Poetry Critique Checklist

Even if it’s been years since you’ve been in school and learned the basics of poetry, anyone can write poetry and learn to do it well. A great place to start is to read a lot of poetry. Read poems in diverse styles by dead poets, well-known living poets, and unknown writers.  Read form poems (sonnets, cinquains, villanelles, and haiku), blank verse and free verse.  And of course, write! Beyond that, the one tool that has been the most helpful for me to improve my poetry craft is regular poetry critique sessions.

Do not be afraid of the word or concept of critique. It is simply a detailed evaluation and review. Bring an open mind and heart.

I started out with a writing buddy. We met once or twice a month, to read and discuss each other’s work. I was fortunate to find someone who was a better writer than me, and who was also a teacher. But you can learn and grow with anyone who has a sincere desire to improve their writing.  When life and circumstances broke up our sessions, I found my way into a vibrant community of poets on Meetup called Living Poetry. From there I began attending monthly poetry critique workshops run by LP’s fearless leader, Bartholomew Barker.

I highly recommend the process. If you can’t find a group to meet with in real life there are virtual options online. I promise you will learn a lot, make friends, and become a better poet.

“Yeah, but how do I evaluate a poem?”

I’m glad you asked. One of the long-time members of my critique group, a wonderful poet named Chris Abbate, (check out his website!) left us to start his own group. He created a list of questions to guide his group members. I loved the idea, so, with permission, I stole the idea and a few of his questions and created a checklist just for you.

The checklist identifies the main components of a poem and gives you questions to consider for each one: Title, Opening; Language; Imagery; Line breaks; Stanzas, and Conclusion.  In addition to these objective terms, you will also learn to identify Hot Spots and Cold Spots.

Click here to download my Poetry Critique Checklist.

If you have any questions, leave them in the comments. Happy Writing!


Poetry News

Hello! How are you?! (pant, pant) Don’t mind me. I’m just catching my metaphorical breath after a very busy five weeks.  Actually, April was busy.  The first week in May was  only metaphorically busy. There was of course May Day, but I skipped the pole dancing festivities. I did watch a lot of Star Wars movies though because, May the 4th be with you. And yes, I ate a few tacos on Cinco de Mayo.

But let’s get back to April poetry news. I successfully completed the Poem A Day Challenge! Of the 30 poems I wrote in April, about half are just fluff and fun. The other half are solid and are either done or in my queue for the next three months of critique workshop.

The month was filled with poetry events in the area celebrating National Poetry Month, as well as … drum roll please … the roll-out of the Heron Clan V poetry anthology. I’m very happy and honored to have two of my poems included in the fifth book in this popular series (page 148 and 149 respectively). There were several readings in the area to give as many as possible of the poets in the book a chance to read. I will be one of the readers on May 10th, 7:00 pm at the Pittsboro Youth Theater, Center for the Arts. Thank you Doug Stuber and Katherine James Books!

As much as I’ve loved the poetry saturation, I’m glad for the break. I’ve been thinking that it’s time to stretch myself a bit and do some fiction writing. Stay tuned for more thoughts on writing. Until then, let me leave you with this poem I wrote on April 23, after attending the Poetry on Your Plate event at the Carrboro Town Hall.


Poetry on My Plate

three poets reading
dessert and friendship
an evening well spent

we are what we eat
dessert is around my waist
poetry is in my veins

Squashing the PAD Challenge!

Five days into the April Poem A Day challenge and I am on track. In fact, I’m a little bit ahead, thanks to Bartholomew Barker, my pal and the fearless leader of Living Poetry. Tonight I attended his Poetry Germination Workshop and wrote to several prompts. I rarely get poems right on the first try, so everything is subject to editing. But I’m pretty happy with this one that came from the prompts tonight. So, without further ado:

Zucchini Squash Flowers

They’re edible you know.
Dredge the orange flowers in flour.
Pan fry, lightly.
I’ve seen it on the Food Network often enough.
But I’ve never eaten one.
It’s hard enough to get me to eat vegetables
when they look like they’re good for me.
Don’t force me to eat the decorations as well.
I can’t imagine Pretty tastes better than Practical.
Perhaps that’s why I only date ugly men.

It’s April: Happy National Poetry Month!

When I mention this to my non-poet friends, they look at me blankly and say, “Uh huh.” But I’m excited, as are all of my poetry friends and colleagues living:

Madly and haphazardly
writing and editing
Living poem by poem

There are special events in addition to the usual workshops and open mics in the area. There are also stealth poetry programs happening such as Poem in Your Pocket. Simply select a poem you love, carry it with you, then share it with coworkers, family, and friends. And don’t forget the mother of events, the Poem-a-Day challenge.

The real purpose of this month is to spread the word about this wonderful art form and encourage people to dip into the well. Why should we care about poetry? Poetry expresses the truth in a way that a textbook never can.

Poetry will never pay the bills,
feed the hungry,
or stop a war;
unless, it does.

So before I go, I encourage you to write or read a poem this month. Perhaps you will like one of my favorite poems.

After A While, by Veronica A. Shoffstall, written 1971.  I first read this poem in an Ann Landers column. This lovely and enduring poem about growing up and becoming a strong independent adult has touched many people and been published over and over again.

Autobiography in Five Chapters by Portia Nelson (1920 – 2001) from the book: There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery.  For many people this is the quintessential poem of recovery for those in 12 step programs. But I just think it’s good advice for everyone,

Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas (1914 – 1953).  I like this poem, not just because it’s a great way to approach life, but it is a perfect example of a villanelle form poem.

What does that mean?

Although I’m a second generation Italian, with Italy on both sides of my DNA, I do not speak the language. So when a friend asked me what it means I had to tell her what I found on online translation. Ovunque Siamo is Italian for Wherever we are.  Fortunately the translation site I found offered this lovely example of the term in use.

Ovunque siamo, le nostre azioni avranno effetti su tutta la Terra.
Wherever we are, our actions have repercussions on the whole Earth

I know what you’re thinking. “What’s with the language lesson?” Well, it’s my not subtle way of telling you that one of my poems has been published in this fine online magazine!

Remembering Sunday Dinner at Grandma’s House — I hope you take a moment to check it out as well as the other wonderful pieces they’ve published.


What’s your word?

Happy New Year! 

A few years ago a friend introduced me to the One Word project. The idea is to replace new year resolutions, which are all about doing, with a guiding word for the year, which is all about being. A resolution is a nagging reminder of what you should be doing. The right One Word, however, is your inspiration and encouragement for being who and what you really want to be.

That year, 2011, we got together and made posters for ourselves with our word on it. My word was Discipline. It wasn’t the best choice for a word. Since I’m not a disciplined individual, it felt like just another failed resolution. My 2012 word was a little bit better, but not much, Action. I was still trying to push myself to be someone other than the low-energy, slow-moving person that I am. I must have known this, because the large poster had been replaced with a sheet of paper decorated with some stickers.

In 2013, I cheated and used a phrase: Whole and Complete. This was better, although looking back, I don’t know what I was thinking because the Complete is redundant. It’s a good thing to feel like a whole person but the next year I thought I’d aim higher. My 2014 word was Grace. Now, I am a klutz, but I had a different idea in mind. In the spiritual sense, grace is favor and blessing received from the Divine, such as forgiveness and redemption. I made a nice mini-poster, and then… meh. I still wanted to aim high though, so my word for 2015 was Serenity.  I never did feel serene that year which ended on a particularly low note with the death of my beloved cat, and my car totaled by an uninsured driver.

I put the One Word project on hiatus in ’16 and ’17.

However, I think the time is right to try again! This year I’m picking a word that I know I can Be, Do, and Have. POETRY!  Yes, I am going for the low hanging fruit, and no, there is no shame in the game here. There is only doing whatever we need to do to get by in the world.

I hope this year brings you happiness, health, prosperity, and lots and lots of poetry!  Please share your One Word for 2018 in the comments below.

If you are interested in learning more about One Word, check out these pages:

Holidays: We’re halfway through

Do you love the autumn and winter holiday season, or do you just bide your time and wait for them all to be over? Where are you on the love-the-holiday spectrum?  I’ve been up and down the scale from mushy, gushy, sappy, holiday love to seething resentment and distress. As I age though I find myself relaxing into acceptance.

Halloween was my favorite holiday as a child. Candy! Costumes! Later it was alcohol and costumes. Now it’s just about the cool weather, the decorations and enjoying other people in costume, especially children, babies and pets.

As an innocent kid, I thought Thanksgiving was a pretty basic holiday: food, family, pie.  It’s still that, but it’s also political, a gateway to consumerism, and a platform for dysfunctional family dynamics. Eat. Enjoy. Be happy to be home again.

So now it’s December which brings Hanukkah, Christmas, Solstice, Kwanzaa, and Ramadan. (Did I forget any?) It’s time for my annual gift buying and exchanging anxiety, and, POETRY! There are five poetry events on my calendar this month. Now that’s the way to spend the holiday season.

Whatever holiday you celebrate, and even if you don’t celebrate at all, I hope the season brings you good food, fun with people you love, and a touch of joy.