Twice a month, in Northampton MA, a group of poets meet to read and critique each other’s work. The meet-up is the brainchild of poet and translator, Michael Favala Goldman. It’s open to all poets and has been running for two years now. We asked Michael to reflect upon the impact of the meetings and the value of poets coming together like this.

The beginning

The Poetry Critique Meet-Up began as a brainstorm one day when I was reflecting on poetry seminars I had participated in. Such seminars often require a long commitment, travel, a steep price, or all of the above. I had a vision of a low-commitment, low-cost poetry mini-seminar. It already takes courage just to write poetry and to share it with strangers. I wanted to eliminate as many other barriers as possible.

I brought my idea to a Straw Dog Writers Guild (SDWG) program committee meeting, and when SDWG was asked to collaborate on writing programs with the Northampton Center for the Arts (NCA), my proposal was accepted.

Poets who wish to attend can sign up through the SDWG website. There is a $5 fee, which goes to the Eli Nemetz-Todd Fund to support writing workshops in the Pioneer Valley.

In service of poetry

The Poetry Critique Meet-Up has been running twice per month since June of 2018 now. Between six and ten poets meet for two hours. Each person gets a chance to present one original poem aloud and get feedback from everyone in the group.

I do not present a poem, but as facilitator, my role is to help create an atmosphere where a kind of instant community can be formed.

As I tell the participants before the feedback sessions, “It’s not about you, it’s about the poems.” We are there in service of poetry.

Our efforts are to make the poems the best they can be. I also provide a five-minute monologue on writing poetry after our short break in the middle of the session.

One participant wrote: “Just a note to say how much I have gotten from the critique meetings you have moderated. I have  participated in similar groups before, but found the quality of feedback uneven, at best. You took my breath away with your positive comments about my poem. And the suggestions you and others offered have helped me improve the poem already. I’m so grateful for your time and wisdom, and for the graceful way you manage the sessions. Thank you!!”

In service to each other

It is difficult, nearly impossible, to write a really great poem. But we dedicated poets continue to try. We observe our inner and outer worlds, scour them for beauty and misery, and transfer our discoveries to a page, with varied success.

And it is so difficult, nearly impossible, to be objective about one’s own writing. But as a community of writers, in a meet-up such as this, we remind one another where we are succeeding, and where we can polish the facets of our poems that aren’t quite yet reflecting truly.

For me, there is something gratifying, comforting even, to be in a group of poets for a couple of hours. In the service to art and to each another, I find the worries of the world outside the door seem a bit more distant.

Afterward, when we leave the room, whether real or virtual, I hope the others in the group feel similar to me – that I am no less vulnerable than before, but I bear my vulnerability with less loneliness.

Michael Favala Goldman
Author: Michael Favala Goldman

Michael Favala Goldman is a poet, a jazz clarinetist and a widely-published translator of Danish literature. Over 140 of his translations and poems have appeared in literary journals. Among his fifteen translated books are The Water Farm Trilogy by Cecil Bødker, Dependency by Tove Ditlevsen (a Penguin Classic), and Something To Live Up To – Selected Poems of Benny Andersen. His first book of poetry, Who has time for this? was published in 2020. He lives in Northampton, MA, where he has been running bi-monthly poetry critique groups since 2018.

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