A guide to writing constructive in-depth reviews.
|The common interest of mankind is learning. A curiosity infused in each of us since birth drives us to expand our awareness of the world in which we live. That world is our classroom.
If we are to learn more about the world of poetry, we must be open to receiving information about the craft, like a sponge soaking up every drop of liquid in its vicinity. Sometimes, it may be difficult to evaluate our own work, because we are just too close to it. That is when in-depth reviewing can help. By providing a detailed breakdown and constructive commentary, we can help other writers achieve a clearer understanding of both their strengths and their weaknesses. The analytical skills developed in this process will enable us to assess our own work more objectively. By writing unique responses to each piece of work, instead of relying on prewritten templates full of boilerplate content, we have a chance to flex our own writing muscles.
Comprehensive reviewing requires consideration of several important factors involved in the composition of a poem:
The title is a critical element of a poem. As the only thing a prospective reader will see while scanning the list of items in a writer’s port or the Table of Contents in a book, it serves as the door which must be opened to enter the realm of the poet’s imagination. A name gives the poem a specific identity. It sets the tone and prepares the reader for what is to come. How well does this title do its job of enticing the reader to open that door? Does it establish mood, tone or perspective? Does it add depth or meaning? Does the poem live up to the expectations created by its name?
Imagery is the lifeblood of a poem. Like craftsmen carving, sculpting or painting in various mediums, the poet uses words which paint pictures to evoke some reaction. Rather than TELLING about some vague concept, he SHOWS it through images that clearly project aspects and associations with other entities or events, stirring an emotional response from the reader.
Literal imagery is the creation of a mental impression by direct description using concrete details which engage the reader’s senses of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Strong action verbs make the subject do something, as opposed to simply telling the reader that something is being done.
Figurative imagery uses associative figures of speech to describe something by comparing it to something else. These techniques include metaphor, simile, personification, symbolism, and onomatopoeia.
These are just a few of the tools poets use to paint compelling word pictures. How well does the imagery in this poem engage the reader’s senses? Does the reader feel a strong connection with this scene or these characters? Does the poem refer to vague abstract notions or paint vivid pictures that evoke strong emotions? What emotions do they stir?
RHYMING & REPETITION:
We all recognize a rhyme as a regular recurrence of sounds, often at the ends of a poem’s lines. These are known as end rhymes. Rhymes that occur within a line are called internal rhymes.
“Ah, distinctly I remember it was the bleak December.”
~from “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe
If done well, rhyming can be pleasing to the ear and fun to create, testing the wit and ingenuity of the poet. It can also serve as an audible echo for emphasis or an organizing device weaving a thread through a composition to strengthen the bonding as a unit.
Repetitions of images, lines, structures, and patterns of other sound devices are also powerful tools for development of voice, tone, pace, and resonance that will help to convey a meaning to the reader more effectively.
Repetition and variety are both important in making the composition flow gracefully. Just like a gourmet chef uses great discretion in sprinkling spices into a culinary concoction to obtain just the right flavor, the poet must recognize that too much or too little of these ingredients can make the difference between success or failure.
Do the rhymes draw attention to themselves and overshadow the message of the poem? What purpose do they serve in the expression of thoughts and feelings? Are they well executed without distortion of the language? Are the rhymes cliché, or do they have fresh appeal? Does the rhyming and repetition contribute to or detract from the effect the poet is trying to achieve? Are they overused or well proportioned to achieve the desired effect?
Poetry is noted for its lyrical quality. Just as the conductor of a symphony orchestra controls the tempo and power of the music with a delicate nuance, a poet guides the pace and force of the poem by manipulating sounds through word selection and arrangement. Line breaks and stanza structures are used to control the flow and set the mood along with the imagery presented. Punctuation is another tool for managing the pace of a poem. Patterns of syllable accents and line measurement, known as meter, are also powerful tools for the development of rhythm. Writing metrical poetry is difficult to master and takes a lot of practice. The following link provides a detailed description of how to identify the various patterns: http://www.poemtree.com/articles/Scansion.htm
STRUCTURE & FORM:
The basic component in the structure of a poem is the line. The line is the poetic equivalent to a sentence in prose, presenting a distinct image or idea. A thought may be complete at the end of a line (called end-stopped) or run over into the next line (called enjambment). The poet manipulates the line length to control the tone. Shorter lines project a sense of tension or anxiety, while longer lines promote a smoother flow. A pause noted by some form of punctuation in the middle of a line is known as a caesura. The caesura is used like a traffic sign to slow the reader down to absorb a thought more fully and to break up the strident cadence of a strict meter.
The stanza is a group of lines separated by blank lines before and after, comparable to the paragraph in prose. Each stanza has its own function and imagery, like furniture in a room, but is connected to other stanzas (rooms) in the poem (house) by some common thread. As with the line, the poet specifically designs the stanza arrangement to sharpen the focus and control the pace for the purpose of maximizing the effect on the reader’s experience.
Thousands of different poetic forms have been and continue to be devised by creative poets. Selection of an appropriate form with features that provide an extra layer of expression can provide a significant contribution to the overall effect of the composition. The requirements and examples of many traditional forms can be found on The Poet’s Garret website: http://www.thepoetsgarret.com/
Some newer forms are presented on the Shadow Poetry site: http://www.shadowpoetry.com/resources/wip/types.html , but the most comprehensive of all the sources I have found when it comes to poetic form is the reference section of Poetry Magnum Opus: http://www.poetrymagnumopus.com/forums/forum/21-reference-section/
The term “free verse” poetry implies total freedom from any type of design or structure. That is not the case at all. The poet must specifically design the title, lines, stanzas, and rhythm to achieve the maximum impact in an efficient manner. Otherwise, the composition will be nothing more than chopped up prose pretending to be poetry.
Does the poem being reviewed conform to the requirements of a particular form? Do the characteristics of that form enhance the expression, or has the poet merely arranged the words to fit the form without a commitment to expressing heartfelt belief?
The theme of a poem is different from its subject. The subject is merely the instrument through which the poet projects the theme or guiding idea of the presentation. Occasionally, the theme may be obvious from statements made by the poem's narrator, but more likely it cannot be identified without closer scrutiny and individual interpretation. The subject of "Camp 39" is a couple of young men on a weekend getaway in the wilderness, but the events and details shown lead the reader, along with the subjects, to realize that things are not always as they appear to be.
Why do you suppose the writer chose this subject, these particular details, and this specific language to create some impression through the poem you are reviewing? Can you identify what the poet was trying to show you through the prism of this poem?
All the elements listed above are merely tools applied by poets to evoke some emotional response from the reader. How well does this poem achieve that result? Does it make you feel happy, sad, angry, horrified, or did it seem flat, without impact?
* * * * *
Through much toil in search of precise language, experimentation with forming lines and stanzas, and extensive revision, the poet carefully crafts a work which appears natural, authentic and convincing to the reader. Does this poem feel natural or contrived? Do the rhyming and other poetic devices support the theme or seem more like an exercise in arbitrary word arrangement?
Depending on individual styles of presentation and the characteristics of the work being considered, we can divide the review into separate sections with headers for sharper focus, or integrate several elements into a single paragraph. We need not specifically mention all these items in every review, but use them as a check list to ensure consideration is given to every facet applicable to a particular piece of work. Additional factors can be included where necessary. The California Federation of Chaparral Poets offers a more comprehensive discussion of the criteria to be considered. Here is a link for easy reference: http://www.chaparralpoets.org/devices.pdf
Our goal is to help the writer quench that innate thirst for knowledge by expanding awareness of the many tools available for crafting poetry.