The joy of building on criticism . . .

I’ve been working on a possible entry to the Poetry on the Lake competition

Let’s face it: nobody really enjoys criticism, but most of us suffer it with a pained expression. That’s to say, how could you not find my most recent contribution supremely edifying, wonderful and a sheer delight? But since you mention it, I shall try to understand what you’re saying. Before discarding your unwelcome contribution to languish in the round file.

Well, that’s often how I too receive criticism, to my shame. Even when I court it, when I know a particular piece could be improved with some external critique from a discerning eye. We want, we crave, endless adulation. Certainly that’s true if the constant stream of ‘likes’ on social media are any indication. Woe betide the niggling ‘dislike.’ But in this particular case I really needed to hear what was wrong with my piece: I knew already, on the third draft, that it simply didn’t sing.

Only the criticism came out of the wrong field, and floored me rather. The piece didn’t make any sense to readers. It was too obscure, though the rhythms and verbiage were deemed poetic. But the narrative was lost, the story died a death and the faces of the readers were glum. There seemed to be nothing they could take from the lines I’d cobbled together that made any sense. I was a bit nonplussed, confused, and ready to take to my sulking sofa. Instead, I tried (very hard, I told myself) to listen to the comments.

And then, preparing for my late afternoon snooze, I ruminated. Hmmm. What they’re saying could, possibly, be reasonably rectified, couldn’t it, if I were to insert a telling line here and there, setting the scene, creating a flow of story through which the poetry might dance. It might not ever sing, it might always be a sow’s ear, but it could be a prettier purse than what it was.

And so I set to again, after a refreshing nap, and well, attending to the critiques seems to have made it better. Perhaps I’ll never be a contemporary poet, perhaps I’ll just be trying hard until the end, but when I look at some examples of today’s poets that I love, I think, how wonderful to express thoughts as beautifully, as meaningfully, as they do! And so I keep trying, working with words.

There’s a certain joy in that perseverance, but the needy soul inside me still craves the intermittent adulation that might come with a felicitous turn of phrase. Even so.

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