How to Criticize a Poem Without Causing Offense

If you're looking for general advice on leaving comments, see this page instead.

If you're like me, you like to be helpful, and enjoy sharing your knowledge and experience with other people.  But when you offer critiques of other peoples poetry, you really have to be careful, or you may be surprised to make an enemy when you expected to make a friend!

Criticism causes discord.  That's the first thing you have to understand about offering your thoughts to someone else's work.  You're going to offend them if you don't do it right, and offending others is a good way to make everyone resent you, and even put your status in the group at risk.

But if you are ready to take the risk, heed well the following advice:  Many people take their poetry very personally, and a negative comment toward the poem may be misunderstood as a negative comment about the author.  So I'll give you some advice to help you better communicate without causing offense.

Before you publicly express yourself, assess what it is about the poem that provokes you to such a degree.

Was the author trolling?
  Trolling is posting something inflammatory in the hope of suckering an angry response out of somebody for the author's amusement.  Are you going to take the bait or are you going to not give them the satisfaction, and walk away?

Do you find the poem sincere, but really mean spirited, stupid, or obscene?  Certainly you've never vented by writing or saying something like that.  Wait, yes you have.  Remember, some people write just to vent, and sometimes venting is ugly.  This is another case where responding is not likely to be appreciated, even if the author truly has some misconceptions about something.  It's not your job or place to set them straight.

Did you find a spelling or grammar mistake?   Is the author explicitly trying, but failing, to follow a form?  You might think that pointing this out is a pretty safe thing, and likely to be appreciated.  You're probably right, but be careful that you don't pick the wrong communcation channel.  Don't post your observations on the public comments, rather send a private message to the author.  You then virtually eliminate the liklihood that they'll be embarrassed by a public commentary on their mistake.

If your critique doesn't fall into any of those categories, just remember this.  Any negative feedback posted for all to see is an invitation to fight for many many people.  The personal nature of poetry really does require a little extra caution in how you interact with them.

If nothing else, send them a private message asking if they'd like some advice about the poem.  Once you have their permission, you can politely help them out and you'll probably even make a friend!

Last Updated  Jan 6, 2010 by Matthew Steven

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