Criticism Eyes vs. Enjoyment Eyes

I often think that our reading eyes have two modes: criticism and enjoyment. When we read a published book of poetry or a piece by a famous poet, it usually doesn’t even cross our minds to think of revising it. Even in class when we read poets’ works in Lyric Postmodernisms, we may challenge the artist’s statement, but we never suggest how the poems could be improved. This is because we are using our “enjoyment eyes”. When we read works like this, we often are just seeking to find some pleasure or sense of understanding. Even when reading for class, The Logan Topographies for example, we seek meaning in the poem and question its contrasting aspects, but we never make suggestions for changing the poems. I wonder why exactly this is. In workshop, we are clearly using our “criticism eyes”. We read our peer’s poetry to seek understanding as well, but it seems the main goal is to figure out how the person can better it in some way. Sometimes we may not even want to provide revisions, but feel compelled to tell the person to change something. Is this simply because we know that is what we’re supposed to do in workshop? Because we know we’re being graded on it? I wonder, then, why we don’t view other published poetry this way. Is it because we aren’t in contact with the author? Because we know they probably wouldn’t care even if we did give them suggestions? It may seem like an obvious distinction, but I’m wondering if anyone else has thought of this. Thoughts?

3 Replies to “Criticism Eyes vs. Enjoyment Eyes”

  1. A fascinating dilemma – I think you’re on to something with that distinction.

    But I wonder if we might think of our “criticism” eyes as, instead, our “pedagogic” eyes – our teaching eyes? In making revision suggestions, we might not be saying that the poem is “wrong” as it is (criticism, in the negative sense of the word) but saying “this is another viable option.” In so doing, we’re teaching (pedagogic eyes) ourselves AND the writer how to see the poem and how to make poetry work. In some ways the change eventually made is less important than that larger lesson learned…

  2. I agree that you’re definitely on to something with this distinction, Margot. I think that sometimes it comes in the way we label things–being that all of the work in LP is there because the poets are renowned for their skill, we tend to see that work as something deemed “good.” Based on the classes we’re taking, whether it be a literature class, a history class, or a CRW class, we look at things differently. In literature classes, it’s usually from an analytical standpoint, which often leads to enjoyment. However, I think too often we fall into the trap of feeling as though we have to enjoy everything we read in a class just because it has merit. This goes for LP as well (although I don’t think many of us touched upon our dislikes) but regardless of how famous/meritorious a work or an author is, you don’t have to like them, and you don’t have to have a reason. This is something that’s definitely hard to think about, and has taken me a very long time to learn.

  3. Margot,
    I think your post, as well as Ashley’s comment, really tap into an earlier post from Pam which kind of brought up the idea of looking at published works in a very different way than our own writing. The difference is that Pam mentioned actually starting to critique works by published authors. While I agree with you, Margot, that we definitely are less inclined to start revising a poem that we are reading from a published anthology like Lyric Postmodernisms, I personally found myself marking up poems in that book similarly to the way I do in revision. Of course, I wasn’t revising the poems, because they are published, and I don’t have the opportunity of sitting in workshop with their authors and offering feedback. However, I do think that sometimes our “criticism” (or “pedagogic”) eyes have a tendency to turn on when least expected. You plan on reading a poem for enjoyment, attempting to work out what it means to you, but you end up marking a line break that you wish had been there, or a mark of punctuation that just kills an image. Does this ever happen to you?

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