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Guide to Explicating and Critiquing


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Explore the Craft of Writing Poetry

Explication and critique go hand in hand. Explication is the close reading and breakdown of the components of a particular poem. A critique hopefully is given after an explication is made and often takes the explication to the next level to express an opinion and/or give advice. We can learn a great deal about writing through explication. Critique helps another see the poem through a readers eyes. I include here some notes I think important to consider before giving a critique and an explication template that I originally got from another who I only know as "Linda", while we were both taking an online class on Reading Poetry. I have modified it as I grew in understanding and it has evolved over the years.I have used the explication template to review my own work, if only to remind myself of elements I feel important in any good writing.

Critique Notes:

  1. Read the poem several times before expressing an opinion or offering advise. (preferably do a complete explication)
  2. Critique the writing only, never the content.
  3. If at all possible, begin and end every critique with a positive comment about the poem, be specific. Simply being brave enough to write a poem and show it to someone else merits some reward.
  4. Be honest.
  5. When suggesting change, you might want to use phrases such as "I wonder if" , "Can I suggest" "In my opinion you might . ." Remember you are only voicing your opinon, others including the poet may disagree.
  6. The bottom line is, it is the poet's creation, not yours. You are only offering a different perspective to help the poet see the poem through a reader's eye.

Explication Template

  • Meaning and Themes: The poem is about …….. it is a . . .
  • Structure:: what is the frame or structure of the poem?  Is it a recognized stanzaic or verse form such as a sonnet, limerick, Villanelle or free verse etc.?  Describe the elements of the frame such as strophic or stanzaic,  # of lines, rhyme scheme, meter - appropriate use of form, does it fit the content, enhance or detract
  • Title: what is its relationship to poem, will it draw a reader to the poem?
  • Opening: Are the opening lines strong enough to grab the reader? Could a later line serve better as an opener?
  • Tone: what is the tone is it somber, gay, reflective etc. Do the opening lines set the tone?
  • Emotional Impact: At first read, what, if any, was the emotional impact the poem had on you?
  • Words: Choice and placement:importance to the poem through selection, placement and use.
  • Texture: is more about the topography of words and phrases. "the hot rock" vs "the solar glazed granite" both say the same thing, each with a different texture which involves rhythm and pitch that enhance the tone of the poem.
  • Muscle: has to do with the type of words used, action verbs, passive verbs, multiple adjectives and/or adverbs vs no adj and or adv. High density of same syllable words, or repetition of any one effect. I see this as: the Camero screeching, skidded into the hair pin turn vs the car slid when it reached the corner.
  • Sound Patterns: this is the good old standbys alliteration, assonance, consonance, sibilance, etc.
  • Surprise: is exactly what the word means. A word or phrase the reader wasn't expecting.
  • Imagery: described either as concrete ( to grow together - specific, grounded) or abstract (to pull away - floating around, difficult to grasp)
    • literal image, describing the image in detail as it appears.
    • figurative image, metaphor (transfer of qualities), simile (comparison of qualities), personification (human qualities to non human objects or thoughts), metonymy (identifying emblem substituted for whole), synesthesia (sensory object described by another sense), oxymoron (conflicting terms), synecdoche (a piece )
    • symbol, an image or action that stands for more than itself.
  • Epiphany: Pivot, shift, tilting, manifestaion or realization of the main line of the poem. The Ah Ha! moment.
  • Closure: Do the closing lines seem contrived or telly? Does the last line think for the reader or does it hand over the poem to the reader's own thoughts?
  • Poet: When explicating, who is the poet, during what time and from where was the poem written … other factors which may have influenced the content
  • Poem, line by line with comment:

~~ © ~~ Poems by Judi Van Gorder ~~

For permission to use this work you can write to Tinker1111@icloud.com

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