What it is and what it isn't
One of the ways in which
you will participate in this class is by being a critic or one who analyzes
the poetry of others. Some of you may think that all a critic does is “cut
down” someone else’s work, or point out ways in which the work
is bad. While a critic is able to distinguish between something done well
and something that isn’t, a good critic primarily understands what a
poem is made of, how it is made, what it means, and what makes it good.
To help you become a good
poetry critic, I have come up with this series of questions that you can use
when you consider the poetry of others as well as your own poems. At first,
using the technical language of poetry may seem unfamiliar or awkward, but
as we progress through the semester, you’ll easily be able to recognize
an effective metaphor or be able to discuss why a particular image evokes
a certain tone or feeling.
To help you further understand
this delicate balance of over-analyzing a poem and just reading to enjoy one,
read "Introduction to Poetry" by Billy Collins.
- Is the poem
unified? Are there lines or words that don’t belong, that don’t
fit in respect to sound or meaning?
What can be eliminated to improve sound or meaning? What can be changed?
- How does the
poem use repetition, rhyme, alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia, or other
sound device effectively? (Sound should reinforce meaning).
- How effective
is the meter or syllable pattern if used? Is it done to reinforce meaning?
Is it regulated well or is it awkwardly forced? What improvements can be
- If a rhyme
scheme is used, is it regular? Does the poet employ slant rhymes or approximate
rhymes? If the rhyme scheme is irregular, should the poet attempt to make
it regular or abandon the scheme altogether? Why? Does the rhyme enhance
the meaning of the poem or detract from it? Why?
- Consider the
overall structure of the poem: the stanza form, line breaks, punctuation,
etc. Does the structure seem artfully made or is it “just what happened”
and lack consideration of purpose?
- How important
is the theme? Does it illustrate a universal truth? What is the poet telling
- What is the
relationship of the title to the poem? Is it connected in meaning in some
way? Does it provide the setting or context for the poem? Is it ironic?
Is it symbolic?
- If there is
no title, what might be a good title and why?
- If the poem
is humorous, does it also offer an insight into some truth (through irony
or satire) or is the humor used for its own sake?
- If the poet
has used a metaphor (or simile), what is being compared and how effective
is the comparison? If there is an extended metaphor, is it consistent and
- How effective
are the images in the poem? What senses does the poet appeal to? Do any
of the images evoke emotional responses in the reader? If so, what is the
- Do the images
in the poem create a particular tone? What is it and what is the function
of the tone in the poem?
- Which words,
in particular, are most effective in the poemsssss? Why? What does a particular
word make you think of? If words are not effective, how are they not effective
and what are some alternative choices the poet could consider that would
strengthen the meaning of the poem?
- Who is the
speaker of the poem? To whom is he/she speaking? What is his/her message?