October 3rd, 2002

Wonderfalls Flamingos

Doc, on Criticism (Uncut to Grab Your Attention)

I'm not talking about anything that involves the words "hegemony," post-*, "orientalism," or "deconstruction." This is the kind where the artist is still alive.

Those of us that have a creative bent - art, music, words, programs, etc. often open our work to the criticism of others. Some of us have it as a hobby, therapy, maybe even a job someday. This is for you - I don't know what people think about criticism- especially of their own work- so I thought I'd share some thoughts. About what happens when people criticize my work, anyway. Since I work mostly in poetry, I'll stick to that.

First off, and we all know this, you don't have to stroke my ego. Especially the phrase "that's really good"- which often means "very good" but more usually "despite everything it says to me, I will tell you that it's good", or "I like it in spite of itself." People, in general, think that they know nothing about poetry, or they know everything. It is not a secret language, inasmuch as the poet makes it or doesn't make it a secret language. If there are names for poetic devices that you don't know, it doesn't matter - a reader shouldn't have to have a PhD to read a poem. I stopped caring about when I use a simile and when I use a metaphor a long time ago. I still know the difference (because I'm an INTJ Grammar nazi) but it doesn't trip me up. I don't want it to trip you up.

My goal in this is not to do it for myself. For myself is nice, and I glow when I think I've done something really well, but that's not the primary reason I do it. I want the Bohemian Ideals: Freedom, Truth, Beauty and Love. I want to serve the ideals with poetry.

Poetry is about connecting with other people the ideas that defy words. Poetry is 198 Proof Language. Poetry is a report from the soul. Poetry is about life, death, the funny, and the hey-hey. Poetry is a lot of things, and it isn't always words.

Do you dig?

What do I want from criticism? This - I want to know how it makes you feel. I want to know if it speaks to you. I want to know if you trip up at certain points. I want to know when you can see the scaffolding. I want to know when it says something I've said before - when it says something that somebody else has. I want to know who it reminds you of. I want to know what it makes you smell. I want to know if it moves you - if your world is different, even in the smallest way, because of it.

In other words, poetry is to be experienced, and not read. If it doesn't make you react in some way, I have failed. Even if it makes you go "hmm" or you cry for an hour or you plant a tree or you shoot that damn Ramsey kid or you go smoke.

If you write poetry, I hope this carries something of what I'm looking for across. And there's a difference between critiquing a work as a poet, and critiquing a work as a reader. For me, tell me the reader part before you talk shop, if you don't mind. We get so hung up on the shop-talk.

So, that's what I want. I may never get it from anybody, because it's too much to ask for from anybody. I don't expect it from you. But a lot of people don't know what to say. It's a start.

In the spirit of mutual satisfaction, What do you want from criticism?
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