Sample Poetry CritiqueHere is a critique which I recently offered to a friend. I will call him Fred. This is Fred's original poem:
Cemetery wondering what to do with the rusting adjustable wrench on top of a gravestone pointed out by two-year old boy in a rain jacket under a steady May rain our gravelly sand dam of fallen oak leaves clogging the gutter drain tiers of early graves marked by male or female angels A tomb with stained glass spiders' webs a half moon peeking out from the clouds umbrella numbers and letters on rocks the distant noise of a chainsaw during rain interlude chase game around the Crocker monument in the mist the Cogswell spire in a shaft of sun
Here is Fred's poem with my comments.
Cemetery wondering what to do with the rusting adjustable wrench on top of a gravestoneGreat first image Fred. There is a problem with the title and the first line: the implication is that the "cemetery" is the subject of the poem (and of the first sentence), and therefore the participle "wondering" as the first word of the poem creates a noun/verb question. Cemetery is from the Greek, (koimeterion), meaning "to put to sleep." Though the first stanza is lacking a noun for its subject, you have a very haiku-like poem here Fred; you needn't rewrite it another five times to get it right. Just find the appropriate subject for the first stanza. My point in quoting you the Greek above, is to show you that you have a very "immobile" object in the image of the cemetery, and a very "robust" one in the image of the adjustable wrench. Expand the metaphor here. Work with the idea of contrasts: that's what haiku does. Haiku often works with opposites in the same image, or offers comparisons between different images. Go with the idea that you have a gravestone -- a sedentary object, and an adjustable wrench -- an active object, and work with these comparisons:
- contrasts and comparisons between you and the boy
- between you and fate
- between the boy and fate
- between the boy's energy level and your energy, and so on.
pointed out by two-year old boy in a rain jacket under a steady May rainIn the second stanza, you begin with the participle "pointing." Again, who or what is "pointing?" Aside for verb/object considerations, the poem here in the second stanza skirts the issue of the relationship of the boy to the speaker. The poem hasn't stated that relationship yet. Though I know he is your son, another reader might not, so you must resolve this relationship for the reader to become more fully emotionally involved in the poem. The second image of the "rain jacket under a steady May rain" is as clear as the gravestone image in the first stanza, but could you show here, perhaps, a physical touching action between the speaker and the boy, so as to clarify this relationship?
our gravelly sand dam of fallen oak leaves clogging the gutter drainIn the third stanza here, this relationship comes closest to definition in your use of "our," but it moves away from both the image of the gravestone/wrench in the first, and the jacket/rain in the second, and in so pulling away from those two images, the poem shoots off into a different focus. You might want to look for a way of pulling these images together here.
tiers of early graves marked by male or female angelsThis stanza is vague. Whose "angels" are they, and why is this information in the poem? How does the appearance of the angles inform the central emotional understanding between the speaker and the boy?
A tomb with stained glass spiders' websThis stanza recalls the image of the rain, but you might need to check the tone here. You started out playfully with the cemetery/wrench image, but here you're moving back to the image of the rain. What is the overall outcome of this?
a half moon peeking out from the clouds umbrella numbers and letters on rocks the distant noise of a chainsaw during rain interlude chase game around the Crocker monumentThe noise of the chainsaw is succinct: almost like the scythe of the grim reaper, but I don't think you use it to its full potential. The chase around the monument here is unclear -- who is chasing whom? What is the emotional significance of the chase? What were either you or the boy feeling at the time of the chase? Why was chase taking place? How are your feelings significant in the chase game?
in the mist the Cogswell spire in a shaft of sunAgain a succinct image, but far from an entirely satisfying resolution. What of the chase game? What of the wrench/cemetery? What of the jacket/rain? How does the spire resolve them all? The phallic image of the spire in the sun shining in out of the gloom informs us merely of meteorological conditions, Fred, but what about the issues of life and death between the father and his son? Overall, you have a very strong draft here. Were you to straighten out the subjects of some of the sentences and clarify the emotional understanding between the speaker and the boy, you might end up with a successful portrait of a father and his child in the context of the metaphor of the cemetery. Thanks for giving me a chance to look at your poem. Submit your work to apwpoet (at) gmail (dot) com Thank you!