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 have 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!



Competition Winner!

Well… sort of.

Found out today that a poem I wrote – “Elbows on the Sill” – will be displayed on the buses of Guernsey this summer as part of their International Poetry Competition 2016.

All winning poets will get the chance to see their poems ‘on the move’ around the island of Guernsey. A total of 33 poems will be displayed on the island’s buses and at various public places.


Yeah, I missed out on the cash prizes, but as prizes go, that’s still pretty cool, right?

(Not to mention it’s the first poetry competition I’ve won any kind of prize in. Yay!)

It would have been ever so slightly cooler if they had told me about this (can any seasoned poet-competitors tell me if this is a normal thing? Do I need to keep my own track of everything I enter, and guess when they are likely to announce their results to check back?)…

Anyway, if any of you are off to Guernsey this summer, keep an eye out for my reminiscence on that freedom of riding at the front of the top floor of the bus as a child…

My quest for global domination continues, one island at a time 🙂



Picture credit: flickr.com/photos/98714794

OctPoWriMo #10 – Success (poem)

Today’s prompt was to sing about our successes… I recently passed some significant (for me) milestones in terms of numbers reading this blog, so I thought about writing about that. But having also come across both blogs that have amazing poetry (and hardly any likes) and some blogs that have nothing but awful, incomprehensible doggerel (and a bizarre number of likes), I’ve decided to take a different tack. BTW – if I’ve visited your blog more than once, the latter is not aimed at you!


Made it to some milestones
For followers and views
But that’s no validation
For the poetic path I choose

So I won’t share those numbers:
They’re personal to me.
No need to brag and boast
About my vanity

I’m not playing the numbers game
So thanks for your attention.
Success is individual.
Not a competition



This is today’s contribution to OctPoWriMo – a challenge to write a poem a day during October. You can sign up here, at any time during the month, or just check out the prompts and tips if you prefer – http://www.octpowrimo.com/


Image by Morgan Dragonwillow