A poet-peer once told me that many poets who ask “What do you think about my poems?” do not actually want feedback, but a pat on the back. This came as a surprise but also explained why poets often don't want to pay even a small fee for a professional opinion. Since I want my poetry to be the very best I can offer, however, I didn't really understand what my friend was saying.
Then, recently, the publisher of my upcoming book of children’s poems liked the preliminary drawings I sent and gave me the go-ahead to sketch illustrations in pen and ink, something I always meant to do but never did. After completing a few drawings, I showed one of a cute little animal to a family member, who said, “The tail should be longer.”
Suddenly I understood! I'd wanted to hear, “Wow!” or “Nice job,” but instead I got advice. Although I felt like saying “Bummer!” I said “Okay,” then quickly went back to my desk, later realizing I'd learned two very important points:
1. Even the most helpful suggestion can sting. Eventually, I saw that, yes, I did need to elongate that little tail, which, yes, made the artwork better, so I’m thankful for that now. However, I have no plans to be a professional artist, which makes me less inclined to receive remarks I might consider a criticism.
2. Our attitude toward feedback depends on where we draw the line in our work. For example, if I see myself as a person who likes to write poems I might react negatively to suggestions and just want some praise or a hug. If, however, I see myself as a poet – or a person on the way to becoming a poet, I’ll be more apt to receive and apply helpful suggestions.
Where do you draw the line?
© 2014, Mary Sayler
If you’re ready to get a professional opinion of your work and discover what you can do to omit flaws and strengthen strengths, consider a critique.
If you’re not yet ready to risk feedback on your own poems, consider studying poetry forms and techniques developed by countless other poets over the centuries. The examples in this e-book come from classical poetry in the public domain and also contemporary poems, with neither using the offensive themes or language that have discouraged many Christian poets from studying and developing a literary style.
Christian Poet’s Guide to Writing Poetry, Kindle e-book version of the poetry home study course Mary wrote and used for years with poets and poetry students