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The Unkindest Cut

The Passive-Aggressiveness
of Critique

How many times have you posted something you felt
good about--to find it's garnered rewrites, a multitude
of suggestions and more than its share of negative
criticism? We've all been through that--
and it never gets any easier.

I suppose there are legitimate critics who honestly want to help
a poem and its author along, but all too often it's been my gut
instinct that what is really behind such ax jobs is nothing more
than passive-aggressive nastiness: someone flexing their muscles
in a forum or a review venue; yes, there are such spoilers out
there. Far too many actually, but I have a few tips on how to
distinguish a 'teacher' from a plain, old playground bully.

First off, did the critique initially include an overall impression of
the poem? Was there a statement of what the critiquer 'heard'
at first reading, or does the reader launch straight way into
line-by-line corrections? Unless you are voluntarily in a heavy
duty workshop, in my opinion, this is always inappropriate
response to someone else's work.

Does the critiquer make 'ad hominem' comments that have
more to do with the author than his or her post? If so, you
know you have a "whuppass" pain-in-the-derriere on your tail,
and my advice is to shake the dirt from your sandals, and pay
no mind. Do not engage such a critic in actual argument, or
you will both end up looking like fools.

Does the one critiquing your poem make constant reference
to any number of poets he or she considers 'great'? If so, then
they are implying that your own writing is a shabby attempt at
what only poets of such august stamp should be doing--
--for only those poets do it well: ignore these ignoramuses.
They are more concerned with showing what they know,
than seriously reading and allowing something new
to wash over them.

Does your critiquer take the time to comment on the
emotional content of the poem? Do they say how it moved
or angered them, or perhaps brought some insight or delight?
If they are doing this, then they are doing the poem justice,
and their suggestions should be considered--hear them
and entertain those changes. This is a reader showing
respect for the writer, aware of how emotionally
vulnerable we are when putting words to
page in any public way.

This is a person who loves language more than their
own ego, and probably loves authors as well for their
bravery and courage. This is a peer, NOT a superior.
These are the voices that should speak to you; only
they deserve your ear, and only they can make you
a better writer, the others are dissemblers and
antagonists. Remember that, and you'll do
just fine with criticism.

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