Earl Gray

Earl Gray
"You can argue with me but, in the end, you'll have to face that fact that you're arguing with a squirrel." - Earl Gray

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Crit the Crit - Part I

     Want to improve as a poet and are not a member of a serious workshop? Join one: Eratosphere, Gazebo or Poetry Free-For-All. Lurk for a year or so, improve your technical and critical skills, start posting there and stop reading. Nothing that follows will pertain to you.

     If you've been an active member of such a workshop please take a moment to write down the names of your favorite critiquers from years gone by. Sadly, some of these, including Margaret Griffiths and Paul Stevens, have passed on. By offering far more critiques than the guidelines require, these unselfish creatures are what keeps such fora going.

     What happened to so many of the rest? On a related topic, why has traffic on the upper forum of your favorite tiered workshop slowed to a trickle? Why has the quality of criticism and verse gone down so sharply (even after accounting for the loss of Maz and Mr. Stevens)?

     The answer to all of these questions involves an insidious trend seeping into some forums. Every few weeks someone begins a thread in the discussion forum touching on the level or tone critique. In exhausting detail, posters rail against those mean critics who dare to tell them the frank truth about their writing. One wonders how high standards would soar if these people put anywhere near the same energy into critiquing poems as critics. In the past, moderators would arrest this ungrateful whining, admonishing the guilty members about "looking a gift horse in the mouth" and pointing out that friendlier forums are available for the thin of skin. Recently, I've seen staffs encourage and even join in on this crit-bashing, often under the guise of "raising the bar".

     Occasionally, we'll see a poet arguing with a critic--something expressly forbidden in the guidelines. When the critic responds, a moderator arrives and says: "Cut it out, you two!" When serious critics see this treatment they leave. They don't scream or kvetch. They leave. And, generally speaking, they don't return. If a site loses every one of its poets the organizers can put the word out and have a new crop of versers before the week is out. If its 5 or 6 knowledgeable critics depart that same venue is toast.

     Whether it comes in discussion or poem threads, nothing is more toxic in a workshop than critiquing critiques. If you feel that the caliber of criticism or poetry has declined in your favorite workshop lately, look no further for a cause.

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Earl Gray, Esquirrel

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