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I have a certain friend who appears to be enjoying writing, particularly poetry. Unfortunately, I do not appreciate the poetry she writes. Her poetry often reads like the inner voice of a person involved in a particular theme. While I think that this style and her themes are a valid setup for poetry, I do not feel that her poetry is aesthetically interesting or well written.

How can I appropriately respond when she shares her poetry with me? I believe that constructive criticism is the right way to go, but I do not know how to vocalize what would make her poetry better since I am not particularly involved with poetry myself.


For context, all the conversations with this friend happen over text. I happen to have been introduced to her by a mutual acquaintance. When she brings up her poetry, usually it does not have much context: she would usually just attach a picture saying something like "read this sometime" or often without any particular context at all

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    Do you know why she shares her poetry with you? (hopefully she doesn't just hand you a piece of paper and then stare at you expectantly until you say something, right?) Also how does she bring this up with you? Over text? In person? And lastly, how close is your relationship with her? Is this a coworker? Acquaintance? Or a childhood friend you've known all your life? – scohe001 Dec 24 '19 at 19:54
  • @scohe001 I edited the question to add some more context – Agnishom Chattopadhyay Dec 24 '19 at 20:09
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    That looks better for context--thanks! Just one last question for you: what is it you're hoping to communicate or what kind of outcome are you looking for here? Are you trying to get her to stop sending them to you? Trying to hold a conversation about them because you admire the effort even though you're not a fan of the work itself? As it stands now, your question looks a little like "What should I do?" which is off-topic here. Can you clarify your goal? – scohe001 Dec 24 '19 at 21:02
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    Why do you believe that " constructive criticism is the right way to go"? Are you trying to make her a better poet? Or would you just rather not get sent poetry you don't like? Or do you want tips on how to be polite when someone sends you something you don't appreciate? – Kate Gregory Dec 25 '19 at 4:11
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    Hello! We have a couple past questions on the site about giving feedback to friends on their creative works - do either of these help you? How can I tell a friend that their self-published book needs editing? or How to tell my friend his novel's ending is too predictable but he should keep writing it? (though if she's not specifically asking you for feedback, the second link might not be as relevant.) – Em C Dec 26 '19 at 18:51
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You could take St. Thomas More's tack in A Man for All Seasons:

To me [your music] seemed delightful. ... I should in fairness add that my taste in music is reputedly deplorable.

Not, of course, in those words, but something along those lines: Sorry, I'm not the reader you're looking for. Your poetry is probably delightful but it doesn't strike a chord in me (or, more neutrally: It's nice but I don't have much to say about it, sorry). Speaking as a writer of poetry, humility about the arts is a perfectly reasonable way to send me a message.

This assumes that your goal is to avoid being faced with the awkward situation of being sent poetry with the expectation of a response that you don't feel inclined to give. If your goal is to actively improve this person's poetry, you have to ask yourself a few questions first:

  • Are they looking for constructive criticism? Not all sharing of creative work is about that. Often, serious writers realize that the people around them aren't critics, just audiences, and don't seek feedback from them. And less serious writers may not want to go through the editing process if they've expressed what they feel and it's served its purpose. Make sure to respect that some people write for other reasons than to make refined art.

  • Are you qualified as a critic, or would you just give your own impressions? If the latter, will those be of use to them — is it what they were looking for? Sometimes people just want a sympathetic reader, and it's no offence to find that someone isn't. You shrug and move on.

  • Is it your style of poetry? I find that I'm a decent critic of poetry, but I also recognize that there are many dissimilar genres. Some are not my taste. I have no useful feedback to give to the writers of those kinds, just my blessing to go do what they enjoy.

If you still want to go the constructive criticism route, I suggest you simply check first. Ask if she would like constructive feedback on the poem. If she says no, OK. And even if she accepts, assume it's tentative — amateur writers often enthusiastically ask for feedback without knowing how it will go. Reflect on how she reacts, and if it doesn't seem appreciated, also OK: no need for a repeat trial.

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