Mixed Reviews

How to deal with reviews and critiques that don't all agree.

Books dealing with the issue

Influence of critics' experience

Critics vary because there are

A particular poem's best feature might be one that a particular critic's insensitive to but articulate about.

Comments vary because

Convergence proceeds by

In an interpretive community (a workshop) the various types of critic can be mutually beneficial - articulate critics can provide phrases for the inarticulate; the cynic can bring to light features that were overlooked in a gush of praise, etc. An online community is a miniature, accelerated version of culture at large.

Group dynamics has long been a subject for psychologists. Cults led by charismatic leaders (Jim Jones, Kuresh) might form one model for literary groups, as might self-help therapy groups. Obedience and conformance have been investigated. Some groups by their nature will contain people who dislike disagreement. Literary groups (like protest groups, etc) might attract those who are comfortable with lively debate - people join because they like being different. Asch's classic experiments have shown how easily people can deny the evidence of their own eyes when assessing something objective, submitting to the majority opinion. With poetry, where judgement is more subjective, more socially-defined, some people want the certainty that authority can provide, and trust the "leader".

Work has also been done to see how minorities can influence majority opinion. Flexible negotiation is best when differences are large. If differences are small, the minority often succeed best if they rigidly stick to their guns, though this risks accusations of dogmaticism.

A minority in a literary group can often hold views (about obscurity, obscenity, etc) which are held by a majority in society as a whole.

Another documented effect is that of "group polarization" where the group comes to an opinion that is in the same direction as the individual opinions, but more extreme (lingering self-doubts abated).

Online/Offline workshops

How Facilitators can help

Though a diversity of interpretations is to be welcomed, it can be confusing. Facilitators can help by weeding out erroneous interpretations, consolidating similar interpretations, generalising interpretations, and trying to reduce the influence of egos on the course of discussions.

Richards (p.13) prioritised areas of interpretational difficulties as follows (note - the subgroups are mine)

Workshop poets usually want to know if their poem's any good and what parts they should re-write. A group can agree on the merit of a poem and which parts need work even if the members' justification of their opinions vary widely. In these cases facilitators can focus on outcomes.

Updated December 2007
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Tim Love