Art, Language, Poetry

Poetry Critique: “Words” by Jane

(About a 5 minute read)

Dear Readers,

There are many things you could say about words.  You could, for instance, take an insufferably abstract approach to words and say  — as I myself love to do — that  they function much like the symbols on maps function in the sense they are symbols for some reality beyond themselves.  And you could, of course, say much about words besides that delectable mere morsel.

In her poem “Words”, Jane mostly takes a look at word as they are experienced by poets, which is a good thing, because the poetic meaning of words is every bit as important as their semiotic meaning.

Indeed, if you consider how words are routinely used to motivate and direct people, you could make a strong case that understanding their use in poetry is more important to a happy life than anything you could ever know about semiotics.  Not that semiotics isn’t also important.

So what is their use in poetry?  To me, that depends on the poet, but I would argue they can be no more useful than when used to get at a truth and then to present it in an emotional way, and hopefully an emotionally beautiful way.

But what is “emotional beauty”?

The rough test that I myself use for emotional beauty is to ask how something makes me feel and then motivates me.  If the words of a poem make me feel better about living and then motivate me to improve the world, I would say they were emotionally beautiful.

Emotional beauty is something I’ve found so often in Jane’s poems.  The other day, I read someone describing her as “an awesome poet”, but I do not think the word “awesome” does her justice.  It would be closer to the truth, I think, to describe her rhyming and rhythmic verses as “typically vibrant, always creative, and often explosive” — to describe them briefly.

Jane blogs at “Making it Write“.  Her poem, “Words” can be found here.



Words which clamber for birth,
eager to cling to the page,
words which would raise to self-worth
modestly seeking a place.
Words which admit, words which deny,
words deftly-chosen, words misapplied.
Dominatrix words which try
to overpower a subtle punchline.

Words which have something to say,
each syllable tuned in its own way,
conciliating or armed for the fray,
screaming surprise or mumbling cliché.

Words that edge to the ideal mate;
working their way towards standing up straight,
shuffling their way into ship-shape phrases
like uneasy conscripts with falsified ages.

Words scrubbed out and aptly replaced,
jackets buttoned and shoes tightly laced,
a tidy battalion of lines and stanzas;
meter supplanting the weapons of battle,
bragging the spit and polish of rhyme
till all is perfect, and all might concur,
that the verse is sublime,
the message inspired.

for all their courageous claims
of muscle, weight and girth,
often wither and fade
into an insipid blur.

Dear Jane,

As I mentioned to you earlier, this image from your poem especially seized me:

“shuffling their way into ship-shape phrases
like uneasy conscripts with falsified ages.”

It “almost made me want to fall into line behind them”, I said.  I would like to elaborate on that for a brief moment.  Are you curious why such an imagine might draw your readers in, engage them like hungry teens sniffing about the apron of a hamburger chef?

As I mentioned at the top of this post, an ideal for poetry might be to render a truth emotionally beautiful.   If so, a truth here, among so many other truths in your poem, is that picking the right words to describe something and provoke an emotional response to the description is, of course, naturally key to poetry.  And I think that’ s what you have expressed so well.

For instance, works really do “shuffle” into shape for poets, don’t they?  And when poets jot down a few, they so often feel “uneasy” about whether the words really fit.  All of that is quite obviously included in the image you created.

Beyond that, the image inspired me.  Not, of course, to join the Red Cross in order to serve humanity, but it mildly inspired me to have a better day.  “Oh look! Something to feel cheerful about on and off today!”  So I would indeed call your image “emotionally beautiful” — as I would call so many of the images in “Words”.

Now, yesterday, you wrote an edit to replace the final stanza of your poem:

I like writing awesome rhyme
my words are poignant all the time.
so why do people talk so wicked
saying that my work’s insipid?

You scared me when you proposed swapping this out for that:

for all their courageous claims
of muscle, weight and girth,
often wither and fade
into an insipid blur.

And I wrote back to you explaining why you had scared me:

I like the original better.

Here’s why.

In my opinion — which fully merits the generous consideration anyone of us would naturally accord a jackass — the original poem ends weakly, insipidly on the word “blur”. I find it brilliant that you would conclude a poem about words being insipid with an insipid ending in sharp contrast to all that has gone before.

Really gets you thinking, that one. I mean, how can so much of the poem show words off as vigorous, robust things, then so compellingly declare them insipid? Could it be both views have justice?

But your edit ends strong, and thus negates that delightful contradiction.

So I am glad to see that you have not changed the original poem after all.  What a relief!

The only criticism I have of your poem is ridiculous as a criticism:  You should explore words more.  Write another poem about words, only this time, words not as they are understood and experienced by poets, but, say, words as they are used to propagandize people.  Words use to evil ends.

After that, if you wish, write on words from yet another angle.

Or not.  It’s up to you.

I hope this critique has been thought provoking, perhaps even helpful, although I do not expect helpful.  You are far too accomplished as a poet for me to have helped you.

All the best,


3 thoughts on “Poetry Critique: “Words” by Jane”

  1. Thank you so much for this, Paul. You suggest that your critique might not have been helpful to me; you have no idea of the crises of confidence I go through. It’s nice to see “awesome” and “master” in the comment box, but those words are thrown around with little thought. Your critique is an entirely different matter. You are an intelligent, sensitive poet; your words carry weight, and, right now I feel exhilarated. You have encouraged me, made me feel that I’m succeeding in my efforts. At the same time, reading the poem through, on your blog, I can see an imbalance between the first three stanzas, and the final two.

    I might take up your suggestion about a follow-up, but not yet; I write about whatever inspires me at any given moment. I’d like to write about the way if makes me feel to join up words, but I don’t know how to describe my passion without using the obvious words. Odes to love are not my thing.

    About my tongue-in-cheek edit – I wouldn’t dream of using it.


    1. Your encouragement, Jane, is thanks enough for me!

      I find it curious that most of the comments left in comment boxes are probably left by poets praising each other’s works, and yet these are poets who all but become tongue-tied when speaking of those works, so that they can only say the same vague things over and over. Not that there’s anything wrong with that — it’s their choice and right. But it’s curious.

      Describing passion without the usual words of love That’s the torture they reserve in Hades for poets who fail to go through life without debauching themselves, isn’t it?

      The only image that comes to mind for me is a fireman shoveling coal into an old steam engine as it rushes down the tracts. But gods, what could possibly be made of that?

      Liked by 1 person

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