The idea of critique and criticism** has cropped up on a number of occasions recently, including at the poetry group I attend. There, it seems clear that some of the less experienced writers feel they shouldn’t be commenting on, let alone criticising, the writing of the more experienced group members. I think they are wrong for two quite different reasons.
Even your personal preferences and reactions can be useful or interesting to the writer, who, presumably, has offered a text for discussion because he wants feedback on it.
By reading closely enough to make comments, I have learned a huge amount about how poems work – and how they fail: by looking at each word and line break, I’ve discovered details that aren’t revealed by reading superficially; by reading aloud, I’ve found how the sounds are working and I’ve ‘tasted’ the poems; by going beyond ‘I like it’ or ‘I don’t like it’, I’ve tried to clarify what it is that has provoked that reaction. And even when I haven’t told the writer what I felt, these discoveries have been useful as I have been able to apply some of what I’ve learned to my own writing.
So, even if you aren’t an experienced writer, commentary is valuable, and when the writer is willing to discuss the points raised, the resulting dialogue can be a tremendous learning experience both for the poet and the critter. It’s an opportunity not to be missed.
** I’m using the words ‘critique’ and ‘criticism’ interchangeably here to mean commentary and workshop discussion of works-in-progress, not to refer to formal literary criticism.