Critiqueing poetry  

Posted by Wishwords

In my writers' group there is a member who occasionally submits poetry for critique. Frequently, the response to a poem submitted for critique (not just in my group, but in any writing group) is low or is prefaced with "I don't know much about poetry..." which can be kind of disheartening. Instead of giving up, C decided that if she is going to get more critiques she needs to help the other members be more comfortable with critiquing poetry. After all, it's just another genre, but there are mental blocks in place for a lot of us. And I agree with her.

I never, ever read Romance, Christian lit, or gory horror for enjoyment, yet I don't hesitate to critique them for my group. Yes, they follow the same rules as other prose genres, but they are still areas I'm not overly familiar with and don't usually enjoy. I have to set my prejudices aside in order to give a helpful critique to the authors. Poetry is similar with a couple significant differences.

Poetry critiquing is hard for me, partially because I don't read or write it, partially because feel like so much more emotion goes into poetry than prose from the writer's perspective, but also because I find beautiful language enjoyable on its own.  I can get lost in the language and not notice that I don't know what the poem "means". The rhythm and rhyme can carry me away and I finish reading with a smile on my face even if the poem doesn't tell me what the author wanted.

She thanked me for always trying to critique her poems and for trying to help her teach the group. (I found some guidelines for critiquing poetry and posted them to the group then commented on how I had used them to create what I hoped was a helpful critique.) I had to admit that my reasons were partially out of guilt and partially selfish. See, if a poet is going to take the time to write these lines and brave presenting them to the group, then I feel like I owe it to her to at least try to critique her work just like I would any short story submitted. Besides, I expect her to critique my crappy prose. That's the guilt part.

The selfish reason is that poets are masters of evocation and imagery. They use language in a way that most prose writers don't normally (especially beginning ones like me). I figure if I can learn by recognizing how a poet's words affect me and how that differs from the effect she intended, I will be a much better writer.

To me, a prose writer is a storyteller telling a tale with words. A poet is a painter and composer using words to create a melody of images.

The best writers are both. I want to be that.

And I think I've utterly failed in the composition of this post. Geez, can I ramble?


Posted by Wishwords

A comment by a friend of mine got me to thinking about goals, critique groups, and the changing publishing industry.

Sitting at a point two years gone from joining a critique group and reading all the uproar about the publishing industry and how in Japan they are not only selling stories written for cell phones but written ON cell phones, and how Important People are predicting the end of print and a time when all stories will be free on blogs for reading, a fledgling writer such as myself might wonder just why the hell I'm bothering. I might question why I meet with the critique group other than for the camaraderie. And that's perfectly valid.

But if I sit back and look over the past dozen years, I get a much different view.

Writers like me, join critique groups because they want to get feedback on their writing and become better writers. Quickly after joining, we discover that we also want to help others become better writers because this is a journey that is better when accompanied.

As we spend time with our groups, put more work into our writing, and get encouragement, it's not abnormal to begin to think that our goal is to see a book with our name on it in bookstores and on a bestseller list. We start thinking that the only proof of our value as writers is to be In Print. This is even easier when other members of the group get published. We get that itch to catch up and prove we are as worthy as the others.

But that is false thinking, at least for me. The core goal is still to become a better writer. Everything else depends on that and is simply tasty icing.

Right now the publishing industry and everyone connected to it is having purple-striped, fire-breathing kittens. In some corners, the sky isn't just falling, it's throwing chunks of the moon and space junk at us on its way down. But that's not so either. The industry is changing. That's a given. No one knows exactly how it will change even though there are plenty of Experts willing to tell you that They Know. They don't Know; they speculate. And that's fine. It's good to look toward the future and consider possibilities.

One thing I can guarantee (Yes, you can quote me; I Know) is that storytelling is not going to disappear. The oldest profession is supposedly prostitution, but I would argue that storytelling is damn close. Humans can not live without storytellers and the dreams they weave.

I don't know if my first book will be published in print, as an ebook, on the web, or as a podcast. I don't know if my first paycheck will be in dollars and cents, virtual money, credit with on-line stores, dinner coupons, or word fame. But I know I will write it, and I know people will read it.

The critique group continuously helps me realize my core goal. Because of that, I feel like I will realize my dream goal, whatever form that might take.

Review of "The Stepsister Scheme" by Jim Hines  

Posted by Wishwords

This is a very entertaining book. I'm not much of a fan of the Disney princesses, but I'd heard that these princesses were different. And they are. These ladies are quite competent in their areas of expertise. Also, Mr. Hines didn't use the watered down, modern version of fairytales to base his characters on; he used the grittier, older versions. And then he threw in twists.

I expected to not like Cinderella. I don't like her fairytale and in the first few pages of this book she seemed true enough to that tale for me to dismiss her as a twit. But she became my favorite character. Don't get me wrong, nothing the princesses do seems out of character; it's just that Mr. Hines goes deeper into their character and tales to pull out possibilities that previous authors didn't think of. But they aren't super heroes. They are competent, skilled, powerful in their own ways, scarred, and flawed. I was invested in these characters, admired them, feared for them, and loved them.

My only complaint, and it is extremely petty, is that in a couple of descriptive passages there were mistakes that I thought an editor should have caught. In addition to the book being well written, it's extremely well edited. In this day and age when books by well-known genre authors are full of careless editing, I was impressed by the quality of it in this paperback edition. Which could explain why the few errors jumped off the page at me. If that's the worst thing I can say about the book…

I almost forgot to mention the jokes. Throughout, there are subtle innuendos and not so subtle jokes. Some of them are quite adult, but you have to be paying attention.

I love a well-crafted book that is also entertaining. I will definitely be buying the rest of the princess tales as they are published.