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How to critique poetry

Giving critique

When giving critique, point out good parts of the piece as well as parts that need revision. Here are some tips that might help you to give a balanced and helpful critique:

1) Read the poem at least once all the way through. Never judge it on the first line or, worse still, on a title.

2) Either make a copy of the poem and then make notes on aspects that you think need improving (and praising of course) or make clear and concise notes separately and post it in the comments box provided.

3) Remember when discussing the subject that whether or not it appeals to you, there might be some value in it to others. The poem was not written for you personally. Trainspotting might sound boring to you, or it might sound riveting but if the poet thinks it a valid subject to write about, then he has every right to write about it.

4) Try to avoid meaningless responses: "Nice write" means nothing at all and similarly "This is awful" means nothing. It is the reasons for you thinking the poem is a) well written or b) could be improved upon that constitute a critique and you do not have to be a university don to be able to do that. Just be honest and respectful.

5) If the poem does not inspire you to write a reasonable response, do not respond to it at all. It is that simple.

6) If you have a better command of grammar than the poet, by all means offer help in that regard but do not ever try to embarrass them about it. Respectful critique means offering help... it does not mean making people feel ignorant in any way.

7) Form and structure advice should only be offered where you have a thorough knowledge of that yourself.

8)Rhyme and meter (metre)

Some people think these are important in poetry and some don't. Neither one of those groups of people is right or wrong and everyone is entitled to their opinion. Never tell a rhyming poet that he should give it up. Never tell a non-rhyming poet that what he is writing is not poetry simply because it doesn't rhyme.

Similarly, you can offer suggestions about meter but remember that your opinion may differ from that of others... and no one is always right. Remember, too, that accent plays a large part in meter issues. Some people are amazed to know that "child" is a one syllable word because they have always heard it spoken as chyald... and this is just one example of thousands of words that depend on accent for their contribution to a meter.

9) Layout and line breaks: Nowhere in poetry is it more important to remember that poets have the right to choose for themselves how the final draft of their poems will best serve his needs. Offer advice by all means but don't insist.

10) Originality etc. This is an area most people have a view about and it can vary according to their experience with poetry. Don't just call a poem/verse/line etc. trite. Explain what you mean what you mean in the most respectful way you can, and if they still do not understand you, they will feel free to ask. Likewise, if a poem/verse/line is like nothing you have read before, tell them so. That would be valuable feedback.

11) Finally, remember this is not your poem and if they do not agree with your critique, then it is their choice and right not to use it. So never make anyone feel bad about that. You offered and that's all that matters. Move on.

Receiving critique

How you handle critiques you receive is just as important as how you give them to others. It's perfectly natural to want to defend your work, but it isn't always wise to do so in a manner that will alienate those who just might conceivably know a little more than you. When receiving a critique, here are a few things to bear in mind:

Never argue with someone's critique of your work. If you don't like the changes suggested, just say "Thank you," and move on. After all, a critique is an opinion, and we're all entitled to our own opinions.

Feel free to ask questions. Sometimes, asking a person to clarify what he or she has said in a critique will help you to see why that suggestion was made.

You are the author, and you have the final say. So, remember as you receive critiques, that it is your choice to accept or reject any suggestions made. This is a useful tip to keep in mind when the group is pretty evenly divided on a particular point (which will likely be most of the time). Don't feel like you have to change something just because someone in the group didn't like it; but also don't make any overly hasty judgments about critiques you receive (sometimes they make more sense when you go back and look at them later).

If everyone in the group offers the same advice, chances are they're right. You may not agree, and it's still your right to reject their opinion, but generally speaking, if everyone has the same reaction, there's probably something to it.

Poetry style explained


This type of poem does not contain rhyme and fixed line lengths, and is often written as a conventional paragraph. The difference between a prose poem and a paragraph of prose is that the words heighten the awareness and may use imagery and figures of speech to shock you into some new state of awareness.

Free Verse

Free verse contains no pattern of rhyme or rhythm. In other words no regular beat, and no endings that sound the same at the end of each line. It is different from a prose poem in that it must feel like a poem, and use poetic devices to make a premise or expectation which is then responded to - a question and an answer in poetic (but not necessarily rhyming or rhythmic form). It may have the rhythm of spoken words, and can rhyme now and then, or not.


A rhyming poem will have a pattern or rhyming words at the end of each line, or at the end of some of them. These may have different patterns, such as every first and third line rhyming, and every second and fourth line rhyming continuing through the pattern (pattern abab cdcd efef etc.), or some other pattern such as abba, cddc, or aaab, cccd, eeef. It will have consistency through the whole poem, a pattern which runs all the way through it.


A rhyming poem of 14 lines, usually split into three verses of four lines each, rhyming, and a rhyming couplet to end, in iambic pentameter.


A Japanese form of poem with seventeen syllables, often split into three lines of 5,7 and 5 syllables each. Can also be written all in one line.


A funny and sometimes vulgar poem of 5 lines, either iambic or anapaestic rhythm, where the first second and fifteh lines rhyme with each other, and the second line rhymes with the third. There are three metrical feet in the first, second and fifth lines, and two metrical feet in the third and fourth lines. E.g.

A monkey sprung down from a tree
And angrily cursed Charles D.
"I hold with the Bible"
He cried, "It's a libel
That man is descended from me!"

Double Dactyl

A dactyl line is like "Higgledy piggeldy", the emphasis on the first syllable with two unstressed syllables following, like / - - / - - . A double dactyl is a silly and challenging little verse form that has two verses, both of which have three lines of double dactyls and and fourth line that is a single dactyl and a spondee (a strongly emphasised syllable).

Torridy Lorridy
Moral Majority
Scourge of debauchery's
Priapic zoo

Plague of all nympho- and
Endless libidinous


A poem that is made from existing written material, such as information from a text book or a telephone directory, simply shaped into a poetic shape.


Poetry that does not fit into any previous category and breaks new ground.

Structural Visual

Poetry that can only be appreciated when seen on the page, because of the way it is laid out - in a circle, diamond, lines in different directions or any other way that is not clear when the poem is read aloud.

Poetry content explained


Love, longing or loss poem - an aubade.


Passion, seductive, erotic poem.


Reminiscence - memories, secrets, childhood recollections.


Poem of anger, bitterness and ugly emotions.


Object poem - where some inanimate object or thing is the subject of the poem.


List poem - where experiences, events or things are listed in a poetic way.


Funny poem, satire,irony, tongue-in-cheek poems - where the poet is poking fun or laughing at or with something or someone or some behaviour or social system.


Nature poem - about the living world or aspects of it.


Philosophical poem - deep thoughts about the nature of the universe, of man, of the point of life and so on.


Spiritual and religious poem - about the poet's relationship to god or the church or aspects of either.


Narrative poems - telling stories, sagas, how things happened, action poems.


Political, social responsibility, witness poem - about social conditions or events that are current or recent, and will have become unclear in a generation, about current events that shock or horrify or require some sort of explanation.


Metaphorical poem - one that makes its impact by suggesting something has the qualities or essence of something or something else.

Myth, Legend

Myth, legend, fables, pop icon poem - similar to narrative poems but usually around stories that are part of a certain culture, like fairy tales, or that deal with very famous people or happenings.


Poem as photograph - a poem that brings a scene to life so you see it as you would a photograph.

Dream work

Dream work, magical image, ecstatic poem - A poem that draws content from different states of awareness, such as dreams or states of inebriation, intoxication or drug induced or religiously induced states.

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