Thursday, February 4, 2010

Prerogatives For A Critique

Critiquing a poem can bring as many trepidations to The Poetry Editor who does the evaluation as the one who awaits a reply. While the poet wonders, “Will my work be well-received?” the poetry consultant wonders, “Will I encourage talented poets to keep on writing, revising, and marketing their work as I’d hoped to do? Or will I inadvertently say the very thing that causes them to put away their pens forever?” So, to be clear going in, both critiquing and getting a critique can be a risky adventure.

That said, let’s look at our prerogatives for “Prerogatives.” First, give the poem a quick but quiet reading. Then read aloud at whatever pace the poem sets for you as its punctuation marks lead you from phrase to phrase or line to line.

Prerogatives
by Maryanne H.

The queen of the prom, they say, does not write poetry.
She has too much to lose: the admiring looks
of her court, the adulation of the king—
or since this is still high school where girls rule,
perhaps he is just her escort—
anyhow, too much to lose.

But somewhere mightn’t there be a queen
who notices a premature droop to her flowers,
some flatness in the applause—
for not every queen tempts fate with unbridled joy—
or maybe she’ll spot an eye wandering
from her tendered charms.

Therein lies a poem.

But perhaps they are right, after all,
for the poem will not be written that night,
but later—
when the queen of the prom is no longer herself
and suspicion which seemed at first a royal quirk
now holds her in his arms.

If the poem isn’t clear to you on first reading, you might have an “Oh, I see” as you read out loud. The title “Prerogatives” also provides a clue. Since the word means a privilege or right but also a choice, you can see how this applies to the prom queen as she tries to figure out who and what she is or wants to be: a source of admiration, a center of attention, or a real-person poet who wants to write honestly and well.

With honesty and effectiveness at work, the first two lines get our attention. As you read those lines aloud again, listen for the musicality of the beat and also of the low-key alliteration in prom/poetry, lose/looks. How harmonious! Why? Those sounds not only echo one another, they make interesting word pairs of thought.

I’d like to see more of that musicality and clarity throughout the poem, but, oh, toward the end, those qualities come together with insight in the lines, “But perhaps they are right, after all,/for the poem will not be written that night.” How true! The life of becoming your true self and poems of this caliber take time. They cannot be fully written in a night.


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2 comments:

  1. Mary,
    Thank you for the very thoughtful comments. I now have some sense of what is working in the poem, but how to fix it is still a mystery. Can you point out the clunkiest lines, where the music is missing? Thanks a lot,
    Maryanne

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  2. Hi, Maryanne. Your question reminds me to make a note to address scansion in a future posting on the Poetry Of Course Blog where I hope to go into some of the best-loved techniques of poetry.

    Although free verse does not adhere to regular patterns of metric feet, its musicality still dances to the iamb, trochee, and other little poetic feet. In your first line, for example, you have six feet, almost of straight iambs, each of which consists of two syllables with the accent on the second. i.e., “the QUEEN/ they SAY/ does NOT/ write PO/ eTRY.” Then “of the PROM” is not an iamb but a three-syllable foot with the accent on the third. That provides a nice little variation that keeps the lines from having too steady a rhythm.

    The second line begins with straight iambs: “she HAS/ too MUCH/ to LOSE” with a variation in “the adMIR/ing LOOKS.” In the third line though, the rhythm loosens: “of her COURT,/ the ad-u/LAtion/ of the KING.” The syllable “ad” has less stress than shown with caps and more than most of the unstressed syllables but not enough emphasis to strengthen a rhythmic beat. To re-establish a musical flow, just find a synonym or word of another length and/or with the accent on other syllables.

    To analyze the musicality of the remaining lines, the simplest method would be to underline syllables throughout the poem to show which receive the most stress. This will be easier to hear as you read aloud. Then, by marking those beats (aka scanning the poem), the eye can see what the ear hears.

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