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!



Words That Matter (TGBOL)

This week’s prompt for The Great Book of Lists is “words that matter”.

“Words, as simple as they may seem, possess power. Once spoken, you cannot take them back. Once said, it’ll be either white or black.

“So today, let’s make a list of those words that has pushed you forward, to do good, to be glad. Words that kept you standing. Words that encouraged you to keep moving. Words that picked you up. Words that lit you up. Words that introduced you to an unknown world. Words that explained you the meaning of life, even beyond earth.

Those words deserve to be shared, so let’s share them today.”

Here is my list of words that matter:

“I will”
The promise made on my wedding day. Not the “I do” that you tend to see in films and stories, but the forward-looking “I will”. And I will.

“Do. Or do not. There is no try.”
This is a quote from Yoda in Empire Strikes Back, back when his lines actually carried some deeper meaning rather than just being backwards-spoken gibberish (yes, this is another moan about the prequels). If you set out to “try”, you are already accepting the possibility of failure. Set out to “do”, and let your positivity carry you forward.

“Try this at home”
Frank Turner is a particular inspiration to me. His folk-punk music, and “try it yourself” attitude, directly led me to take up the electronic pen and try poeting on my own. I could quote so many of his lyrics, but the following two are particularly important to me:

And I won’t sit down
And I won’t shut up
And most of all I will not grow up

Because we write love songs in C, we do politics in G,
we sing songs about our friends in E minor.
So tear down the stars now and take up your guitars:
come on folks and try this at home.
“Try This At Home”

“Love you, Daddy”
Yes, it’s cheesy, but I could hear this all day long, from either of my boys. They light me up, every single time.

“More money, more doughnuts”
I wanted to end on something different… this phrase is one my six-year old came up with recently. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a more succinct summary of capitalism 🙂

So, these are the words that matter to me. What words matter to you?



Picture credit: flickr.com/photos/_sk/2638831430

OctPoWriMo #23 – The Power of Words

All of this has been said before
All will be said again.
There’s nothing new left to say
Between thought and pen

26 letters, mixed together
In idle combinations.
The basis of our language
Rests on slim foundations

But the right word, at the right time
Has a certain magic.
A nudge here, a shift there
And we move from comic to tragic

And even the greatest of words
Still have to be felt in the heart.
So, thank you for this connection.
Thank you for playing your part.









Today’s prompt was thinking about the greatness and smallness of things in comparison to each other, and about how small things fit as pieces to a whole.