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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Poetry Critique of “Pretentious” with notes on metaphor, simile, and compression

Every poem differs, of course, so each offers us an opportunity to look at one of the many choices we have in revising before submitting our work to a traditional print journal or e-zine.

This poem, for example, shows signs of simile ready to ripen with each “as” or “like.”

by Celestine McMullen Allen

Pretend is the game we play
When we want to hide within ourselves
The games are fantasy
A world not visible to all
Play like, fooling the self
Actions of life are like playing tag
We envision the world as a tea cup
Porcelain dolls and rugby brutes

Most people will identify with this poem and the pretend games people play, which gives the poem strong reader identification. The poem then deepens that observation with an insight, “When we want to hide within ourselves” – a line that establishes the poet’s credibility and, again, connects with readers.

Making a connection and being credible will draw readers to your work in any genre. In addition to those desirable traits, comparing this to that with “like” or “as” is an effective poetic device poets have practiced for centuries. Here, for example, the line, “We envision the world as a tea cup,” evokes all sorts of thoughts and visual possibilities aside from the tea party that the context brings to mind. Besides that, I love the line so much, I wonder if it might become the first line of a separate poem in order to develop the thought fully.

My unease with the poem concerns the use of capital letters at the beginning of each line. Since line breaks already separate the lines, there’s no need to mark those line breaks with a capital letter, which, usually, marks the beginning of each sentence, while a period (.) clearly marks the end. So unless a particular reason exists to change the norm, normal punctuation will normally clarify meaning and guide readers in their reading.

My other concern has to do with flat statements – a problem that can be overcome in a couple of ways. For example, metaphor and simile could be developed, so each verb, noun, or modifier connects with the overall picture. This would also lessen the need for passive verbs in various forms of “to be” (i.e., is, was, were.)

Here, though, the whole poem can be considered a metaphor for life as a game, whether “pretend” games or active ones of playing tag. Therefore, I’d be more apt to find another way to overcome the feel of flat statements. For example, compression can help a sentence to sound more poetic.

Since compression removes the small words needed to be clear, a problem arises with clarity, but that can be solved by tabbing some of the lines over to the right (which Blogspot will not let me do!) Or we can use capital letters and line spacing to separate the thoughts, which also removes the need for punctuation.

Other solutions exist, so don’t lock your poems in too soon. For now, however, here’s what compressions does:


the game we play

hiding within ourselves


invisible world

fooling the self

Actions of life

play tag

play rugby

play with porcelain dolls

the world as a tea cup


  1. Hi Mary, thanks for a wonderful critique of my poem, "Pretentious". In terms of how I write, sometimes it is of me. Oftentimes, it is about my ability to stand back and watch the world. "Pretentious" falls into the latter. You surmised the nature of the poem in your critique. When a poet opens up, one never knows what the reaction will be of the reader. For my first poetry critique, I was uneasy; in a defensive mode; but then realized that if I write it, put it out there, then I am susceptible. Mary, your critique was non-threatening and offered a different perspective in terms of how my poem could have been more powerful. Thank you.

  2. Really good to hear! Thanks. Hope you continue to write and write and read your fine work aloud.