Inside the Poet's Mind
It strikes me that we have a unique opportunity on this platform, when reviewing another member's work, to ask the appropriate questions, rather than simply 'liking' or trotting out a favourable one-liner.
Could/should we be able to form a peer review group in place of Poem of the Week or would this be too contentious?
Great suggestion. I hope more folks chime in and make this happen.
Tsvetaeva wrote in a letter to Pasternak....'Stop looking for a reason why?'
I am also willing to let any of my works be used - perhaps the administrators at WoL can ask fellow contributors if they are also 'up for it' ?
Alan - my suggestion was only for educational purposes and not criticism, after all there are places for writers/poets to have their work reviewed. This would just be 'friends' sharing knowledge and experience.
As a long timer on WOL my view would be that "constructive' criticism (what we all say we'd appreciate) can and often does swiftly veer away from criticising the piece and onto criticising the poet. Things can get very dirty very quickly and that's where the T&C transgressions occur.
Similarly, some poets put stuff out there and let it hang to see what others make of it. Some insist on placing expansive explanations so everyone 'gets it". Vive la difference I say! After all much of Bob Dylan's lyrics make no bloody sense at all and it never held him back.
I have on occasions contacted a poet via personal WOL messaging to ask questions, not in view of the full membership to avoid any unintentional embarrassment. A facility open to all as long as it remains consensual of course.
I think if a poet really wants 'open criticism' he should clearly state that as a 'rider' ahead of the piece's title. A thick-skin would be useful too.
I look forward to seeing where this thread goes.
I agree that things "can get dirty very quickly", having been the target of such an exchange in the past. I realize that what is being proposed may take up a substantial amount of time and attention by our good moderators as well, to keep things civil. Of late, the blog comments have gotten more fulsome and have remained civil, which is good. Your suggestion of placing a "rider" on the poem, whether in the title line or as an addendum is also good. I'm going to give your idea a try, as Cynthia already has, I believe, and see what happens.
Of course, if this becomes too much for moderators to oversee, or indeed should it flop and not be the learning tool that was intended, it could easily be withdrawn by WoL. Is there any way of easily setting the wheels in motion from the site's perspective?
I'm a mainly self-taught amateur writer, never been to Uni etc., and as such do not feel qualified to offer "academic peer reviews" of others' pieces.
My reaction to a submitted piece would be mostly gut-reaction, e.g:
"I like this and that", or
"maybe a comma here would be better", or
"a different rhyme there",
I am a bit unsure about the "like" system.
If I felt a piece was absolute gibberish of course I would never say so.
If I felt a piece was attempting to justify racism, homophobia, or misogyny I would say so.
That said, I might be open to academic criticism/analysis of my own work by appropriately qualified members.
Words, as you're aware, contain a specific gravity. That gravity is increased or decreased depending upon which word the writer uses.
A line like... 'The almost kiss shunned.' The specific gravity of placing the word kiss against the word shunned increases the weight of each word.
What is important is the totality of the work. If you pick apart each separate note from Beethoven's Ninth what would be left ?
The work exists outside the poet. The work gives life to the poet rather than the poet giving life to the work.
You may wish to read Mandelstam's CONVERSATION ABOUT DANTE in THE COLLECTED CRITICAL PROSE AND LETTERS. Collins/Harvill. 1991.
Or the superb critical essays in Joseph Brodsky's ON GRIEF & REASON and LESS THAN ONE.
Of course Emily Dickinson wrote without knowledge of the twentieth century. She sat alone in her room with her dog Carlo and stared words out of the fire.
Pollock stared shapes and lines out of the air. In all art there is doubt. Value it.
And thereby hangs a tale, as Jaques, in Shakespeare’s As You Like It (1600 AD) put it!
It was your words “university course”, “module titled 'Critical Analysis', and “peer review group” wot did for me Bob!
As soon as I saw those phrases, I presumed you meant something like:
“Scholarly peer review (also known as refereeing) is the process of subjecting an author's scholarly work, research, or ideas to the scrutiny of others who are experts in the same field, before a paper describing this work is published in a journal, conference proceedings or as a book.”
N.B. the word “experts”.
But at no point was I attempting to suggest anyone would be “…forced to comment or feel less worthy”.
I am generally inclined to agree with your suggestion.?
So now my question is: what “qualifications” - if any - would members of a “peer review group” need in order that their opinions be valid/acceptable in the eyes of Joe Public, the average contributor to WOL?
No qualifications. What qualifications did Brendan Behan possess except a passion for writing and for the silence between words?
Stories and ideas are found things. A piece of writing does not end when the line stops. It continues into our own lives and the lives of others.
Avoid so-called creative writing tutors. Especially those from England. There are no experts in writing. Everyone is just scratching one word against another.
I believe the Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere wrote all of Shakespeare's work. Even Henry James over a hundred years ago said it was the biggest fraud in Western culture.
At that time Elizabethan England was a police State. If one had a title, like de Vere, one could not write for the theatre or appear on a theatrical stage. Why? Because someone might listen to you.
The open word was a threat. Hence Will, stage left. Why were they afraid of the open word? Never ask a question to which you don't already know the answer.
As a group of equals, we at WoL have the opportunity to help each other in a completely voluntary way. I am prepared to share work and comments, where appropriate, and I'm sure there are a few like-minded people on this site.
Thick skinned and poet may be an oxymoron? But even given that some of us might be happy to respond to comments/criticisms about the form and structure of a particular creation, when it comes to the actual content of a piece then we are into walking on hedgehogs. Yet for me the content is what makes the sandwich, important as the bread is.
I agree that the contents of the sandwich are particular to the writer's taste, but there is no harm in breaking bread or sharing a good meal!
I agree with you and will happily opt in if given the chance. Like you, some of the responses to my work are a far cry from my intent. That brings me great joy, it means something is working as it should. I have tried Graham's suggestion about tagging a poem as open for critique, but it yielded no fruit. But, perhaps the silence was fruit in and of itself. So much of this discussion is based on the expectation that someone's feelings may get hurt. I doubt that would be a problem as your suggestion requires an "opt in."
It can be very difficult to keep up with the sheer volume of work being posted. I try to read everything here, everyday. But even in an afternoon, there are gems that I only see because someone was kind enough to provide comment. Those who post multiple poems a day, which I sometimes do, bury their own work. I think the technical solution could be very simple. It resides, in my mind, as a simple checkbox in the entry window that would cross-post the poem into the pool.
Graham - Perhaps this is how the appropriate pieces and poet's willingness can be identified.
I like to think that when I critique it is only to add value to the piece or to gain knowledge for myself from the writer.
There are people who take offence to either my work or my reviews and I would not expect them to opt in, but for those that do, please note that I am (mainly) constructive and/or encouraging. I see others who frequently offer comments in the same vein - including yourself and the beloved Cynthia.
Thanks again for contributing.
PoTW has required a re-think for quite some time to my mind..all I will say is it requires a great deal more transparency and a valid reason for its existence.
POTW has been a successful vehicle for highlighting the work of both existing poets and new member poets alike. Indeed there has been much praise for the feature with many members having overlooked the selected poem at the time of posting.
As for transparency, I believe this is where David goes off piste with the original idea. The POTW accolade was never meant to signify that the selected poem was the 'best one' but one that deserved highlighting.
Those responsible for making the POTW selection felt that losing the anonymity surrounding its selection would merely elevate the feature to a wholly new platform of criticism and opinion that the winner and themselves might not comfortable with.
A new feature will make an entrance in the New Year.
Peer Review Participant
With regard to the above, whilst the question has been passed to the technical dept for their perusal, can I suggest a short, if somewhat clumsy, method of indicating one's agreement to participate in a peer review system.
I have clearly added to my profile biography the words Peer Review Participant.
Ergo if a member wished to peer review a piece of my work, it would be easy to quickly check my profile and see if I was happy to be so critiqued. As I say somewhat clumsy but easy to manage.
The words Peer Review Participant should be clearly visible (ideally somewhere near to top) as some profile/biographies are very extensive.
In respect of Graham's proposal for including wording in the biography, I think it slightly misses the point. I wanted to establish a pool of poetry/prose to be reviewed by contributor's making their work available for peers i.e. opting in when they post the piece. It then becomes available for anyone to review/ask questions/achieve understanding and learn something. Graham's suggestion would seem to depend on a possible reviewer checking a poet's biography to see if it was okay to proceed. Surely this is a step backward from where we are now?
Let's see what the technical boys have to offer.
It's in Kenner's book on Pound. I believe it was Pound's response to a question from a student at a college lecture.
He may have meant... Don't be influenced too much by other writers.
Perhaps it was a jest. As you know Pound was superbly well read.
It's a pity tragedy got hold of Pound and wouldn't let him go. The Americans imprisoned him in a cage in Pisa where he scratched out some of the Pisan Cantos. The Fascist radio broadcasts during World War II did him great harm.
Eliot tried hard to get him out of St. Elizabeth's. Finally after twelve years Pound was released. He fled to Venice and became silent for long periods. Weeks. Months.
That passion for a particular art form is difficult to find now. Especially in England.
In his work Pound was inseparable from Dante. Berger believed all artists and writers are still alive through their work.
When I first began to write drama, I wrote as if Flaubert and Lawrence were in the next room.
At the end of the day I could almost go next door and say...'Look Gustave, look Bert, this is what I've written.'
The Cantos are esoteric and hard to read. But, like Dante, one is aware the journey within them never ends.
I know I am diversifying now but I must express my disappointment at the removal of Wolfgar from the site, who while not being an easy poet to read at times knows his subjects well which should bring benefits to a free thinking site. It's not an easy matter to stand out from the crowd and think as an individual but David is one such and should be respected for it.
The ingredient of his poem that sparked off the problem portrays among other things racist words, most of which were widely expressed often in a humorous context as a regular feature of social life within recent history. At home I have a song copy from the Victorian era entitled "Happy 'cause dey found dis C..N." Should I destroy this in protest even though the perpetrators are long gone? Most of the discontent engendered was deeply rooted within the establishment of course as we can prove from the Windrush incident. Ripples reached into public consciousness and were freely expressed. Things have changed and rightly so in an endeavour to bring parity to a multi racial society. All well and good - except that where portrayals of past attitudes for the sake of accuracy are censored in the name of moderation I think a danger exists, to deprive oxygen and balance from the mix is the thin end of a wedge. I find that prospect emasculating, and would go as far as to say that the word moderation implies a levelling of acceptability which is itself spurious. In totalitarian states art thrives against a very real threat. We do live in Britain though.
I would like to add to Ray's statements above if I may. This morning, I sat down with a Kenyan friend to go over Wolfgar's poem "War Criminal" and his qualifying statement. Not only did he take no offence at the language of the poem, he expressed deep sympathy for the man portrayed in the text. That is very telling. He indicated to me that it is a shame that the result of a brutal conflict expressed in brutal language, true to its time, is being suppressed. While it not my decision to make, I want to express my firm desire to see Wolfgar's account reinstated. Not doing so denies all of us his unique voice, experiences and insights.
You're so right. Art exists partly to offend. On WOL one feels comments are censored by people who don't write and know little about writing.
It's English provincialism and literary ignorance. It was one of the reasons Lawrence left England in 1912. The publication of LADY CHATTERLEY'S LOVER in 1963 brought Victorian censorship in novels almost to an end. The second version of LADY CHATTERLEY, JOHN THOMAS & LADY JANE is a more poetic novel, but it is the former which is remembered.
You should expand this comment Raypool for an article in THE GUARDIAN. One needs more intellect like Raypool and Steve Watling on this site and less twaddle.
I can't add anything to what's already been said in favor of Wolfgar's ability to remain as a valued contributor here, though I will say that I've been witness to a very thinly veiled personal attack against a fellow contributor recently that wasn't addressed in any apparent manner by anyone with authority AT ALL, much less in such a heavy-handed manner as banning--it does make justice seem a bit lopsided and sets a precedent that sullies the site's reputation. In the example I mention, the malice and intent were very clear, but the same cannot be argued against the post that led to Wolfgar's removal.
I sincerely hope that someone is seriously reconsidering the removal of his profile.
In preparation for his piece 'War Criminal' he laid out the reasons and context for the use of the language contained therein on both the audio and written version. At no time was he himself being discriminatory or racist, but he was reflecting on the tortuous memories of a soldier who lived through times when such terminology was the norm in such circles. Being accurate and true to your art has never been a crime, although some would serve to silence what they see an uncomfortable truths.
Please reconsider David's banishment, as I and others believe he has not committed any misdemeanour worthy of such punishment.
Thank you Graham for your response. It was kind.
I do also appreciate your comments here and thank you for them.
Like you, I dislike censorship in any form. There's a line from a poem by Bertolt Brecht, you may know it.
Why are they afraid of the open word?
That said, I am with Rob and Rachel on this one. Though I suppose, losing a few disruptive voices will certainly ease your day.
All of the thought and care put into those...
I'm disgusted at the actions of those who made this decision.
With that said, I am now deleting my account - I owe you no further explanation.
There is great value in reading about what we don't want in order to help us see what we do want--it is a time-tested literary device! FFS!
There were countless well-considered posts and comments--why should he and those who interacted with him be punished so?
–George Eliot, 'Middlemarch”, p.420, Booklassic
Mr Marks will not mind
I must be honest I find this whole thread not really cup of tea at all.
I am well out of my depth here.
I do love the 'armchair' experts who know best.
I just don't know any here.