The poetry method (and other stuff about peer review) by Derek Duggan
We’ve all been there. You’re at a party and you’ve been introduced to someone and everything seems to be going along nicely. Then they suddenly say – I had this dream last night… You do a little bit of sick into your mouth, swallow it back, and fix your wide eyed polite smile on your face as they begin to tell you about it. The only thing that could have made it worse was if they had offered to tell you about the dream in the form of interpretive dance. Or worse again, in verse.
Kylie Minogue stated in an interview in 2008 that how she kept her award winning bum in shape was by inviting people around to her house to recite poems at her. The involuntary bum clenches that accompanied her embarrassment were so strong that no other form of exercise was necessary. And all she had to do to insure they would keep coming back was to tell them how good she thought their poem was. This was apparently the trickiest part, but award winning bums don’t clench themselves into shape, so needs must.
What is it that stops us from simply running away when confronted with these situations? Well, many of us will have been put into stomach ulcer inducing embarrassing situations by friends or family when they get their kids to do a little show of some sort while you’re over visiting. Little Mary will be marched out to murder some song or other and you sit there and listen while willing your head not to catch fire. The torture comes to an end and that’s when the truly mental part starts – other friends and relatives burst into what sounds like genuine applause and then go on to gush enthusiastically about how amazing the child is. Several things go through your head – you wonder if the other people in the room have witnessed the same tuneless shouting as you just have. You wonder if perhaps the rest of the guests have shoveled a shed load of drugs into their faces pre-party in anticipation of this very event. But mostly you just hope that the wealth of encouragement won’t spur them on to do another fucking song.
Everyone takes a turn at heaping praise on the child and eventually all eyes rest on you. You have your chance to give an honest appraisal, but do you? Do you fuck! You say it was fantastic and hope you won’t be asked to elaborate. And it’s at that exact moment you realize where all the deluded nutters come from in the audition phase of The X Factor, and that you’re partly responsible.
Over time you can develop this ability to always stack positive praise on people no matter what the actuality of the situation is and if you get good enough at it you can go on to writing forums and do crits for people. Remember, people may ask for your honest opinion, but just like little Mary, they only mean that if what you’ve got to say is for the most part positive to the point of gushing. Any attempt to point out, even in a nice way, that the story, characters or premise don’t hold water will have you branded a troll faster than a vindaloo and eight pints of lager can pass through your body. The result of being branded a troll is that you will have few, if any, people who will crit your work for you and many of those that do will be operating on a level of spite normally reserved for people who post positive messages about being single on facebook.
Of course, if you play by the rules and say how wonderful everyone else is then you can reasonably expect equally nice things to be said about you. Not only that, but in return for posting a link to someone’s terrible book on facebook or twitter they will have no problem posting a link to your terrible book. And don’t forget, anyone who says that your book is anything short of excellent is a troll and their opinion is not worth a rub of one of Jordan’s knockers.
Does this mean that all those lovely crits you get from your virtual friends on your writers site are worthless in any kind of literary critique sense of the word? The short answer – Yes. The slightly longer answer – Yes, they are. The real question is – Does it matter? It’s not doing anyone any harm and it makes you feel good about yourself and at the end of the day whether your book is good or not will have absolutely no bearing on how it does in the market place. So long as you don’t believe the hype everything will be fine. Remember, you don’t want to end up being the undiscovered writer equivalent of one of the deluded people off the X Factor, who ends up being absolutely stunned when their manuscript is rejected even though they’ve been told by friends that it’s a masterpiece.
OK. Is everyone clear on that now? Good. Glad I could help.