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Exchanging Poetry
by Gordon Edwards

Asking for feedback on your poetry is like asking the company psychologist if you are emotionally fit for the promotion you seek. You want and even crave the recognition. You may even want to hear some suggestions about how you can be a better worker. But you loathe showing any weakness, and are painfully aware that even the asking itself is an act of vulnerability. You are opening up a part of your soul and trusting someone to tread carefully. Like a gardener on tip-toes, trimming vines and pulling weeds, you want someone to care about the words you are cultivating. Here are some guidelines for those who seek and provide poetic counsel.

Such writing partners should ask themselves three questions. The first question is what type of review would be most helpful. Like a plane circling over the airport, you could give the following reports:

The 50,000 foot review: this review asks about intentions, like what's driving your writing? How and when does the muse grab you? Who are your demons and angels?

The 40,000 foot review: this one asks about the structure of your poems. Do you use meter and rhyme versus free style? Why? If you chose free style, is there any pattern or significance to your line breaks and stanzas? What is the oral or auditory influence on your poems? Where are the connections of words and ideas in the poem? Is there a "music" or "refrain" to your poem?

The 30,000 foot review: here, the emphasis is on specific images and metaphors. What's working and what's not? What's clear and what's murky? What has a "thread?" What is mixed?

The 20,000 foot review: the focus here is on lines and phrases. What is a great turn of phrase? Which lines are embellished or naked? When is less more?

The 10,000 foot review: This view is on the words themselves. What words shine? Which could be replaced? Which cannot? Would another word work better?

Ground zero review: This is for the editor in us all. It looks for spelling and punctuation mistakes or omissions. Proper English grammar lurks here as well.

The second question is where the seeking poet would like to begin? Which works shall be first to test this new, and constructive relationship? Here the author must take the lead, revealing the work that he or she is most comfortable placing on the table.

The third question is the most difficult and is directed toward the providers of creative counsel. It is whether the critique is furthering the goals of the author or of the commentator. Those who seek to provide encouraging, gentle criticism must constantly remind themselves that their style is not the author's style, their muse may not be a shared muse. The goal is to help a writer become the best author of their own expression.

Now it is your turn to sit in the writer's chair. Will you be as good a patient as a doctor? Remember that "the meek will inherit the earth."

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Document last modified on: 08/09/1997

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