Article: Self or Peer Review of a Poem


You may also use this checklist for re-visioning your own poetry, although poets are often poor critics of their own work.


1. Central Theme.

What is the poem about? State the central idea or theme of the poem in one sentence.

What is the most memorable line of the poem?

What surprised you?

(There should be plausible surprises.)


2. Speaker.

Who is the speaker? What kind of person is the speaker? Educational level of speaker? Intellectual level? What clues from the poem do you glean that reveal the type of speaker?


3. Audience.

Who is the listener? Is there an identifiable audience for the speaker? What can we know about it? (Her, him, or them).


4. Occasion.

What is the occasion? (Birthday, wedding, funeral, starting school, important turning point, etc.).


5. Setting in Time.

What is the setting in time? (Hour, season, century, and so on).


6. Setting in Place.

What is the setting in place? (Indoors or out, city or country, land or sea, region, nation, hemisphere). Does the setting fit the content of the poem?


7. Tone.

What is the tone of the poem? (Formal/elevated? Informal? Vernacular? Slang?). Does the tone work? Why or why not?

Overall, is the poem lyrical (having musical qualities), metaphorical, or narrative (prose-like)? How well does the poet’s choice work?


8. Syntax.

Is syntax (word order within the sentence) used in ways that we don’t usually hear or expect? If so, does the unusual structure work for this poem?


9. Atmosphere.

Where does the poem take you? Does it take you? Why or why not?


10. Diction.

Discuss the diction (word choices) of the poem. Point out words that are particularly well-chosen and explain how they move the poem forward. Conversely, question word choices that may not be optimal.


11. Repetition.

If applicable, point out significance of sound repetition and explain its function.


12. Line Breaks.

Discuss use of line breaks.

What do the line breaks accomplish for the reader?

Does the poet incorporate the best possible line breakage for this particular poem? What changes in line breaks might you suggest?


13. Form and Pattern.

Discuss the overall form and/or pattern of the poem. Does the form fit the content?

Is this an established form poem, such as a sonnet, sestina, or villanelle? Does the poet remain “true” to the form, or does he/she/they tweak with the form? If the poet plays with the form, how effective is the result? How does the poet manage the form? Does the form flow and not call attention to itself, or does it seem forced? Explain.


14. Rhyme.

Does the poem use rhyme? If so, what is the rhyme scheme? How effective is the rhyme scheme?


15. Imagery.

What kinds of imagery are used? (Imagery = use of the five senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell, as experienced through concrete language). Is the language direct? Flat? Embellished? Surprising? Accurate? Clichéd?


16. Lines, Stanzas, Adverbs, and Adjectives.

What lines and/or stanzas could be rewritten to incorporate concrete images rather than abstractions?

What could be suggested rather than told outright?

What words, lines, and/or stanzas can be effectively deleted? (Often the first stanza and modifiers could be deleted or revised. Also, consider pointing out lines that explain too much).

Circle all adjectives and adverbs. Which of these modifiers could be cut? Not cut?

Is there a place where a noun could be used as a verb? (Strong active verbs are often more powerful than nouns.)


17. Active/Passive Voice.

Circle any “to be” forms of verbs (e.g., is, am, are, was, were, will, etc.). Could any of these passive verbs be developed into active verbs (in which the subject is doing the action)?

Active voice is often more powerful than the dodgy passive voice, although there may be excellent reasons for choosing passive verb forms.


18. Poetic Language/Considerations.

Point out examples of metaphor, simile, and personification, and explain their appropriateness.

Point out and explain any symbols. Do the symbols work organically with the poem, or do they seem forced or tacked on? Explain.

If the poem is allegorical (having a second meaning beneath the surface one), explain the allegory.

Point out and explain examples of paradox, overstatement, understatement, satire, and irony.

What is the function of poetic language?

How well do the surface and deeper meanings work together in this poem?

(Robert Frost’s  “The Road Not Taken” is a good example of how a poem can be read for both its surface and deeper meanings, which is why it is such a great poem for school children.)

How does this poem resonate for you?

What questions do you have about the poem?

In one or two paragraphs, discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the poem.

In your opinion, what does the poem need the most? In other words, how could the poet make this a better poem?

Ultimately, does this poem work for you? If not, explain why.



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