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Critique or No Critique?

April 29, 2019

The last of April, the last of my concentration on poems in my blog posts for the year.

 

I admit I’ve pushed myself to put focus on poems this month. A poetry retreat, state meeting, and local meeting, poet groups on-line will do that.

 

Why? I want to make my poetry better. 

 

Poetry is an emotional container. Sometimes a poem needs space, sometimes a little opposition so that it’s more than syrupy sweet, sometimes it’s like a discovery with a flashlight.

 

It’s noticeable, even to me, that I am hot after critique. That is the joy of my bothering to drive a ways to go to groups.

 

I do not offer my best poems for critique. I offer the ones that need help.

 

It’s like a yard or house or life. They need different things. One poet might see the weeds that need to be pulled (excess words), another might want to add yellow zinnias or a red sky in the middle of the poem, another might suggest calming sounds, rhyme, or making the moonlight

crash on the concrete (something unexpected!).

 

As I hear suggestions, I write down 90% of them. I need time to think on the comments. I’ll make decisions later.

 

I love all the feedback from fellow poets. My hat is off to them. They make me think. Most are willing and even eager to help me make better poetry. I am grateful.

 

Though I listen to their suggestions of what I might do, I know the poem still belongs to me. It is not theirs to change. It remains my poem, my changes. (Poets understand this.)

 

But there is magic in this process.

 

Magic, I tell you. 

 

I am judging a national poetry contest right now. So many excellent poems.

 

Those poets who win in contests have usually exposed their poems to other poets/writers, and they have considered what they’ve heard in the critique. Some let their poems rest a few days before they look again and try to catch whatever needs help.

 

A week ago, I handed a poem to the local group and read it aloud. I then told them I wanted to dynamite it, to blow it up, so to please help me.  They gave excellent feedback.

 

A few hours later, I rewrote the entire poem. Then days later, I edited what I had rewritten, and then I handed it off to a different critique group for comments.

 

It’s a very humbling process.

 

I don’t know how poets ever sit down, write a poem, and never touch it again. However, I do know one or two who can do this.

 

It blessed my heart when I heard Ted Kooser, a U.S. Poet Laureate, say he had to edit a poem 30 or 40 times! 

 

Here is a poem I shared this month with poets at Lucidity Poetry Retreat in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. It had to go through many critiques, many edits, off and on, for years before it won First Place and was published in Encore. I hope you enjoy it.

 

B. J.

 

Evening. While the dog still quivers

   from a seizure, I watch my husband

   lift him to his lap, stroking the fur.

Fearing the death song, the man

   is chained by love, by commitment

   to the breathing black-and-white terrier.  

Neighbors and friends often come to a halt

   to admire this frisky dog dancing upright

   on hind feet, not dropping to rest. 

We’ve all stared when he would porpoise

   through air, speed ahead, circle about—

   tail up, snout down. 

A dog’s dog. A man’s dog. Nature’s dog.

   And now, the spring moon lowers her rays,

   anoints and dabbles light over his back. 

The man smiles and lets out a deep sigh,

   taking the soft lick from the sky

   as a song of life.

 

—by Pat Durmon

published in Encore, 2013

 

Blessings on you readers and writers,

 

Pat Durmon

patdurmon.com

 

P.S. Like with my critique groups, I am open to any comments you might be willing to share. In fact, I’d love to hear them. (Comment section: below.) Oh, and click the Share button! Thanks.

ENCORE: Prize Poems 2018. A publication of NFSPS (National Federation of State Poetry Societies, Inc.). Photo taken by Pat Durmon.

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