“The Thaw” and a few words on poetry criticism….



Spring comes drumming through
Breaking loose ice in the creek–
Destroying a beaver dam.

And with the unexpected noise-
The un-damming of my heart
A softening of my bones
A juiciness of loins
A waving of budding branches
In a new born wind-
Encircling like tender arms
A phantom will o’ wisp lover.

Spring comes drumming through,
Cracking open where winter nailed me shut.

This is a short, simple poem, but it packs punch. At least to some readers. Recently I submitted it to a small poetry group for some crits. Only one person suggested anything: it was, in my opinion, a thorough gutting of this poem. Sometimes it’s necessary to gut a poem like a fish, but you have to be careful who is asked, and also be aware of what happens to the poem when you embrace changes.

Obviously it changes, but sometimes it also disappears completely. The intent and power can be gutted along with some lines.  Be very careful of this.

The most important part of a poem is its power: do the words express what you want exactly? Or do they ramble around the page.

I am fortunate that I have a core group of writers and poets. I have known them between 3-10 years. All of them are powerful writers. They have the ability to go straight to the intent, the strengths and weaknesses of a poem. This is invaluable to any writer. Over the course of years, they have also helped me establish my own ‘vision’ on my poems, and to peel the onion of stinky verse. These three people are the ones who have helped establish my own poetical voice. But it takes work. I don’t come back to them with endless revisions of perhaps a few words. That is what this small group of poets did, and it really is pointless.  I work at it until I have something new to submit for any consideration.  Unfortunately, I find a lot of poetry groups, the smaller ones, who just want someone else to write their poems for them.  They have no conviction in their own work, hence this behavior.  They want validation without the hard work.

In dissecting this poem, I realized that I was going for a sense of motion: beyond meter, rhythm, etc. It was a visual expansion and contraction of words…

Active, powerful words: drumming, breaking, destroying, unexpected noise (obviously a loud one…) and then the soft words: un-damming, juiciness, waving, tender, will o’ wisp, etc. If this isn’t seen by readers, then they aren’t really reading the poem. This juxtaposition of opposites carries this very simple poem.

So. We have to evaluate the crits we seek with the crits we get. Do they clarify the poem, or do they do something else? And every word must be part of the package of the poem. It must ‘fit’ the statement, push it along, pull it together. The power of a poem is not just in the theme, it’s in the construction. And what words you pick better fulfill the intention.

I am glad I have this core group of Bill, Nick and CS. Without them, poetry can be a stroll through a minefield.  And….there are some horrid ‘poets’ out there who don’t work at it at all.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2014

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2 Responses to ““The Thaw” and a few words on poetry criticism….”

  1. hypercryptical Says:

    Personally I find it difficult, nigh impossible to offer (constructive) criticism of other poets work – it makes me feel bad…

    That said, I have no criticism of The Thaw – tis beautiful – especially:

    The un-damming of my heart
    A softening of my bones
    A juiciness of loins
    A waving of budding branches

    Lovely lovely words.

    Anna :o]


  2. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Anna.

    Frankly, it IS hard to deliver constructive criticism of other poets work. But not impossible.

    None of us come out of the womb poetry critics. It’s a learning process, one we shift through many things to get to the essentials. Some are very good at technical criticism, and most of us aren’t. But somewhere on the spectrum, we can contribute.

    I think if your heart and intentions are clean of any malice, or anger, or something….it can be done. And it shouldn’t make us feel bad or sad, or anything negative. It should be done in such a way that it is part of the ‘refining fire’ that all poetry should go through.

    Only a fool is so in love with their words that they can’t consider criticism of some sort.

    We read poetry, other poets poetry, because it gives us an insight into their world, their experiences and what makes up their poetry. We share much in commonality, regardless of culture, age, etc. If our intentions are to purify, to clarify meanings within the lines, to solidify that commonality of existence, then all to the better.

    Things can be done without a hatchet job on the original poem. When that happens, there is more behind the issue than a mere poem.

    You read and understood the dynamic of opposites in this short poem. i am grateful for that, because we never know what mark our poetry makes without the eyes of others.

    Thank you for reading and your lovely comment.

    Lady Nyo


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