You can create in grand isolation. You can write in any style you wish, but if you want to get poems published these days you should read a wide range of contemporary poetry beforehand. Not just read, but inwardly digest. Try to evaluate how a poem works. This is a process from which you can learn a lot, and it may influence the way you write too. When either reading or listening to a poem being read out, you can apply a process of evaluation.
I’ve already covered some of the reasons you may be reading poems: for pleasure or inspiration, as part of a workshop session, to give feedback on single poems in magazines, for a review of a collection or even if you have been asked to judge a competition.
Once you get past the first read-through and its initial impact, evaluation is best done as a systematic process. This is part of what literary criticism is about, although only a small part. The purpose of this evaluation process could be either to:
- interpret the work – determine what it’s effect on you is.
- establish how successful for you the poet has been at rendering their message.
You may need to read and re-read the poem several times in the light of the following criteria. These are some aspects you can evaluate:
- How is the theme developed?
- How does it make you feel? What is the atmosphere and setting?
- What is it about? Does the theme of poem fit into a category: love, loss, nature, political, allegorical, ekphrastic (influenced by a work of art)?
- What are they trying to say, is there a conflict or a problem, is it resolved? It is possible that you cannot surmise the author’s intention.
- What is the point of view? What is the role of any “I”, is it either the author or an omniscient viewpoint or a character from history or another trade? Second or third person views?
- What is the tense? What is the physical layout of the words? Is it a shape poem where the layout on the page reflects the subject?
- How well does the title work in relation to the content?
- What works well and what less so? Are there any outstanding phrases or words?
- Where does them poem fit in wider moral or ethical context? Does it strike a universal chord?
- How has the poet used the counterpoint of lines and sentences?
- Use of punctuation or not? Half-meanings?
- Has the poet used free rhythms or formal rhythms: e.g. Iambic / Anapestic /Dactylic etc.?
- Have they used long lines? What is their mix of enjambment or end-stopping?
- Is there use of allegory?
Stanzas and rhyme
- Form, e.g., free, haiku, sonnet or sestina?
- Use of stanza breaks?
- Inner rhyme or end rhyme, chain rhyme or pararhyme?
- Vernacular or high register, use of dialect?
- Word choice / diction, kenning.
When you have finished your critical reading, you may have occasion to give feedback to the poet and how you do this is something I will treat in a future blog.