Practical Poetry Criticism: Judging Merit

There comes an inevitable part of any process of practical criticism when the critic has to ask herself, is this poem any good? Is it better than others? How can I judge what is good and what is not good in poetry? There are several ways to approach answering these questions and, preferably, several component parts to a composite but complete answer.

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Practical Poetry Criticism: Rhyme

Perhaps the first thing that people think about when they consider a poem is whether it rhymes. It is generally thought preferable for a poem to rhyme because this suggests the poet has given some thought to word choice and structure and has demonstrated a measure of skill. In modern verse, it is not considered essential and, indeed, some poets try to avoid rhyme because, among various reasons, they feel it is inappropriate for a broken or fractured society in which grand narratives can no longer be supported.

 

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Practical Poetry Criticism: Classical Allusion

One of the most common forms of poetic expression, particularly in pre-modern verse, is the use of classical allusion. Unfortunately, as knowledge of the classical world is so much less prevalent in contemporary western society, this feature is one which now makes it much harder for many modern readers to appreciate and enjoy such poetry.

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Practical Poetry Criticism: Simile and Metaphor

Similes and metaphors are among the most common forms of poetic word usage. The difference between the two is that a simile explicitly states that one thing is like (or similar to) another thing, while a metaphor suggests that one thing or person resembles another. The former tends to be used in a more formal and extended manner, especially in the metaphysical school of poetry or in the kind of lyrical pastoral poetry based on shepherds who count the ways in which their beloved resembles a third party or object (‘let me count the ways’).

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Practical Poetry Criticism: Imagery

Poets use words to describe both concrete and abstract concepts. The way they describe the concrete phenomena is the main source of imagery within a poem: that is, imagery is the way that phenomena are depicted within a poem. In everyday prose, such as we might speak or write during our working lives, accuracy is usually considered to be a virtue. However, poetry is quite different and a poet will wish to add an extra layer of meaning to every image employed.

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Practical Poetry Criticism: Content

Form and content are perhaps the most important and most obvious areas of poetry criticism to address. Talking about the first indicates the understanding of the nature of the poem and how it relates to the other poetry of the world; talking about the second indicates understanding of the poem itself and what it, at least on the face of it, means. Content, in other words, matters.

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