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

Friday, December 5, 2014

A New Paradigm in Critique?

 Earl the Squirrel's Rule #109
     As workshoppers currently use the term, "critique" is a commenter helping a poet improve a poem before it is published.  In "Poetry Critique" we examined the existing ethos.  A recent thread on Eratosphere has caused me to wonder if we need a new model for open critique.

     For the sake of argument, let us say there is a feeling that most of those posting poems are not interested in developing--not the poem or as poets.  Rather, they may be Self-Propelled Attention Seeking Members ("SPASMs") using the forum as a vanity outlet and/or egomaniacs testing the critics' ability to recognize "flawless" poetry when they see it.  Let us say that their attitude is apparent in the way they ignore or respond to critiques.

 Earl the Squirrel's Rule #100
     Many tend to downplay the impact of this abuse.  In the words of one respected Eratospherean:  "People post for different reasons, and if you don't like what you perceive to be the reasons some people post, then simply avoid commenting on their poems."

     Easy-peasy.  So, what's the problem?

     Let us say that, judging from threads to this effect, the quantity and quality of critiques is said to have declined.  The reason would be obvious:  members don't want to waste precious time and energy critiquing verse at length, only to discover that the author is merely showcasing.  The poem listing is now a minefield, each piece likely to blow up in your face if you deign to critique it.  New poets will see this behavior and follow suit.  New critics may be faced with frittering away months or even years discovering who the triflers are.  Inevitably, members will ignore poems by anyone they don't know [is serious about improvement].  This creates a perception of cliquishness.

 Earl the Squirrel's Rule #94
     With so many sensitive souls posting, critics may feel obligated to avoid candor.  This makes writing the critiques and reading them more tedious and less entertaining.  (Yes, I wrote "entertaining".  There is no reason the process should be as humorless as it is.  Among other things, this plays into the notion that good poetry, itself, cannot be comedic.)

     Critical thinking is the third leg of the stool, along with absorbing technique and reading a lot of poetry.  Aside from the rec.arts.poems newsgroup, there are few, if any, better sources of this than Eratosphere and Poetry Free-For-All.  Seeing someone else's work being examined has an advantage of objectivity;  it isn't our ego on the line.  Unfortunately, the status quo [dis]regards onlookers as "lurkers", one or two steps removed from voyeurs.  If the poet turns out to be a vanity poster or a megalomaniac and spectators aren't actively encouraged, who benefits from reading these critiques?  A great resource could be wasted.

 Earl the Squirrel's Rule #80
     The new paradigm would alleviate all of these difficulties.  Better yet, it would involve nothing more than moving from the second person to the third.  "You should change this" becomes "This should be changed."  Indeed, perhaps we should avoid using the term "critique" entirely¹.  Perhaps we should engage in analysis, essentially relegating the poet to observer status.  Thus, it no longer matters if the poet doesn't choose to benefit;  others will.  People will post poems (or URLs to poems), asking for our impressions² and suggestions.  What does it matter who wrote them?

     Sometimes semantics are everything.  There may be many people who are more willing to accept analysis than criticism, even if the actual texts are identical.


¹ -  Zoetrope calls them "reviews", but directs them privately and unproductively at the poet.

² - Unlike critique, analysis can extend to finished pieces, serving as a measure of the poem, poet, editor and publication.  Personally, I don't see this as a problem, especially with the Frederick Seidels of this world obliterating any qualitative distinction between published and unpublished work.

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