How to Critique a Poem? Learn to Write Creative Assignments

A critique of a poem is a profound analysis of a particular poetic oeuvre. Typically, this is a task for professional literary critics. As a student of Literature or Liberal Arts, you must also know how to analyze a poem in all its splendid depth. As you may already suspect, it is not enough to read a poetic work and disclose its evident symbolism. If you can evaluate all the shades of its figurative language, historical allusions, and even hidden motives, then it is likely you know how to critique a poem. However, this knowledge cannot be gained in a day. You have to be an avid reader with outstanding critical thinking skills. You have to be able to discern various philosophical connotations when reading between the lines. And what is more important, you have to be intensely creative. It is torture to analyze a poem if you have never been involved in some peculiar activities, which are loosely based on imagination.

A poem critique also allows to combine personal opinions with the author’s standpoint. Sometimes, you have to become a poet yourself to understand all the essential instruments utilized in the literary effort in question. Don’t worry, “being a poet” in this case is not about writing poems, it is about a unique comprehension of symbols, imagery, and allusions of the authorly work under analysis. You also have to be a researcher, as you will understand much more if you explore the writer’s autobiography and their unique experience that could possibly inspire the creation of this very poem.

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Defining a Critique of a Poem: Fundamental Nuances of a Rhymed Piece of Art

People keen on poetry know that literary pieces of this kind are whimsical and confusing. Even if some poems seem to be entertaining, analyzing them is not easy at all. For instance, poems by Lewis Carrol are full of absurd authorly neologisms, which were allegedly made up for fun. Yet, if you try to analyze his “Jabberwocky”, you will encounter many impediments, as you would have to search for the roots of almost every Carrol’s expression. You will find out that he coined a variety of literary portmanteau words. Besides, all those ostensibly gibberish words have hidden deep meanings, and it takes effort to unpuzzle them. Carrol’s poetry is often scrutinized from a psychological perspective; it even has some distinct therapeutic effects on people suffering from anxiety. Therefore, knowing how to critique a poem implies a kind of intuitive perception of its elements, which are well-concealed beneath a literary “invisibility cloak” – and only genuinely magical minds can see them. Although unraveling symbols demands some intellectual sophistication and agility, the main benefit lies in the reliance on subjective thinking. It means you are allowed to come up with free interpretations of imagery and main themes. Since a poem resembles a song, having a distinct rhythm and meter, it can never embody a formal down-to-earth composition even when it remains within realistic boundaries.

Although critiquing a poem involves some creative thinking, your analysis should be constructive, unbiased, and unambiguous. There is also a difference between analyzing poems of classical authors and contemporary wordsmiths. The evaluation of classical poetry is aimed to enlighten readers, telling them about a particular historical background and symbolism of the past, which might have surpassed the usual patterns of human thinking of that time. In contrast, if you critique a modern poet, then your essay can significantly affect the attitude of readers to his or her oeuvres. Basically, you are responsible for providing reasonable feedback on the author’s work.

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Considerate Poetry Critique: Proper Questions to Ask

Learning how to critique poetry is a scrupulous process of literary examination. A poem can be divided into a range of independent elements: grammatical, structural, verbal, metrical, rhythmic, and visual ones. If you scrutinize a lengthy poem for the first time, you will be impressed by an abundance of poetic devices. You can explore a poem from so many perspectives. For example, when delving into its sonic qualities, you will encounter such terms as consonance and dissonance, alliteration, onomatopoeia, etc. If you focus on its rhythmic qualities, you will get acquainted with such terms as metrical pause (caesura), repetition, and rhyme. Yet, the most fascinating part is unraveling the meanings by dint of figurative language, such as metaphors, similes, allusions, analogies, paradoxes, oxymorons, puns, and personifications. All these elements are quintessential and cannot be neglected if you want to divulge the depth of symbols a poet invented. Besides, even extremely surreal symbolism has its unique purpose. Poetry often contains crucial encoded messages about the most controversial events and burning issues of the past and the present.

As a critic, it is important to remain impartial, but your opinion may not coincide with the author’s intention. Subjective interpretation of poetry is not only allowed but encouraged – that is how art expands its initial forms and meanings.

If you are a beginner, the following questions can help you start your literary analysis:

What poetic devices am I familiar with?

What poetic forms, such as sonnet, villanelle, free verse, are more and less typical?

Do I understand the subject matter the author focuses on?

Am I fond of this poetic genre in particular?

Do I have to get rid of certain prejudices before analyzing this poem?

Do I know the poet’s target audience?

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11 Steps that Facilitate Poem Critique Writing

Phase I: Create questions

1. Start with basic reading

As poetry critique encompasses many details, you should read the poem attentively, not missing any line, any word. The initial task is to comprehend the fundamental message and apparent symbols. Whenever you come across complicated or unknown words, write down definitions. Sometimes, the title of the literary piece discloses the main topic, but it can also contain an encrypted meaning.

Phase I: Create questions

2. Grasp the rhythm

Poems are typically recited aloud, so reading the piece aloud will help you to feel its rhythmical flow. Listen to yourself carefully when your voice is shaping the right rhythm. You can also ask someone else to read a poem so that you can be a listener. It is also beneficial to record yourself reading poetry: it is easier to set logical pauses and the right tone of poetry recitation.

Phase I: Create questions

3. Specify predominant themes

Although a poem often has multiple meanings, it usually contains only one major theme. You will discern the fundamental theme easily if you read the piece several times. Perhaps, the poem under analysis is about war, love, existential crisis, ecological concerns; maybe it is an ode to the lost generation or the brave new world of the future… The major theme is always present; it just can be either evident or concealed between the lines.

Phase I: Create questions

4. Play the game of interpretations

It is always unfavorable to be conservative in poetic matters; especially when crafting a critique of the poem. Poetry is about disclosing various interpretations and surpassing intellectual boundaries. You have to explore it from as many perspectives as possible. For instance, if the poem evokes positive emotions in you, imagine opposite reactions and find reasons for their possible emergence. Contradictory interpretations may lead to the discovery of unexpected and vital symbols.

Phase I: Create questions

5. Determine the setting

If you can find enough images to unriddle the setting of the events portrayed in the poem, then you will be able to guess more meanings. Sometimes, certain names of the places refer to the existent locations. Other prompts may unveil crucial cultural or political events, which occurred in real life.

Phase I: Create questions

6. Discern the presence or absence of rhyming

Every poem has a specific rhythm, but not every poem has a rhyme. You have to establish whether the literary work is rhymed or written in free verse. It is easier to discern a vivid pattern, such as terza rima (it entails three lines of stanzas with specific schematic interconnections like ABA BCB). By the way, this very rhyming pattern was used in Dante’s “Divine Comedy”.

Phase I: Create questions

7. Classify the genre

When you critique poetry, do not forget to specify its genre. The variety of genres can be endless. The most popular ones encompass sonnet, dramatic poem, epic poem, parody, ode, ballad, and elegy. For instance, a sonnet, which was especially revered during Shakespearean times, comprises 14 lines; its major thematic constituent revolves around the intimate feelings of the hero towards a romantic object.

Phase I: Create questions

8. Explore structural particularity

Although meant to be declaimed aloud, the majority of people read poems in silence. It means our visual perception also matters. When you look at the structure, you instantly realize whether this work is sophisticated or simplified. It is also interesting to track the contextual coincidences at the end of each line. If every new line does not coincide with the finished thought, then the author used a special technique called enjambment.

Phase I: Create questions

9. Scrutinize poetic word choices

As poems tend to be brief but immensely symbolic works, you have to devote yourself to a painstaking analysis of every line and many separate symbolic words. Determine the most peculiar wordplay, unusual imagery, alternative rhythmic patterns. Learn to discern metaphors from similes and find other less common literary devices, such as anaphora, epistrophe, chiasmus, litotes, epizeuxis, and many others.

Phase I: Create questions

10. Come up with an insightful thesis statement

Writing a poetry critique means composing a kind of essay, which has to reflect general academic rules. It implies it should have a thought-provoking thesis statement based on the major theme of the work.

Phase I: Create questions

11. Proceed to the actual writing process

Make use of all the above-mentioned steps to start writing your critical analysis of the poem. If you create an outline in advance, you will cope with the creative assignment swiftly.

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