Poem Feedback

Ever wondered what it takes to do well in major poetry competitions? I sure have!

A couple of months back, I posted a poem on here called “Words Alone“. I thought I’d test the waters by submitting it to a major poetry competition that offered feedback (for a small fee). I’ve copied the poem, and the feedback below, plus some thoughts from me. I want to clarify that I’m only sharing this in case it helps you with your poetry, and your thinking around how to write and shape it. Feedback – and support – from the WordPress community is awesome, but sometimes it helps to haveΒ an objective professional to cast an eye over our work.

So, this was the poem:

No tingled touch
Upon bare skin.
No toss of hair;
Or playful grin.
These words, alone, to woo.

No eyes to meet,
Or silence break.
No hand to hold,
Or breath to take.
These words, alone, to woo.

No stolen glance
Or moments miss.
No lips to touch,
Or nape to kiss.
Words, alone, to woo.

No whispered wants
Or breathy hush.
No caress
Or soaring rush.
Words, alone, to woo.

No midnight madness
Guilt to cleanse.
Falling quickly;
More than friends.

No joy.
No pain.
Fleeting there
And back again.
My words, alone.
For you.

This was the feedback:
I liked the idea of your refrain, in italics — that changes slightly as the poem progresses. That works well, I think.

There’s a slight danger, though, that with that now rather dated-sound verb “to woo” being repeated so often, someone might be reminded of the cry of an owl. (I didn’t think of this until I tried reading your poem out loud.. so I thought I’d better mention it.. before another reader might.)

You use very short lines effectively here. But be careful about using vocabulary that’s sometimes rather predictable, and that doesn’t come across as ‘new minted” — the way words often do in a striking poem. For instance, phrases like “silence break” or “stolen glance” or even “midnight madness” all sound rather like ones I’ve read or heard elsewhere.

(And “upon” in line 2 is definitely a word to avoid in a contemporary poem; think about how seldom people actually say that word, or write it, nowadays..)

The other thing I’d try, with this intimate a poem, is setting it out, the way many free verse poems are, with capital letters at the start of lines only when it’s the beginning of a new sentence — as in prose writing. You could try it and then look at the new version to see how it looks to you. You may or may not end up changing it, but it’s good to compare different layouts, etc. The structure seems very well controlled, and I think it would be well worth the effort to keep working on this.

My response:
I work with a critique group for my children’s writing, so am used to getting feedback which isn’t all positive (and don’t want to come across here as defensive, either). Different critiquers always spot different things – that’s the nature (and beauty) of it.

Obviously some of any response is a personal reaction, so if my poem does not fit their personal tastes then it will be judged more harshly than others, perhaps. I’m not sure I agree with all of the comments about word choices (sod originality, I’m looking for the perfect words for the situation – midnight madness for example is not one I’d change, and part of the point was to play on the cliche of falling in love and where that may lead)… plus, I use the word “upon” when appropriate in real life sometimes. (Boy, do I feel old now!)

The final comments about setting this out as a free verse poem were interesting, for two reasons… firstly, I wouldn’t describe this as free verse. There is a clear rhythm and rhyme scheme that seems to have been overlooked. On a more positive, second, note, I tend to draft in Word, which obviously capitalises automatically any word at the start of a line. Perhaps I should try drafting more often directly into WordPress (which doesn’t) and trying different layouts for the text. That hadn’t even occurred to me until reading this (my poetry tends to be fairly structured). This might seem basic to you, but sometimes it’s the little things that get overlooked…

It would be interesting, if it had been possible, to speak further to the judge and ask them more about how they thought this could be developed, but sadly, this isn’t possible.

Anyway, whether you agree or disagree, maybe this will help you to shape your own thinking about layout, refrains, and specific word choices.

How do you react to feedback on your work? Do you find it easy to take? What’s the strangest feedback you’ve ever received?? Let me know, below!




78 thoughts on “Poem Feedback

  1. Ha!
    If it makes you feel better: I use upon too, in real life and also when it serves the purpose of rhythm in a poem. Maybe this person is American or Australian, or from somewhere where they use a different variety of English that you do?
    I have tried WordPress lay out. It sucks.
    I mean, the number of times when I’ve tried to put paragraphs in and they didn’t show in the final post, or wanted to include pictures around stanzas and the picture would never appear exactly where I wanted it placed (and had spent tireless hours making it just right in my draft)…

    So good luck with that.

    From a published friend’s point of view: even with your publisher, things don’t necessarily appear in the way you would want them, as their author.

    I am just coming out of a course where feedback was very important, so I appreciate its value. Sometimes it’s a bit frustrating though, when like here you feel like you wanted to argue with the person, to understand where they’re coming from, what your point of view is, and you can’t. Sigh!

    Thank you for sharing. It’s always nice to see how things work for real authors πŸ™‚

    Liked by 3 people

  2. The best piece of advice I ever received on feedback was: “Never show your poems to your best friends: always show them to your worst enemies — they’re the only ones who’ll tell you the truth!” For me, feedback does two things: (1) it reveals the thought process of the person giving the feedback; and (2) it offers you a distorting mirror in which to view your own work. In addition, so many writers and critics now graduate from Schools of Creative Writing where trends, ideas, and opinions are mega-produced that independent, truly creative thoughts and minds are very rare. Creativity should be just that: creative and not trendy. The problem, for me, then lives in the twin minds of the beholder and the beholden: if those twin minds do not see eye to eye, then writing is perceived across the double barrier of unacceptance (don’t and won’t like it) and unacceptability (this style of writing will never work for me). There is no crossing that divide. PS I hope this isn’t too muddled: early morning for me here in Canada.


    • Thanks Roger – not muddled at all! I agree with you… the problem I have is that I don’t particularly care for much of the modern poetry “style”. There are some blogs I follow who do free verse amazingly well, but there is also a lot of stuff that just leaves me cold… And yet if I’m entering competitions I feel a need to move onto this territory, rather than my “true” style (whatever that is this week!).

      Creativity is well and good, but if I want to show my poetry bona fides, then I maybe need to get a little bit trendy too…

      Liked by 2 people

      • Too true: I think the best thing for competitions is to read some of the recent poetry / creative writing that the judge has produced and to model your own submission on that, rather than hoping to touch a responsive chord in a person who is probably looking at upwards of a hundred or more entries. There were upward of 1700 entries in a chapbook competition I recently entered: and only one winner (no, it wasn’t me). We who are writing regularly will usually have something that approaches a certain style (in this case, the judge’s) and can be modified to fit it. My guess is that your judge probably stumbled upon “upon” and upon that (line 2!) the judgment was swiftly made — judges: inverted Micawbers, looking for something to turn down. I may well blog on this tomorrow: it is a source of much entertainment to me. De gustibus non est disputando. We must write to their tastes.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. I too draft in Word and go back to take out capitals, only using them, as suggested, where a new sentence MAY start. I tend, now , not to use punctuation. I find, this way, that you can read the poem in many different ways and different readers will interpret in their own unique way. You can try it out yourself. You can even invent new stanzas or do seemingly silly things such as pausing every seventh word or syllable. As beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so poetry is in the ear of the listener! I do like “upon” by the way, and I do like “Words Alone”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you – very interesting comment. I do tend to leave out punctuation now, unless it’s mid-line. I haven’t tried different structures in that way though. Expect to see that coming up soon now!


  4. I have published my work in many workshop forums and received some very harsh critique, particularly in a forum in the UK, I did not react well to their critique thinking it harsh. I have learned many things over the years from criticism and suggestions, I can deal with it well now unless I feel it is a deliberate raze from someone who is not really sincere. I feel like everyone has there own style and will offer suggestions that I feel they can take or bin, it is there baby, we should keep that in mind. In competition the judges are usually competent writers and I rely strongly on their ideas.


    • Some critique groups get carried away with criticising rather than critiquing, but hopefully most would be sincere (if only because the nature of the group work means you would feed back on their work too). re the judges – I think it’s pretty rare to be able to get direct feedback from them, hence me taking advantage here when offered, and then sharing it for everyone. Ultimately all writers need the right kind of feedback to develop.

      Thanks for commenting (just rescued it from my spam folder!) πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Capitalisation? Meh, to me it’s irrelevant. Wouldn’t worry about it. But I don’t tend to like poetry without punctuation; it’s the glue that holds your words into the structure you intend. Otherwise it’s like trying to make sense of one of my mum’s postcards or text messages… πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I have always heard, to never share your poetry, with those who do not understand poetry. That being said… When I receive feedback, I consider the source. Therefore, if I am entering a contest, then I see the feedback to be based upon their criteria. Should I be submitting something for a grade in a class or a workshop, then I receive the feedback as it relates to the criteria. When a patron (someone who has purchased one of my books) offers feedback, I appreciate and receive it simply as their opinion. I cannot take any of it personally for in the end, I must write for my own needs and pleasure. ❀

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Annette – and there are plenty of others who find pleasure in your words πŸ™‚

      For me, it was an interesting peak behind the curtain into what their judging criteria are based on. I can be slightly dispassionate about it, as I’d gone off the poem a bit by the time I got the feedback!

      I do write mostly for my own needs and pleasure, but I also try and push myself in challenges to try different styles, and in competitions too, to step out of my comfort zone, for my own development. Although thinking about it, I guess you could call that a need too!

      Liked by 1 person

      • And I completely agree, which is why I do put my work out there for feedback. The way I accept it, however, is and stays connected to the reason I submit the work. In other words, I must believe in the authority of the commentator and as such, take their response to heart. I absolutely learned that lesson ages ago when I was enrolled in a course offered by The Institute for Children’s Literature and I did NOT accept their guidance and direction. IN a fit of anger, I walked away from the whole process. Much to my chagrin, they required I pay for the entire course, as they upheld their end of the bargain and I had signed a contract. So, this learning process came back around in the form of having a job as a newspaper stringer. When the Editor “red-penned” my first article, it was all I could do to not come up out of my own skin and bat him about the head and shoulders with great force. (I was sitting in front of him at the time, thinking he was going to shower me with praise). It was a sobering experience that once I recognized its value, I allowed to groom me into his front page reporter. At that point I understood that when asking someone for their feedback (albeit here I had no choice) was something necessary for my personal growth. The example I hijacked your blog here to use as illustration (sorry about that) was my turning point and I can honestly say that it paved the way for me to not be so timid about asking for feedback. I see each and every time I publish something, even if it it is on my own blog, as being open to the feedback. Doesn’t mean I’ll change what I originally wrote, but I have done just that. πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

        • πŸ™‚

          I am always open to feedback, but often with poems I lose interest in editing and refining them once they’re published. There are a million poems in me, and I don’t have time to spend nibbling away endlessly at what feels like a completed thought (even if I haven’t expressed it as well as I could have). The only feedback that I really need is “this connected with me”, or “this bit worked/ didn’t work”. It’s such a subjective area!


  7. I’m a storyteller primarily, so punctuation seems like it should be included if it will alter the ‘tale’ but otherwise could be optional. I love the word ‘upon’ – it’s elegant! But the feedback was interesting and pointed out some things I’d never have considered!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi Al,
    I love your poetry.And if you asked me whether you use capitals, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. I get swept away with your vivid images, humor and language. The tone of her critique made me think she was looking for any possible thing to fault you on. To her I say, “Blah,” That’s my attempt at a sheep sound.
    I’m a suspense writer and during the five years I’ve been writing seriously, I have belonged to several critique groups and have been what they call in the Romance industry a contest slut (i.e., I did a lot of them). I liked the contests because the feedback was anonymous. While some of it was truly useless, I could see patterns that were helpful. If five people thought a character was weak, I knew I had to work on that character.
    I haven`t read poetry for years. Your poetry is so powerful it has brought me back to the joy of the verse.
    Best Wishes

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thanks for posting Al. Poetry is so subjective. I agree with the other comment. If you’re in it to win it, then having a similar style to the judge can help. I can never bring myself to do that though. Like you, I like rhyme and sometimes silly poems. I knew these would not fit this comp so didn’t even enter this time. Oh and I love “midnight madness”. Wasn’t cliche to me either x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Polly… curiosity got the better of me! It’s not often there’s the chance of some feedback from a competition, so I took what was offered here, even though it was an an “unlikely fit” πŸ™‚


  10. Thanks for sharing the feedback and your thoughts with us, Al! It takes bravery to do so…I’m not sure I could do it. πŸ™‚

    I hadn’t thought of any of the things the critiquer mentioned but I did know about the capitalization rule because of the course I’d taken with Renee LaTulippe. Apparently, that is the new convention (and it doesn’t matter if it’s a free verse poem or a rhyming poem) to not start each line with capitalization unless it’s actually the beginning of a sentence.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thank you for posting this, the feedback was interesting. They mentioned some of the things that I would never have considered like use of words that are often heard.
    I haven’t had a professional review my work for feedback, my feedbacks have all been from the WordPress community. This post has made me think though, I should get a critic to evaluate my writing, I’m sure there will be lots to improve upon. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  12. It’s all subjective really. Where one person might read a poem full of flaws, another will see a masterpiece.
    Often used words like ‘upon’ aren’t a bad thing, it’s what you do with them that’s important. Most phrases are constructions which have been heard before. Again, it’s about how you use it. A good writer can take a simple every day sentence and turn it into a majestic prose, and yes, I include you in that.
    All in all, I disagree with the feedback that you received, but again, poetry is influenced by each person’s individual tastes, emotions and opinions.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. This might apply more to novels than poetry but I was told by a critic that you should always listen to what a critic says if they are pointing out failings, holes in the plot, clunky dialogue or whatever but always ignore whatever they tell you might try and fix the issue they have spotted. That has proved to be a very sound approach. i really enjoy your poetry and get pissed off with this ‘don’t use archaic language in contemporary poetry’ crap – it’s as if we all speak in rap couplets. Ha! Methinks tis bollocks sirrah!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Geoff – I think we demonstrated that last week! Even when I do try and write a song, it comes out as country and western/ folk in my head… ironic as I don’t listen to either. Or perchance this poet doth protest too much!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. The feedback was quite interesting and enlightening. Of course, those are one person’s thoughts. Usually, I funny like to use punctuation unless it really needs to be there to convey my message.

    I vary my use of capitalization to suit my poem. I would actually prefer to never use caps (which may be obvious from titles and such on my blog).

    Tech geek: In Word (where I also write), I have discovered that if you start to correct the first letter to lower case a few times in a particular document or part of document, Word “learns” what you want and stops capitalizing (unless you capitalize intentionally when you type). Sometimes I even type gibberish and change to lower case… then begin my work!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. First, let me say how I enjoyed this strong and beautiful poem.
    I am surprised by the feed-back. ‘Too woo’ dated, and sounding like an owl.
    Well, I never heard that owl and as writers and poets we should dare use a rich and colourful language rather than starving it.
    ‘Upon’ is so right in this poem ‘ On’ is too short and would take the rhythm away.
    At the end, it is always up to each writer to make the call. Guidance is good but not always right for your specific writing.

    I am about finishing a poetry course with Writers Bureau and enjoy it. My tutor gives both praise and critic . I find it easy to accept both and exhilarating when I find I learnt something new and also when I find I did something good that I really didn’t know why it was good.:)
    Very stimulating.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for this, Mirja. I am glad that you enjoyed the poem… like you, perhaps, sometimes I write things that are good, but really don’t know why it is good!

      This feedback has made me re-think trying to enter (paid) competitions, but I plan to keep trying things out on my blog. I think my ultimate aim is to produce poetry that is accessible, meaningful, and rhythmic, and if that doesn’t fit with “convention” then I’ll just stay away from it!


  16. Hi Al, as a former teacher I practiced feedback as positive, constructive, acknowledging creative licence and being owned by the recipient. Conversely most feedback/critique I hear, read and observe out in the world of creative artistry in my daily life is full of bloated ego’s, envy, jealousy and covered up mediocracy.
    I read art, concert, exhibition, book, poetry and any other reviews/critiques for pure entertainment.
    Shared, respectful, learning/teaching mentoring is what I reckon should be the basis for reviews/critiques.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree about that last point, although I guess in this context that the feedback is more about what the competition organisers are looking for, than general teaching/mentoring (otherwise they would have to write pages of feedback for everyone)


  17. This was an interesting exercise – it shows how little I know about poetry – I didn’t notice anything that the critiquer pointed out! I wholeheartedly agree that constructive criticism is essential and I love hearing it. To me, WordPress is more like a big support group, and I don’t consider it the appropriate venue for criticism unless the author expressly asks for feedback on a specific piece of writing. The opportunity to have someone take a deeper look at our work is invaluable.I would never have published without it.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I think there’s always a danger when taking critism that you will bend too far either way because of it, I think the beauty of taking critism is to do it well, taking it on board but keeping the work your own 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  19. This is a really beautiful poem I enjoyed reading it. I’d REALLY would aprecciate it if you could go check out my poem. My username is: Abi B. Thank you! and again this was a lovely poem.


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