Pegs of Pegspot asked a question on the Writers Digest Forum in Critique Central under Poetry… “How do you approach a poem you are reading? One line at a time? A snapshot speed-read? A squinty-eyed look at the shape of the thing first? Several different ways? How many times do you read a poem? Do you look up words you don't know the first time through? Do you read it out loud? Backwards and upside down? I myself am not a very experienced poem-reader, being a fairly recent aficionado, so I don't have a "usual way." How about you”
She didn't ask me personally but as a general question to the poets there. Now what was at first a simple short reply turned into this long drawn out explanation, so… Attention Please. Students settle down and take your seats…
First, I usually read with my eyes, the whole piece--unless something is amiss then I stop ‘cause my eyes won't let my brain process.
Ok here’s how I go about it.
For critique I will read a poem full through to get my initial feel for it. Then I’ll peruse* it to look for the usual; spelling, pace, consistent use of tense and feel (words/images that intertwine). Like a story I expect some sort of beginning, middle and end-conclusion. I am an artist of sorts therefore design and balance influence me, so I look at how the poem appears in its written form. I will also read it out loud to hear the way it sounds to my ears (my mind interprets written words more as pictures and read words as lyrical sounds-songs almost).
When critiquing, unlike some other people, the subject of a poem has seldom put me off if it is view or opinion that I do not agree with personally. I also believe that darkness and sadness can be conveyed in beauty and even hatred, evil poems have a place. I fall short of a good review when I have found the poem to be fun for my mind and ears and usually can only muster little more than “how fun”. Poetic works can be a chore, torture to read at times and more especially when performing a critique of one that was not very well written. And I confess if my time is tight, it too will determine the extent of my exanimation of a poem. Sometime it is just read and go, because I don’t have the time to rip it a new one.
I feel bad that I lack the ability to fully analyze a poem for someone that has asked for an honest opinion on it. And for me that’s because the piece did not strike me one way or another. More often than not I do not want to stifle anyone’s creativeness so at times when something is really not good, really bad should I say, I tend to say nothing. Because my dear internet, poetry is a little bit more than just slopping words down that pop into your head “cause that’s how you feel”, but be fair warned that that is the beginning of being hooked on writing.
Also there are some folks that only want a pat on the back for writing a poem. This is true, sad, but still so true and after a while of doing critique I’m fairly good at being able to tell who is serious about improving their craft and those who are not. One way to tell is when, someone comes back to explain why it is a certain way, why they said it like that or what they meant was… Well that says, to me, ‘I don’t’ want your opinion cause you obviously can’t read, comprehend or understand something as clear as the nose on my face.’ Duh? I can’t see your nose from this side of my monitor. And double Duh?? You are the one that asked for a critique. If you want to be a better poet (better anything really) you will listen to what others say, look at it from their point, then accept it or discard it as you feel. But you have to be willing to “LISTEN” even to those whose don’t get your work, whether they are too dense or whatever. This is something that occurred to me after this one time at band camp, no that is someone else’s story, after I explained what I was getting at. I thought ‘why am I explaining’ the poem either conveys what it needs to or it needs fixing. I listen to what others say about my work, cause I want to know.
I will use a dictionary once or maybe twice (if it is already interesting) for a single poem but more then that I consider it over my head and find no joy or very little in it. Rhyming is ok but truthfully it gets tedious for me if it’s a long poem or if there are more than 2 rhymer poems in a row. That’s what I call ‘em “rhymers.” I’m also not typically fond of epic poems and tend not to write them, although I have read a few. But it better be really, really good if it is to keep my attention like a short story or a novella good. Concrete poems are not bad, although for me they can be a bit hard to read due to the specific format used to make the picture.
Pegs thanks for asking this question, as it made me stop and actually consider how I go about reading poetic works in general for critiquing, in reading for entertainment, and writing my own poetic nonsense.
And thank you my dear internet especially if you read this whole convoluted thang.
* peruse: a fancy word for in-depth examination of what is being read; to scrutinize