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Critique Checklist

A critique should address the following questions - and a poet should be ready to make sure their piece will hold up to the scrutiny.

Basic Language Skills

* Is the spelling correct? (anything a spell-checker would catch especially)
* Is the grammar consistent and correct for the tone and style?
* Is the capitalization and punctuation reasonable for the tone?
* Are capitalization and punctuation used correctly?


* Is there any?
* Does it seem relevant to the piece?
* Is it developed and consistent?
* Is it concrete? (Can we see/hear/taste/touch/smell it?)

Other Literary and Poetic Devices

* Are metaphor/simile/imagery/etc. used?
* Do the line breaks fall within natural phrasing or add meaning?
* Could it become a paragraph only by changing line breaks? (prose)


* If it utilizes rhyme, are the rhymes strong?
* Does it avoid rhyming words with themselves?
* Does the rhythm or meter 'work' well with the theme?
* Can it be read aloud smoothly, without tripping over words?

Word Choice

* Are the specific words used relevant to the theme?
* Are they precise, and not vague?
* Are the verbs active and not passive?
* Are the verbs action-oriented?
Writing a Critique

Line by Line, Stanza by Stanza

A critique will be the most thorough broken down line by line or stanza by stanza, depending upon the construction of the original piece. This allows the commenter to focus more narrowly and spend time and thought on the details.


Go beyond "This is good" or "This is bad" and their synonyms; tell why. Going line by line or stanza by stanza will help this; you'll be able to pinpoint what parts 'spoke' to you. Was it a particularly clever word play? Did that one image stand out so vividly you can't get it out of your mind? Likewise, you'll be able to focus on the real issues. Was the rhythm off in just that one line? Is that particular phrase just so cliché you couldn't read past it? Did that one word choice stick out like a sore thumb instead of like a prize-winner? Try to think of at least one positive thing to say, and one area for improvement. If nothing else, what was your favorite part of the piece - and your least favorite?

Take your time. Be willing to read, re-read, and read yet again. Make an honest effort to 'tease out' the meaning or intention the poet had when they wrote the piece and whatever specific part of it you're looking at. This lets you be more specific if nothing else; if you're way off base, they know the piece may not be communicating well. It also leads to more discussion, which is more helpful.

Ask Questions

Don't (necessarily) think in terms of good or bad, but ask yourself, "What is this doing?" Think about the effect the various devices and techniques employed in the piece have on its tone, mood, style, and message.

In the same way, a critique laden with questions (not the sarcastic kind, in this sense) may be an excellent one. It makes the recipient focus on the reasons for their choices -- and what those choices are doing -- and may lead to more constructive dialogue. If the writer can clearly explain their choices, they may well be valid.

Constructive = Works Towards Improvement

Be polite. "This is terrible" helps as little as a blanket and unjustified "This is the best poem ever!" Don't back away from telling the writer where the problems are, but simply point them out, perhaps with suggestions for improvement.
How to Get Critique

Most people will critique something that seems interesting or likely to be worth the time and effort. A clever title may pull them into your thread, or a generally good attitude.

Polls are great for fun and gold, but rating polls often reveal insecurity and aren't very helpful. If you know your poem is #/# on someone's point scale -- how does that tell you what strengths or weaknesses to focus on when revising or when you write your next piece?

Asking For Critique

Don't ask in their poetry thread. That should go without saying, but many people do. They disguise it by including a random one-line praise of the most recent poem, like a mom hiding medicine in a dessert. "That was great! Now can you look at mine?" This is rude. If the person you want feedback from already has a critiquing thread, use that. If they don't, try PMing them to ask if they'd mind looking at something for you.

Ask politely. High-handedness or rudeness are likely to make the critiquer prickly, and possibly even refuse. Again, remember they're taking the time out to help you. The rude ones are the people who end up wondering why no one is responding at all the next time they post a thread.

Don't be afraid to tip your critiquer, especially if something they say is helpful -- even if it's only a few gold or a small item. Remember someone is doing you a favor by taking the time and effort to provide extensive feedback. This isn't required, obviously, and it's not even impolite not to since it's not common, but it's a nice thought.

Provide the poem. Give them a link at the very least, but preferably PM them (if they've agreed) or place the entirety in their critique thread if they have one.


Good Idea
Hello, would you please critique a poem I just posted?

Bad Idea
Hey, since you call yourself a critic and writer, go and read my poem (one that i posted today), lets see what you have to say to that one
How to Read a Critique

Someone has, hopefully, taken time and effort in writing whatever feedback they've left you. It's only courteous to at least take them seriously. Reacting emotionally to the critique or becoming defensive are two steps likely to assure you don't receive help in future.

Poetess Laureate
Steps to Receiving a Critique:

1. Put aside all defensiveness.
2. Read the comment or critique.
3. Re-read your poem with the feedback in mind.
4. Decide whether you agree with the feedback.
5. If you agree, decide whether and how to change the poem for improvement.

Remember, nothing compels a poet to agree with all the feedback or critique they receive. Perhaps you don't at all. Perhaps you do, but are unsure whether 'fixing' the issue would really be helpful or only cause more problems elsewhere in the piece. The final judgment is yours. But it's important to keep an open mind if the feedback is going to be of any help as you attempt to improve.

First, take into account what feedback people are providing. The more vague, the less helpful -- and possibly the less experienced the commenter is. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's wiser to may more attention to those who display a definite command of language and poetry by being able to provide specifics. Look out for the tone. Someone who can't tell you why the poem is 'horrible' may not know what they're talking about. The same with someone who can't tell you why it's 'perfect'. Someone who can tell you why deserves the courtesy of considering their advice.

In a helpful critique, look for anything that seems to come up multiple times, whatever the issue may be. That's what you need to focus on first. Do you see notes about imagery in every stanza? Endless questions about forced rhyme? There's your weak spot. Go fix it.

In questions regarding confusion as to whether your poem is saying what you want it to or not, be open to either scenario: Your readers just aren't getting it, or you haven't expressed it clearly. This is a good place for majority rule -- sometimes. If you find that one person doesn't understand while the vast majority are, and can explain it to someone else, that one reader is in a decided minority and the piece is probably fine. If you're the only one who understands what you're trying to say, it might not be what you actually are saying.
Responding to a Critique

First and foremost, you are not your poetry. The vast majority, if not all, of the people replying to your poem don't even know you, so it's highly unlikely they have any sort of grudge or dislike you. They are reacting only to your writing -- and only to the particular piece of writing in front of them at that specific moment.


Avoid PMs filled with flames and offensive language. These are insulting to the person who took their time to help you, and may well end in you being reported. It's actually best to avoid PMs at all except to ask for clarification of a point -- and even then, it can be done on the post itself instead.

Do remember that PMs can be copy/pasted and shared as well, and that such flames tend to be open to mocking -- and even if not mocked, they're unlikely to make anyone else want to give you their time and attention.

Constructive Response to Criticism

Feel free to respond with something constructive in return, such as, "oh, I was trying for this effect" or "I was trying to enhance the imagery in the first stanza", or any other simple explanation of your intent. This will possibly even bring you more specific helpful input, such as a suggestion of a way to improve the poem while still working it in.

Irrelevant Arguments

This really boils down to: defend the poetry, not yourself.

Your life situation has nothing to do with your poetry. It won't be made any better or worse by the fact you burned the toast this morning, are suffering depression, or your boyfriend left you and shot your dog just before the nuclear war hit. None of that has anything to do with your writing.

If you've written better poems, it's -- oh, wait. It makes no difference. Your readers are looking at this poem. If you do have better, feel free to share those, too, of course - but it still doesn't change anything about the one in front of us, whether for the better or worse.

In the same way, it doesn't change a word in your poem if you wrote it in five minutes or five years; terrible and wonderful poems have both been written in amazingly short or long periods of time. Defending a piece by mentioning it was written quickly is not only irrelevant but makes the reader question why you aren't willing to defend the poem and may tacitly acknowledge that you, too, find it lacking.

Never stand on 'credentials'. We don't care if you won your third grade spelling bee, knew a great poet, are published, attend a prestigious university, have a degree, or wrote all Shakespeare's plays for him. We care about the quality of the writing in front of us. It should show us your talent by itself. For one thing, it's easy to lie on the internet. As an aside, poetry.com is a scam designed to make money. Many people will feel compelled to mock you if this is your credential.

Comments about age also have nothing to do with the writing. If the person has a solid knowledge base and ability to work from, it doesn't matter if they're five or ninety-five. Excellent and terrible poets cross the entire age span.

The critic's own writing ability also, remarkably, doesn't change a single word written in the poem. If they have a solid enough grasp of poetry that their comments are thoughtful and insightful, their own writing does likely reflect that -- and even if it doesn't, there may be a lot to learn from them.

Someone else liking a poem also doesn't change a single word in it -- even if they're your mentor, another critic, or the national poet laureate. For that matter, the critic providing feedback may like the poem quite a bit even if they see a lot within it that needs revision.

Why Is This Rude?

Responding dismissively -- or worse, in a confrontational manner -- to a (thoughtful, detailed) critique thumbs your nose at the time and effort the commenter has put into it.


Good Idea
Thank you very much. I'm not sure I agree with some bits of that, but I'll definitely look into it all.

Bad Idea
I QUIT!!!!!! You win. Goodbye. I asked for critasizm. You gae it too me. Now you have dashed my spirit. I wanted to get some nice constructive stuff. the first one was BLOWN OF THE MAP! Not there anymore. I am sorry GOODBYE GAIA!!!!!!

Bad Idea
I sincerely hope you choke on vomit and die in your sleep you festering hole in a codpiece.

(Yes, these are actual PMs. No, I will not attach names here.)
Sample Critique

Poetess Laureate
Whispering aspen,
trembling she cowers neath
o'erwhelmed blankets, comfort in
fibers of warmth and
womb to cradle the insipient thoughts
of sunshine days when
were not words
but throbbing, pulsing
as lively as the leaves of the
whispering aspen
she sheltered under that day
before rakes tore the lawn
and the leaves screamed disapproval
in a tongue known only to the grass
and bees
and the self-bagging mower shook the ground
more than ever and quivered
the whispering aspen.

Poetess Laureate
trembling she cowers 'neath

I'm not sure the point of the comma - likely to halt the flow, but this seems unnecessary. "trembling," does need one. neath = 'neath; it needs the apostrophe.

poetess laureate
o'erwhelmed blankets, comfort in
fibers of warmth and
womb to cradle the insipient thoughts

Right after this, we move to much more natural, everyday, modern phrasing and word choices. Why the sudden change? The effect it seems to have is to separate the second 'half' of the poem as more active or dramatic, but this image of a girl cowering should really carry that same emotion ideally. Either way should be kept consistent.

poetess laureate
of sunshine days when
were not words
but throbbing, pulsing

The use of the abstractions (renewal, hope, forgive) actually serves well here since the piece leaves them as such to describe them as only words, while moving to more active verbs and concrete imagery to actually describe them.

poetess laureate
as lively as the leaves of the
whispering aspen
she sheltered under that day

"Lively" could be shown rather than told, though it's rescued somewhat by the fact it refers to 'throbbing' and 'pulsating' which are more descriptive.

"that day" is probably one of the most commonly overused abstractions. It does carry the point of 'for some reason, this day was important and perhaps a defining moment', but even that idea could be better and more clearly expressed.

poetess laureate
before rakes tore the lawn
and the leaves screamed disapproval

'disapproval' is a very weak word for 'screamed'. Perhaps 'outrage' or something else along the same line but more powerful.

poetess laureate
in a tongue known only to the grass
and bees
and the self-bagging mower shook the ground
more than ever and quivered
the whispering aspen.

Why is it important to know the mower is self-bagging? This gives us a sense it 'cleans up' after itself, but that doesn't seem to have significance since the mower seems primarily a symbol of loudness or chaos.


Watch for consistency in a couple places, and take care of a few other bumpy spots.

Excellent use of the repetition with 'whispering aspen'. In the first occurrence it refers to the girl cowering; in the second, it seems to refer more literally to the sound of leaves rustling, and in the third, it's tied back in with the original image of fear - which all gives it development.

The entire piece is, grammatically, one sentence. That's a bit heavy and wordy to carry.
Poetess Laureate
Who am I to tell you how to write?

I'm no one. Yep, no one. I'm just a phrase you know on the internet, and nobody should "tell you how to write\". They should provide advice and their thoughts. You do the writing.

I started writing when I was five. That sounds really deep and meaningful and I'm sure I must be about to explain how wonderful I am for writing so long.

Nope. I'm going to tell you it was drivel. My stories had no plot and compensated for my utter lack of ability to carry an idea for more than a few sentences by a lot of punctuation marks. My poetry rhymed, but that was all it did; that was all I knew about poetry. It was completely random and nonsensical.

But it was a start.

By the time I was eleven or so, I hit the 'horrible emo poetry' stage, complete with "Death stands by my bed and Sickness stands behind him." I think by the time I was done, my room was pretty crowded with Sadness and Loneliness and Despair and all their friends, relatives, and grandma's-cousin's-friend's-father's relatives and friends. They could have teamed up and played football. My poems still rhymed and now made mostly coherent sense, but I jammed those rhymes into place and it was grammar's own fault if it got flattened in the crush.

But it was a step.

Not that anyone could have told me this then. By high school, I was in the business of showing my poetry to be told it was wonderful -- and there's usually no shortage of people willing to oblige if you look far enough. I do remember a teacher once sitting down with me and asking, "Do you really want some feedback on this, or do you want to be told it's good?" I chose the first of course, because the laugh would be mine when my teacher couldn't find a single thing wrong with it.

But it was - let's just say that was a growing experience and move on, shall we? There was plenty wrong with it.

There still is. I've definitely come a long way since then. My writing definitely still isn't perfect. There are poets who make a lot of beginning mistakes, poets who I quite enjoy the work of but might find some things to nitpick at if they want an in-depth critique, and poets so far beyond me I despair of ever reaching their level.

That's pretty much who I am as far as it's relevant. I've learned painfully and through a lot of grueling hard work that gives me perspective and has helped me learn what seems to be effective in many cases.
When you quote something, please include the author's real name as the writer of the quote. I think your thread needs a little more content, that being more examples, links, and quite possibly guides to contemporary forms of poetry. Also, although it's too late, I recommend keeping the format simple. I dislike the ornate border you've framed every post in. It makes it look like your work deserves attention. This is also made apparent by quoting from yourself. Furthermore, there are many ways to critique, and many ways to write poetry. It is wise to display others' critiques and poetry from the forums and the web. You can accomplish this by quoting, linking, or inviting amateur and experienced poets to your thread to suggest fixations and additions.

Criticism aside, this thread looks to be a winner. There are very little errors, but the advice is thoughtful and true. Over time, it should be constantly edited. Much more is to be said. This thread would help by becoming a sticky (if not that, a rough draft of a sticky), so people would understand how the OP/L actually works, and what people really want in poetry nowadays. This way, newbies won't be pissed when they get critiqued, and regs will be banned less often. Good day to you PL, and for goodness sakes, get some help in keeping this thing up-to-date. It kills me to see you've done all this by yourself. Or have you?
Everything except the Good Idea/Bad Idea are actually entirely mine -- I felt I didn't want to use this thread to criticize anyone's writing but my own so I used myself for my sample critique, and I used myself as poetry examples because I know my own intention better than I know someone else's -- and I think it's probably nicer to keep the Bad Idea folks anonymous. wink I would and will definitely credit where it's due.

This is all my own labor of blood, sweat, and tears, yes -- but obviously I'm soliciting feedback, so it won't be all me for long, hopefully! As for sticky, heeeeh. Note the mods, maybe? I talked to Pi some about it a little and she seemed to be planning on it, but it never really materialized, so maybe it wasn't thought best? I'm really not sure...

Edit: I could possibly use the "Hey come comment" post I made to open this thread for feedback as a showcase of other critiques (edit it as needed to give links). I can also go back and edit other parts to add in things from others. Right now, I'd mostly assumed that would be in the form of "oh, so and so made a good point, I'll go add that" but you're right that other critiquing styles, etc. should get space.

Double Edit: Several sample critiques would take up a lot of space, especially as at this point I would have to put them all in one post. So I'll probably stick with links. Hrm.
There's always room for improvement. For all you know, this could just be the predecessor to the actual sticky/discussion thread that you want. All it takes is an editing and reviewing section from a number of noted poets, more material for readers to learn from, a guide to navigate through all this material, and an approval from the mods themselves. Bon chance, and whatnot.
Well, in that aspect, I'm trying to keep this different enough from Pi's thread that it is something new and needed instead of becoming a "yeah, what she said." I pretty much felt she has an awesome sampling of the greats.

I'm not sure what you meant by editing/reviewing section from a number of noted poets. A quote section?

Navigation: Would a list of "topics" in the initial post help that?
I meant getting the attention of several trusted persons, and having them read your thread. The more people that read your thread, the more mistakes and additions they'll spot. This way, you'll know what to fix and what to add.
Ahhhh. Yep. Exactly why I'm hoping for feedback/discussion. wink

Meanwhile I think I'll go ponder that topic list.
Astaire's avatar

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I definitely think you need a general example of critique vs. flaming for your thread, i.e.:

Good idea:

"Please work on your spelling and grammar; a lot of the errors I found in your poem that were spelling-related could have been fixed easily with spellcheck, and not taking the time to proofread your poetry makes your poems seem sloppily done."

Bad idea:


Yeah. In general, I think you skimped on Critic Etiquette quite a bit, especially considering how much effort you put into the etiquette required for RECEIVING a critique.

Otherwise, I'm lovin' this thread. heart

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