Many thanks to Richard Epstein  for this illuminating comment below on a distinction that has long perplexed me:

I think you have “critique” confused with “criticism.” It is a confusion which is epidemic on poetry boards. Even if you are right, and at a certain level of competence and sophistication, critiquing is no longer useful, criticism always is. Criticism explicates a poem, unfolds it, shows how it works and what it does, places it historically, places it in an author’s oeuvre. When we think of criticism, we are thinking of Eliot and Johnson and Jarrell and Brooks; they weren’t trying to help a writer improve himself. Theirs was a dialogue between the critic and the audience, not between the critic and the poet.

Critiquing is useful, but only at a rudimentary level. Our goal as poets is to move past critiquers to the critics; our goal as critics is to find poems worth, not critiquing, but criticizing.

Here’s an old discussion on the difference between critiquing and reviewing.

Here are the not-very-illuminating relevant bits from Merriam-Webster, for what they’re worth:

2: the art of evaluating or analyzing works of art or literature; also : writings expressing such evaluation or analysis

: an act of criticizing; especially : a critical estimate or discussion
: to examine critically : review

6 a: a critical evaluation (as of a book or play)

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Nic Sebastian

Nic is the author of Forever Will End On Thursday and Dark And Like A Web. She founded the now-archived Whale Sound site and is co-founder of The Poetry Storehouse. Nic blogs at Very Like A Whale and Voice Alpha.

5 thoughts on “Critique/Criticism/Review?”

  1. As my friends know–because I’ve been boring them with the distinction for years–I think the crucial difference is the audience you’re addressing. In a critique, whether in the classroom or a poetry board, the reader is talking to the poet: their joint project is improving the poem. In criticism the critic is talking to the audience; the poet forms no part of the dialogue. The critic and audience are trying, in as large a sense as possible, to understand the poem, not improve it. When Eliot writes on Milton or Marvell or Dante, he’s addressing us, not them; as far as he’s concerned, their job was done when they completed their poems.

  2. That’s so intersting – I think people don’t know the definitions (I sure didn’t – the fine distinctions between, that is), which is why so much criticism rips poets apart; why critique has become overdone, and why review has become almost useless.

    For me – all of these things function much better when you take the negativity out of it altogether. I sort of feel like, if something strikes me and I react with negativity, the most important question is to ask why. It’s too easy just to say something’s bad or wrong. It’s all about the why.

  3. Yes, it’s helpful all round – to you, the audience and the poet, depending on your purpose in writing – if you can articulate the reasons something strikes you wrong. It’s not always easy.

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