How to Workshop a Poem

Receiving feedback, editorial review, and constructive criticism on your poetry is almost as important a step in the writing process as putting pen to paper. If you're someone who's interested in performing poetry, teaching creative writing, or participating in writing workshops, learning how to workshop a poem and getting comfortable with giving and receiving feedback on your writing is a great skill to have.

Sharing or critiquing poetry in a workshop setting doesn't have to be intimidating if you know what elements to focus on and how to frame feedback respectfully. Learn how to workshop a poem by walking through the following 5 steps:

How to Workshop a Poem in 5 Steps

  1. Read for Comprehension First. The first time you're looking at a new poem, read it through once for pure comprehension. Focus on the story and the feelings that the poem is communicating. Read slowly, and don't worry about making editorial marks or comments yet — you'll have plenty of time to read it again!
  2. Set the Stage. After you've read the poem through the first time, consider the overarching themes of the poem and the characteristics of the narrative voice. What is the tone? Who is the poem speaking to? What emotions does this poem make you feel? Make notes of your thoughts in the margin of the page.
  3. Find What Works: Language and Literary Devices. Once you've read the poem for comprehension and considered its tone and voice, then read it again with an intentional focus on the language and literary devices used. Which phrases do you find striking or imaginative? Are there any awkward phrases or sentences that might work better in a different place? Are there poetry devices that you can identify and feel are working well to contribute to the poem's message? Are there any that seem less effective or could be removed? Make notes of both your favorite elements of the poem as well as the pieces you have questions about — learning how to workshop a poem is just as much about learning how to provide respectful, supportive feedback as it is about writing.
  4. Find What Works: Structure and Layout. Read the poem a third time with a more particular focus on structure and layout. How does the poem's arrangement on the page contribute to its meaning? Are there line breaks or pauses that work particularly well, or that you think take away from the poem's message? Make notes of your thoughts in the margin of the page and record any questions or specific moments you'd like to draw attention to.
  5. Read the Poem Out Loud. Make sure that either you or the poem's author delivers the poem once out loud. Reading poetry out loud allows you to identify both effective lines and possible tongue twisters that may be harder to spot when you're reading the poem silently to yourself.

Making the Most of Feedback and Discussion

Once you've taken each of the 5 steps above to thoughtfully read and review a poem in a workshop setting, then it's time to share and discuss feedback. This part of the workshop process may look different depending on whether you're providing one-on-one feedback for a writer or discussing a poem as a group, but the approach should be the same. Make sure that your feedback includes as much of what you admire in the poem as what you think could be improved. Communicate all constructive criticism with respect and support, and ask questions to try and understand the author's motives or goals for their choices as you go.

Learning how to workshop a poem and how to consider poetry with an analytical eye only makes you a stronger writer — the more you analyze poetry, they better you can bring a reader's perspective to your own work. Every writer benefits from thoughtful, attentive review and feedback on their work, so don't be afraid to ask for it! You can practice this type of workshop exercise within our own Power Poetry Groups, or bring it to a classroom setting for a larger discussion. Ready to workshop?

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