How to Give Constructive Feedback for Poems

Giving and receiving feedback is essential for writers, but it isn’t always easy. Whether you’re providing feedback to a friend, a classmate, or a stranger online, it’s important to consider not just what you’re saying, but how you’re saying it. Research shows that humans often have a natural negativity bias, which makes us more susceptible to focusing on the bad—whether we’re giving feedback or receiving it. To provide constructive feedback, though, we must be aware of our own propensity to focus on the negative and be prepared to work around it. To make your feedback as constructive as it can be, we’ve outlined six tips for giving feedback for poems. 


1. Read carefully.

On your first pass, read without a pen in hand. You shouldn’t be looking for errors, missteps, or room for improvement on your first read-through. You should simply be reading the poem and trying to understand it. Consider what you believe the author’s intent is, who the speaker is, and what they are saying. Don’t assume the author is the speaker, or that the author is writing from their personal perspective. That is not always the case. You may want to go back and repeat this initial step a few times until you feel comfortable summarizing the poem to yourself or to the original author.


2. Point out strengths.

Next, you may want to consider what you like about the poem. What techniques has the author used that you think are working well? What resonated with you? Make notes of these thoughts throughout the poem. This will be meaningful to the author, and it will help you dive into your criticisms with a positive mindset.


3. Ask questions.

Once you’ve completed your initial read-through and have pointed out the poem’s strengths, you can begin identifying weaknesses. At this stage, try to focus on overarching comments about theme, tone, and meaning. Also, consider areas that left you confused or that felt contradictory. Point these areas out to the poet using questions, rather than statements, to offer up your curiosity and give the author a chance to think and respond. This approach can help lead the poet in the right direction rather than tell them where you think they should go.


4. Go for quality over quantity.

A mountain of feedback can be overwhelming, but a few strong comments can make a world of difference. Don’t get into the nitty-gritty of small spelling or punctuation errors (unless you believe they are integral to the interpretation of the poem). If there are several errors, you might suggest a thorough line-edit down the road. For the most part, your comments should focus on form and content. Consider how the author is using language to advance their point. 


5. Avoid your personal preferences.

It is important to identify the line between a critique and a review. You may not like the theme of a poem, or the fact that it’s a haiku, but that doesn’t make it a bad poem. If you don’t think a poem is your cup of tea, it is better to suggest someone else review it who might be better suited to critique that style or genre. There is nothing wrong with saying no when asked for a critique.


6. Be honest. 

Above all, be honest in your feedback. It can be awkward to offer a critique, especially to someone close to you. However, if someone truly wants to improve their work, they will welcome your critiques and value your time.