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No Writer is an Island

IN HIS SELECTED ESSAYS, T. S. ELIOT – THE POET WHO IS EQUALLY WELL-KNOWN AS A LITERARY CRITIC – argues that ‘no writer is completely self-sufficient’ and that the creative powers of a writer are enhanced by their participation in critical activity. Eliot, like Mathew Arnold, another literary critic of an earlier era (1822-88), links creation with criticism.

According to Eliot ‘the literature of the world . . . the literature of Europe . . . the literature of a single country is not the collection of the writings of individuals but organic wholes.’ He calls this the ‘systems in relations’. It is only in relation to this that ‘individual works of literary art have their significance.’

Furthermore, Eliot points out that it is a fallacy to believe that, in subjecting one’s work to criticism, one loses one’s individual voice. It is, he contends, ‘a second-rate’ artist/writer who ‘cannot afford to surrender himself for common action, for his chief task is the assertion of all the trifling differences that are his distinction.’

The writer-critic must ‘practise and practise the art of which they write’. He identifies some vital qualities of the writer-critic, one of which is ‘a highly developed sense of fact’. This involves expanding one’s spheres of facts and knowledge in order to be able to articulate views beyond the individual’s simple likes, dislikes and prejudices. Eliot is mindful that the task of the writer-critic is not without pitfalls. However, he holds that ‘the objective of the writer-critic is merely to put the reader in possession of facts he might have otherwise missed.’ In doing so, Eliot concludes, both the writer and the critic are able to arrive at something outside themselves.

Do you agree with Eliot that your writing is enhanced by your critiquing?

Do you think that, by subjecting your writing to criticism, you lose your individual voice or style?

Do you feel that your writing is part of the ‘organic whole’ of relationships/exchanges with other writers?

Are you able to arrive at what Eliot calls ‘something outside’ yourself by critiquing?

How important do you think it is to expand your knowledge of facts in order to write better?

Do you agree with Eliot that reluctance to subject one’s work to critique diminishes one’s work?

— Golden Langur

That or Which?

THERE ARE SEVERAL SIMILAR WORDS IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE that cause a high degree of confusion: those who use them don’t always understand the correct word to write. This article will shed some light on the use of ‘that’ and ‘which’.

The simple rule to follow here is in asking if the portion of the sentence following ‘that’ or ‘which’ is vital to the understanding of that sentence. If what you read is vital to the understanding, then use ‘that’. If what you read is not vital to the understanding and can easily be removed without upsetting the meaning of the sentence, then use ‘which’.

‘That’ is used in what are known as defining, or restrictive, clauses: what follows ‘that’ is something you can’t get rid of; it restricts or defines the sentence.

So, for example:

The car that travelled at speed was blue.

This implies that there were many cars, but the one that was going fast was blue.

‘Which’, on the other hand, is used in non-defining, or non-restrictive, clauses: what follows ‘which’ is something you can remove; it does not restrict or define the sentence.

So, for example:

The car, which travelled at speed, was blue.

This implies that there was only one car and that we’re not so concerned by its speed. The sentence is making reference to the car and what colour it was. The portion of the sentence between the commas can be removed and the intended meaning of the sentence (that the car was blue) is still intact.

Here are some more examples of ‘that’ and ‘which’:

The book that he loved was left on the train.

(The implication is that this book was loved).

The book, which he loved, was left on the train.

(The implication is that this book was left on the train and, by the way, he loved it).

The dog that eats from the bowl is growling.

(The implication is that there are many dogs but this one is eating and growling).

The dog, which eats from the bowl, is growling.

(The implication is that the dog is the only dog in the scene. The dog is growling and, by the way, it’s also eating).

I saw ten animals that I didn’t recognise in the zoo.

(The implication is that there were more than ten animals seen in total, but these were the ones not recognised).

I saw ten animals, which I didn’t recognise, in the zoo.

(The implication is that there were only ten animals seen in the zoo and, by the way, they weren’t recognised).

In all of this cases, use of ‘that’ highlights important information and use of ‘which’ shows us easily omitted information. We can also use the same thinking when what follows ‘which’ comes at the end of a sentence.

So, for example:

Neutrinos might travel faster than light, which is an amazing idea.

This use of a comma and ‘which’ could easily be replaced by a full stop and ‘This':

Neutrinos might travel faster than light. This is an amazing idea.

In conclusion, ‘that’ and ‘which’ are often confused. By thinking about what the sentence you’re writing is trying to convey, confusion can be eliminated.

— Rafael Shareef

Why Spend Time Reviewing?


Why spend time reviewing? This seems like a fair enough question, and it has more than one answer. The first, and probably most obvious one, is that on any writing site people are more likely to reciprocate and review your work in return. The second, almost as obvious one, is that you are helping a fellow writer to develop by offering praise where it is merited and/or constructive advice where such is available from your knowledge of writing.

Either of these two aims can be achieved with a relatively brief and straightforward comment on a thread, so why should you do more? The answer here is that to do so may be of far greater help to you as a poet than to the poet whose work you are reviewing. It is a fact, however much we may try not to admit it, that it is far easier to be objective about someone else’s work than it is about our own little darlings. By repeatedly reviewing the work of others, we establish an attitude of objectivity, which it then becomes much easier to apply to our own work because we find ourselves doing it subconsciously. This is by far the greatest reason for reviewing, and reviewing in detail, since it provides maximum benefit to the reviewer and the reviewee (is there such a word?). The final reason is that you are a nice person and it’s the kind of thing that a nice person would do.

Initially it is a good idea to start off by deciding how you are going to set about reviewing a piece of work – so think about the things that make a good poem, in your opinion. A few things to consider may be

Rhyme: is there a repeating scheme; are the rhymes end line rhymes or internal ones; are less obvious rhymes present?

Meter: does the poem read fluently or are there changes of rhythm?; if there are changes, do these detract from the poem or add to it by changing the attention of you the reader?

Content: does the poem say something to you, or are the words themselves more than enough to hold your interest?

Are there other features of the poem that particularly appeal to you?

The list is not exhaustive, and everyone will give different weightings to the various elements according to their own personality, but that does not detract from the merit of a well thought through review. So go on, give it a try and surprise yourself by how much you learn.

— David A. Troman

Read, Read, Write

A POEM IS A POEM IS A POEM, RIGHT? Well actually, no. There is good poetry and there is bad poetry to begin with, but even good poetry is not always guaranteed to get published, which is why you need to read, read and even read again.

Read a wide range of publications that feature poetry, and include the ones that feel alien to you as a poet, because they can still help to broaden your understanding of what poetry is.

Once you do this you should see that you need to submit your work to the right market if you want to meet with success. A poem that may well be snapped up by The People’s Friend would almost certainly not make it into The North or Poetry London. They are looking for different things and catering for entirely different readerships: both content and style will differ immensely.

One further useful tool again starts with the action of reading, rather than writing. Many poetry magazines feature review sections. These can be read as plugs for the poetry books in question or they can be read as a guide to what reviewers and publishers are looking for in contemporary poetry. If you read the reviews with that mindset, there is a lot to be gained from them to incorporate in your own writing.

Lastly, and most importantly of all, find what aspects of poetry you enjoy most and make sure that you incorporate them into your writing; then choose your target market accordingly. That way, even if it takes time to become successful, you are going to enjoy the journey as well as the arrival at your destination.

— David A. Troman