A ten year old, on hearing for the first time that there were professional music critics, registered disbelief and concern and said quite simply, “No one has the right to criticize someone else’s music.” Good point. Not to criticize in the negative sense, but yes to help see a work in a clear light, like Anthony Lane who explains so eloquently that the review is its own literary art or Siskel and Ebert who had the good grace to disagree, and in doing so gave you permission to decide for yourself.
Being a critic is a huge responsibility and sometimes an unwelcome requirement. Are you really ready to say to someone essentially that your butt does, indeed, look fat in those jeans? Or do you want to be gentle and constructive with what needs improving and weave it in with what is just great?
Judy Columbus, a writer with a talent for sharing how she feels, takes on this very issue with a poem she wrote in response to a Chautauqua writing class assignment “to critique each other’s work.” Judy’s poem, which has the characteristics of a great love letter is called VICE- VERSA, and there you have the beautifully reciprocal gist of it right away. It states a desire to help, holds constant sensitivity for the feelings of the person to be critiqued, makes a promise to be gentle and helpful, and above all holds love and respect for the recipient of this poem. Here it is:
"Critiquing your poem on this literary quest,
With the clear understanding that my turn’s next,
Should I do so with Golden Rule in mind,
Truth of truths, left behind?
For me, a difficult process to start,
Feeling the blanche is just too carte,
A logical way, I’d prefer to go?
Respond to what you would like to know.
Should my language be veiled, my entendre double,
As a way of keeping myself out of trouble?
Should I surgically slice your every verse,
Knowing you may soon find my verse worse?
If your second stanza best becomes white space,
If of rewrites I see not a trace;
If your title’s confusing, or delayed your end,
and I find here not much to defend…
Should I keep in mind how I will feel,
Aware that turnabout’s the deal?
Wend a careful hand to all I edit,
Seeking places where your talent to credit.
The process gets touchy, not arm’s length apart,
Since the words on paper were once in your heart;
Though a thoughtful message is what I’ve willed,
I could become the messenger killed.
Wanting to elicit neither “Yike” nor “Yelp,”
Since I have come here sincerely to help;
I will not glimpse, rather promise true gaze,
Using light proofer’s pen on each innocent page.
I signed up to write, not right to be,
As a poet, not critic of poetry;
So should my “take” appear dire or dumbeth,
Please keep in mind from where it cometh.
Here’s to my good eye and best intention,
To lovingly judge each word in question;
To uncovering issues, discovering craft,
Gaining newfound wisdom for my next draft.
It’s nothing personal, mere exercise,
Opportunity for a critic to feel real wise;
It’s not so hard having work reviewed,
Unless of course, you words are YOU!”
It does seem that Judy has set a sane, thoughtful, humble and constructive standard for how a critic should approach the assessment of any work. And, how that promise might be best expressed to those who may be a little afraid of the critic.
Thank you, Judy.
From me to you with love in the air,
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