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Don't Be A Poem-Panner!

Written by: Rhona McFerran

I despise censorship, so this is the only time I will tell you what you “should” or “should not” write... But, I've found an over-critical attitude in some of the poem comments that is deeply disturbing. For lack of a better term, I will call this attitude “poem-panning”. Instead of posting comments expressing appreciation or encouragement, panners feel the need to “sift” other poets' work, and if they don't fully approve of what they discover there- toss it aside like dirt. Whether blatantly critical or polished up with “helpful suggestions”, the current of disrespect that runs through these comments is both hurtful and counterproductive.

Poetry is very personal.  Most people write to express the inner thoughts, emotions, and ideas they otherwise would have no outlet for.  Because the joy of writing lies within a free, creative expression of yourself, people write poetry in many different ways. For some, this means uniquely crafting their meaning within a chosen form or “structure”. For others, this means “breaking the rules” and writing in their own style (which is limitless). The only unbreakable rule of poetry is that it adds some sense of satisfaction to the writer (and sometimes the reader).

I say “sometimes” the reader will gain satisfaction from poetry, as different people enjoy different kinds of poetry and expression. There is no “one size fits all” poem! No matter how brilliant the work, only certain people will deeply, richly understand and enjoy it as its author did. And this is fine. It actually takes pressure off of you as you write, to know that you have no obligation to please anyone with your words, save yourself!

The flip side of this is that we cannot approach each others writing with the attitude that we demand to be satisfied or entertained! If you find a poet whose writing floods your heart with joy and admiration (perhaps even a touch of wistful envy), by all means, follow that poet and leave glowing praise and comments for the poems you enjoy!

But, if you read a poet's work only to feel disappointed, frustrated or confused, understand that this was not written for you. Do not criticize. Do not attack or tear them down for expressing opinions not your own. Simply (and kindly) move on. This is not Facebook or CNN. Poetry was not meant the masses, but for those who felt alone in the world (or their experience of it), until they- or someone else, expressed what was in their heart.

As I said before, poetry is very personal, so it is difficult not to take negative comments personally. “Helping” others by correcting their spelling and grammar, or even advising them to change their style (or content) is not being helpful unless they solicited your advice in the first place. Even then, tread gently- as you are stepping within their heart!

With all the wide array of humanity, there is a place for everyone in poetry- and an audience for everyone as well. Write your heart, read your heart, find and build your tribe... but, in the meantime, be kind!