The Alchemy of the Critique

For my “poem of the fortnight” (which, if you’re keeping track, isn’t an exact term because my critiquing group meets only twice a month, and sometimes I don’t even take anything), I’m including a look at the process by which this poem was finalized.

Here is the finished poem:


How do you know you are bearing

a load you have borne every day?


Then suddenly, by sleight of pharmaceutical magic

you are lightened, relieved,

find yourself facing obstacles calmly, fearlessly,

swimming from the deep of dreams each morning,

diving back again at night,

living fully in between.


After a half-century

fighting for every scrap of joy,

you have let go of the load,

and never want to bear it again.

Here is a mashup of the first two hand-written drafts:

Millstone drafts

I took a typed version–a third or fourth draft–to my critiquing group, where I got oral and written suggestions. Here are samples of some jotted comments:

Millstone critiques

Next I reviewed it all and incorporated many of the ideas into a final version. But the magic is that I went beyond the suggestions in the critiques, pushing the poem even further. We joke in our group that someone who brings a two-page poem might leave with a haiku, but the hewing process usually removes dead wood. I often hear or read a poem that’s so-so and think, “That poem would be so much better if it was submitted to a critiquing group.”

I recommend to any poet who isn’t working with a group, whether in person or online, to get involved. Not only do you meet and make friends with other poets, you will learn ways to improve your work that you can’t see working away in isolation.

Thanks to my Writers’ League of Texas Monday night group, of which I have been a part (and one-time leader) since 1990!


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4 responses to “The Alchemy of the Critique”

  1. lisaelskerarvid says :

    😄Klem til deg💖 fantastisk blogg!💖

  2. deborahbrasket says :

    I loved your poem and really enjoyed seeing how it came together through revision. I’ve always felt we need more of that, showing our work as writers before and after, the process. I’d love to see how some of the greats revised their works. And even hear why they changed certain words, or cut out certain sentences. Would be a great learning experience!

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