weight, either."
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
Like most writers, poets languish, fret, anguish over each word, image or line formed. We are self-conscious. In submitting a poem for review, most of us want to get better. We hold the hope that maybe our writing isn't really that bad. Poets are filled with self-doubt. They grow disillusioned.
That's where a Reviewers steps in. There are various types of reviews. A Reviewer can give a simple review or go into specific, detailed, line by line, editing. I tend toward a simple, yet informative review. One suggestion: Please write a review longer than the 2570 character minimum ( now so prevalent on the Public Review Page. There is no set length of a review. (However, a one line sentence is realy just comment, not a review).But, all writers like a critique of overal impression, style, character development, theme, plot. Any writer deserves more than a canned review or a fluff review Even if a poem is so moving, techniquely perfect, and incredible ----- I sometimes begin my review stating " There is nothing I can complain about here, it is perfect. Yet I reinforce that statement with facts/line illustration to bolster my opinion. There is nothing wrong with gushy praise for a piece which impacted you, was fromatted on page prefectly, the line breaks were masterfull. Flow, meter, sound, texture, imagery were spot on..etc. I mention the positives, include favorite lines, and perhaps gush over a piece I likely could never write so perfectly. Even if you may have issues with a piece that needs re-vision, flaws are evident etc. - Any positives you can include in your review will encourage a poet that at least some of his scribbling affected you.
Here's a basic format:
1) Read a poem slowly, word by word. Read it again. Then read a poem OUT LOUD.
2) Your immediate response is usually the best one.
3) Acknowledge the writer. I usually comment on the title. I like it our I don't think it fits. I also comment on the tag line below the title. Does the tag line give away too much? Will the title and tag line attract someone to read the piece? If not, then say so.
4) Find some lines you really liked, quote them in the review. "These few lines I really liked, they grabbed me, the images drew my attention".
5) Specifics in poetry can cover alot of areas. Remember when you read the poem OUT LOUD? Did it easily move along? Or were you left adrift, stuck, confused? This all pertains to:
~ FLOW: Give the poet some comment about how his piece flowed. Tell him if (for the most part) it read smoothly. Was the meter count consistent, was the syllable count pretty even? Were some words or lines in the wrong spot? Let the poet know you read a line that sounded forced, awkward. Perhaps suggest a smoother way to re-work a line or change a word that just doesn't SOUND right. A poem is a first draft. If you liked some lines, tell the poet WHAT about the lines impressed you. But, also, if the lines in Stanza #3 were choppy, or the meter, rhythm or flow were off, comment on that also. This helps a poet when he goes back to re-work the poem. And, yes, do not be mean or say, "This is garbage." Just point out this is merely YOUR opinion. Maybe the rhyming words, "flock" and "sock" ARE terrible. But Reviewers should be polite. This leads us to:
~FORM: There can be "form" in a poem or there can be a lack of form. There can be a rhyme pattern or there can be an absence of rhyme. In a form poem, there is a specific pattern that (for the most part) must be followed. This can include which line rhymes with which line. So you might see AABB (meaning line one rhymes with line two. The third line uses another word which rhymes with the last word of line four). Form also can mandate that the meter SOUNDS a specific way according to a pattern. Meter implies rhythm, or beats in a line. There can also be a syllable count that goes along with the meter or rhythm. If line one begins a pattern with a certain meter, and certain syllable count; line two displays a different meter or syllable count - then line three should follow either line one or two in that same rhythm or count. Again you can hear this by reading a poem OUT LOUD. You might comment to the poet that the form, meter, pattern was consistent throughout; OR that it faltered somewhere, and you stumbled reading the piece.
Free verse has no specific form or structure. If might have rhyme, but not intentionally. It might have some meter, but when rhyme or meter continue, then it is not free verse. The poet has set a pattern and must then follow that pattern. Free verse is where the poet makes the rules, and that is really difficult. Free verse should read smoothly, each line flowing into the next line effortlessly. Again you can comment about how the poem sounds. The lines are formatted wrong, there is a choppiness. Something doesn't SOUND right. Perhaps the beginning lines are perfect, but the middle section is off. The flow is off. Praise the good, note the not-so-good.
~EMOTION & IMAGERY: When you first read the poem silently, slowly and then out loud, did you have a response? Tell the poet how you FELT. Look at the imagery in the poem. Were you blown away by the imagery, by the tone, the texture, the scenes drawing you deeper and deeper into the piece? If so, tell the poet. Did you have an impression at the end? Did it move you, produce emotions of sadness, joy, anger? A great poem leaves a reader awestruck. A great poem is constructed to move the reader into contemplation, remembrance, to identify with and somehow change the reader. That's a great poem!
6) Thank the poet for allowing you to read his work. Give your overall impression. "This is such a well-crafted piece of work which uses wonderful images, consistant form, and melodic language to convey the joy and the inevitable sorrow of love. Thank you for allowing me to read this".
One of the most recognized and beloved poems by Robert Frost is this one:
STOPPING BY WOODS ON A SNOWY EVENING
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
- Robert Frost
Considered a masterpiece, Frost's poem draws the reader in completely. You can visualize the place, the cold, the snow. As you read this out loud, notice how melodically the lines flow. Notice there is rhyme but the reader hardly notices that. The reader is drawn into the scene, can visualize the woods, the frozen lake, the darkest evening of the year. There is little action or sound until the horse gives his harness bells a shake. The rest is just line after line of descriptiveness and soft sounding words.. "easy wind and downy flake".. A great poet and a great poem.
There are so many fine poems. I have chosen a few with various styles. Pick one and give the poet a review.
I hope this makes you feel competent enough to step out of your comfort zone and review a poem.
Thank you for allowing me to share this newsletter.
I would like to recommend an excellent book (only 125 pages) written by a Winner of The Pulitzer Prize and The National Book Award. This poet has a easy, humorous style to help not only poets but other writers understand their craft and to improve as writers. "A Poetry Handbook" (A Prose Guide To Understanding And Writing Poetry) ~ by Mary Oliver (Harcourt Books). It is available at Amazon.com.
Please send any comments or questions to the Main editors of The Reviewing Newsletters!