I currently run a monthly poetry group in the Midlands; a ‘Stanza’ group affiliated to the Poetry Society. Each month members bring along a piece of their own work for a gentle but often incisive critique by others in the group. I emphasise to the group each month that it’s important to bring along something ‘unfinished’ or that requires ‘help’ – this to avoid the defensiveness that can come with exposing a poem one considers ‘finished’ or ‘perfect’. We never look at anything published.
This week I took along a piece I was half-happy with, but had some undefined underlying concerns about that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
Often you can tell from the length of the silence between you finishing reading and the first comment – or the nature of the first comment itself – how the poem went down. This week the silence after I finished reading was the longest of the night.
“Okay,” I thought, “that tells me something.”
And so it proved. The guys were constructive and helpful, always saying what they liked but never shying away from what they didn’t or couldn’t understand. When I found I had to explain the poem before they ‘got it’, I knew that it was far from complete. Indeed, on a fundamental level it had missed the mark entirely. There’s work to be done. It may even be a failed enterprise and not worth further effort in its current form. Put it aside; come back to it some time in the future.
And that’s just fine. It’s perfectly okay not to succeed, to write something that’s not as good as we usually produce – for one thing, it makes the good stuff stand out even more! It’s alright that things are imperfect, and it’s great to be able to get good criticism. You have to trust and respect those you’re with to be able to take anything negative – and to believe the positive! A real example of ‘do unto others’ as you’ll be commenting on their work in the very same session.
In many respects, while it’s brilliant when the feedback on something I’ve written is really positive, it’s often the more critical feedback that provides the greater benefit.
Take it on the chin; learn; move on. Just like life…