“Night Fire Road”….and a note on Poetry Criticism.

"Night Fire Road", janekohut-bartels, watercolor, 2010

“Night Fire Road”, janekohut-bartels, watercolor, 2010



Recently I have been asked by a small literary group to do a ongoing piece on Poetry Criticism. (Not by dversepoets, just for clarity here.)  It is something that strikes fear in most writers/poets.  As I struggle to get my head around this issue, I look at my own work over the past seven years and try to see either a common thread, or theme.  Except in some groupings, there isn’t any.  This makes it a bit harder, but then again, I am only reading seven years of work.  I’m in for the long haul.

The dissection and  learning of a poem is only helped by an anthropological approach to the poet. We generally write from our experience, except in cases where we don’t.  I think of Robert Frost: there is no doubt that his farming, his New England living, his constant working with the earth (and poultry, stones, which are plentiful in New England fields…) lay the basis for his decades of poems.  One reviewer said that he “learned more about farming from his poems, and farming life, than anything else about poetry”.  Perhaps that is even more interesting.   But the point of poetry criticism is growth.  And people are put off, fearful of the word ‘criticism’.  There is a  very stupid (to me) position in poetry circles that poetry can’t be criticized. That it is so subjective that a reader can’t and shouldn’t criticize.  This position lends to much crap written in the name of poetry. We all have read some. …and most likely, written it, too.  Poetry is held by the same ‘laws’ that any literature is.   In fact, though, because of certain pecadillos of poetry, it gets a pass on some things….lol. 

I am looking for a ‘voice’ in what I am reading….I will look for that particular voice in the poets that I will be reviewing.  I think it is possible very early on to develop that, though I have been told by one oppressive writer that it isn’t. But he was NOT a poet.  Perhaps poetry, since it should and must be read aloud, a reader should feel the words and sounds in the throat.  After all, it’s a vocal command, and to me….poetry is music…is just singing.

Lady Nyo





Sharp right into mystery

Down black macadam churning

Guts and fear

Pot-holed surface falling

Either side into waterlogged ditches,

Hurtling towards a tunnel

Of dark, smothering trees

Deep in the mountain.


This is Night Fire Road

Spiraling down and up

Like the dark flames of its name.


Tires dumped in the tar of night

Maybe a car or two

Stolen, torched,

Liquor bottles christening the

Games of drunken fools.


Maybe it was meant

To be named for foxfire—

Bioluminescence come down from

The borders of Heaven

A gleaming fool’s gold

Only appearing at night

To tease greed and imagination.


Or perhaps it was named

For the illicit meetings

Of furtive lovers

Who shun daylight

And go inflame passion on

Night Fire Road.



 Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2013

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

19 Responses to ““Night Fire Road”….and a note on Poetry Criticism.”

  1. TR Says:

    I like how even the trees are like night fire. I feel like I’m on night fire road. xx


  2. ladynyo Says:

    Hi TR! That is what I was trying to do..make a link, a connection between the painting and the poem. LOL!

    Thank you for reading and your responsive comment. ‘

    Today (or tomorrow) I’m going back to the videos of flamenco…I just didn’t give myself enough time and work on this and those red shoes are looking at me with remorse. LOL!

    Hugs, Jane


  3. brian miller Says:

    interesting analysis of the name of the road and what it might be for…it has a more conversational tone to it than others i have read of yours…the description reminds me of many a country road from back where i grew up…ones you only knew where they led after you took them…

    i agree with you on the anthropological approach….crit does not happen in a vacuum…not good crit at least, so i will be interested to see how you go about it where ever you do…


  4. Tony Maude Says:

    I see the connection between the poem and the picture, but for me this reminded me of seeing films of rioting and warfare in various cities across the world; from Belfast to Baghdad, from Derry to Damascus…


  5. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Brian. Thanks for reading and your comment.

    I think the anthropological approach is the only one that I can think to do. LOL! Otherwise, it becomes a mess of subjectivity? Well, it is fundamentally interesting to learn about the poet behind the poetry and this gives a ‘light’ to the verse. Usually.

    I don’t know how you describe a conversational tone, but I guess it’s just talkin’. Yes, reminds me of back country roads in NC. But the same in Ga.


  6. ladynyo Says:

    Yikes! To think an innocent watercolor would invoke such violence.

    Well, the eye is in the beholder….or something like that.

    Thanks for reading.



  7. MarinaSofia Says:

    Liked your comments about poetry criticism.
    As for your poem, it put the Northern Lights into my mind – although the explanations you offer for the name Night Fire Road are far more plausible.


  8. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Marina….liked your “Northern Lights” better!

    This poetry criticism I guess can be handled different ways, but I am feeling my way here. So….we will see. I got the idea from reading Robert Frost: his background certainly was the genesis of his poetry…at least most of them to me.

    Thank you for reading and your comment.



  9. Tony Maude Says:

    I was thinking about the poem with it’s night-time and firne imagery … could just be that I’m tired … smiles


  10. Katie (@PunkRockPoet84) Says:

    Very nice piece. The opening line is a perfect grab. The imagery & rhythm of this piece is wonderful. 🙂

    I was talking to my brother just the other day about poetry criticism. I was actually pretty excited the first time that one of my pieces was critiqued by a fellow poet on dVerse, it was kind of like ‘hey, I finally arrived, they’re not just being nice & treating me gently.’ I enjoying being helped at I find my way as a poet, and I enjoying helping others out as well.


  11. ladynyo Says:

    That’s good, Katie. It’s good that you have this attitude. So many times we are apprehensive that pc is going to be hurtful, disrespect the poem our work, etc. I have read, and been a victim of bad pc….and it’s brutal..and the purpose is just that. In the hands of some morons, it’s painful and unfair….and just something to take their particular issues out on someone they thought they could get away with doing so.

    I remember being a recipient of an extensive bad crit…by a woman writer who wrote novels that you buy in the airport. She was so dismissive of a short story I had written. It was “Devil in Paris” which has garnered awards. LOL! Others

    in the group were embarrassed by her nasty crit, it was just…well, demeaning, no real substance, and in fact, since it relies on history (and a bit of knowledge of French culture)

    for it’s setting, (The short story)…she was showing her massive ignorance. Others were bothered,

    but they didn’t have the guts to stand up to her. I left soon after that because I realized that I could do better. This was a group that you had to be vetted to join. I was, and I found it very much wanting.

    So, everything not being equal, you need to find your ground. And not let morons put you off your work.

    In the hands of people who undestand this ‘refining fire’…both giving it and on the receiving end….it can be a wonderful vehicle of growth and creativity. I think it is probably one of the most important literary tools around…but so badly done usually. When some one has taken the time to do it right, you can really understand your poetry better.

    I get tired of ‘great work’, lovely, etc. These one word apprasials are like water. And it’s generally not because the people reading aren’t that committed …it’s because they don’t know how to do poetry criticism. It’s not a skill that we are born with…it’s definitely a learned skill.

    glad you liked the poem. And glad that the opening line made something here for you.



  12. Gay Reiser Cannon Says:

    Interestingly I made a similar comment re criticism on MamaZen’s blog. She often references the moon. I think personal symbols take on more meaning and complexity when seen in light of a body of work. I feel as though my work is as disparate as you say yours is. I’ve tried so many approaches over the last few years – not staying strictly in three line cascading stanzas which I did with my early work and branching into so many forms and allowing my voice change and color in the process. It just requires a lot of editing now where possible.

    I like the way you deconstructed the name of the road. I agree with Tony that the words call up war and personal violence on a global level; however were I seventeen again I would swear it was named as a lover’s lane. But you leave the look of the road on your painting and its meaning in your reader’s imagination. Well done!


  13. ladynyo Says:

    LOL, tony….that pushes us all…being tired…but that you had another interpertation of the poem or painting…..good on you!



  14. ladynyo Says:

    Gay, somehow I screwed up the cascade of comments/response. I defiinitely wanted to respond to your comment.

    I think to ourselves….you and I as poets, perhaps we don’t find our work falling into easily recognizable places…this disparate thing you mentioned…but I bet in the eyes of other readers, they would find the body of work in very definite groups, forms, places….etc.
    I think we are up too close to tell.

    The Moon: Yes, this is a symbol in Japanese literature throughout history. It has significent meaning, as does cherry blossoms, etc. One wonders how many poems throughout history have been written without duplicating themeselves…after all, how many differnet views can be expressed about the moon?? But I have

    never tired of reading them, and each poet, each writer has their own perspective.


  15. Jeff Says:

    I have been on that road. I have lived amongst the fire. I would go again, if I still remember how to get there. Is it still the first right?
    There is passion here . . . I hope it will sustain until I can make it back.
    Great piece, hot too!


  16. ManicDdaily Says:

    Hi jane , you definitely have a voice and one that sings as it explores–a very vivid poem that somehow also has a hint of sadness. Thanks. Hope all is well. K.


  17. ladynyo Says:

    Hi K…you have been on my mind for a while, and just this morning before I booted up my computer. I have been wondering how you were. Hope all is well.

    Thank you, K, for your comment. I think this season is also one of doubt, apprehension and a bit of fear: when you think you are a poet and writer, perhaps it’s all in the wind. It’s a constant struggle to move forward, to find things to write about. It just doesn’t come easily anymore…not like that first flush of activity.

    Been talking to another poet/writer that I really admire. She has a great body of work over the years, and now she is trying to find linking threads in all of this massive work. I think we are harder on ourselves than we should be, but then again, writing poetry is an unbalancing thing. You are never sure that you are moving forward in your craft. I have been reading (ugh) “Perspectives on Poetry”, a rather older book (1966) that begins to reveal what poetry criticism is all about…except poetry criticism has so many facets to it, and different theories, that it is a slippery thing indeed.

    I was surprised at the comments by a few readers about how the violence in this poem sparked their thoughts about world warfare, etc. That is something that I didn’t at all foresee. I just thought it was a very particularly placed poem. What this says to me is sometimes our work evokes places, scenery, etc. in writers that is far beyond our own vision.

    Again, thank you, K. And it’s great hearing from you.



  18. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Jeff…I really liked your comment. You got straight to the essence of the poem. Passion is indeed I think the point of the poem and not just sexual passion. I think most of us, sometime in life, have been on Night Fire Road, somewhere. It seems to exist in every town, somewhere on a country road. It’s indeed a right turn into mystery.



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