Skip to content
Home » How to Critique Poetry in an Introduction to Creative Writing Course

How to Critique Poetry in an Introduction to Creative Writing Course

I don’t want to give the impression that my creative writing course is an easy ride. Far from it. This course is definitely one of the more difficult ones I have ever taught. The main reason behind this is that there is a lot of material to cover in relation to one poem, and not all poems are created equal. With that being said, let’s explore how you can put forth a solid critique of a poet’s work.

Know Your Poem

The first and most important step in any critical analysis of a work of art, is to know your poem. In the case of our initial discussion of critiquing a poem, we will begin by identifying some important details about the poem, such as its meter, language, and imagery. Knowing these things will help you go about analyzing and criticizing the work. In a nutshell, know what you have and where you need to go with it. This will make the whole process more fluid and productive. For example, if you know that your poem is a sonnet, you can take it for a spin in the direction of the sonnet form. Or, if you know that your poem is in free verse, you might experiment with different ideas to see what results you can get. For the purposes of this discussion, it is important to know that your knowledge of the poem is purely contextual – you do not need to have read the entire piece in order to analyze it successfully. But, you should be able to give a good idea of what the poem is about, and where it came from.

What Is Your Role In The Analysis Process?

Once you know your poem, it’s time to figure out your role in the analysis process. The simple answer is that you will be serving as the eyes and ears of the writer. You are going to be giving the critique as a reader, analyzing the language, imagery, and concept of the piece, as well as identifying any grammatical or structural errors. In other words, you are going to be doing a lot of work that the writer might not even be completely aware of. Being “that” reader is not without its perks, as you will discover. You may learn something new about the poem that you didn’t know before. You might identify a theme that the writer brings up time and time again. Or, you may catch an error that the writer has made, which they didn’t bother to correct. Your job is to provide as much value as you can in the process, and help the writer improve their piece. In return, the writer may offer you some praise – if you did a good job, praising your role in the analysis will be pretty easy. But, if you found something incorrectly cited or applied, they may not be as kind as they could be. In any case, it’s a win-win situation for both parties, because you both end up with something of value – the writer improves, and you learn something new about the poem.

How Do You Begin The Analysis Process?

Now that you know your poem, it’s time to dive into the analysis process. The first step is to simply read the poem one or two times, without rushing. Give yourself time to take it all in – even if you do not have much, a few minutes can make a world of difference. After you’ve read the poem a few times, take a break and come back to it later in the day, or the next day. This will help you remove any bias that you might have in favor of your initial reading of the poem. When you come back to it later, read it with a fresh set of eyes. You are going to approach the poem with a critical eye, looking for places where you can identify grammatical errors, or places where the language could be improved. If necessary, you can highlight certain words or phrases that you feel are crucial to understanding the work. When you come across a word that you feel is important to understanding the work, take a minute and look it up in a dictionary or thesaurus. If you didn’t come across this word before, you might not know exactly what it means. But, once you look it up, it will jump out at you – you will know exactly what it means, even if you’ve never seen or heard it before. If the writer is someone you admire, look them up on the internet as well – you might discover that they’ve never heard of a word that they’ve used, or might catch them using a phrase that you feel is important to the work. In all these cases, take a moment to analyze the phrase or word, and what it means – whether you agree with it or not.

How Do You End The Analysis Process?

Once you’ve gone through the entire process and analyzed the poem, it’s time to wrap things up. Just as there is a beginning to the analysis process, so too there is an end – it just may take some time to figure out where to put all the information you’ve gained. You may want to write a short summary of your findings, or you may decide that you want to create a detailed outline – it’s up to you. But, in any case, make sure that you come to a satisfying conclusion, and leave the writer with something to think about. An additional step that you can take in the analysis process is to offer some suggestions for improvements. The writer may or may not agree with your suggestions, but they will be grateful for your input, which is something that cannot be said for all writers. It’s always nice when someone takes the time to help out, even if they don’t seem to need the help. In the end, everyone benefits when someone helps out with grammar, spelling, or formatting – it makes the whole process a lot smoother, and everyone enjoys the benefits of greater clarity and organization. Sometimes, when you’re stuck on what to write about in your creative writing course, it’s nice to have somewhere to turn – even if it’s just a suggestion or two. Not every writer is going to be able to use all the advice that you have to offer, but it never hurts to see someone try.

Hopefully, this post gave you enough information to get started. Remember – this is supposed to be an intro to creative writing course, so don’t get too bogged down in all the minutiae of grammar and spelling, or you’re definitely going to fail. The most important thing to keep in mind is that this is not a competition – it’s never fun to beat up on someone, so try and develop a more positive outlook when you’re critiquing their work. Every person’s writing is different, so instead of focusing on what you didn’t like about the work, find something the writer did well, and highlight that. And, don’t be afraid to say that you admire something about their work – it’s the perfect way to endear yourself to the writer, and show that you’re not just here to tear them down. If you did a good job and they seem to appreciate your efforts, then it’s definitely a win-win situation – and that’s the way it should be in any case.