I like my coffee with sugar-free vanilla stuff in it. I like sandwiches without cheese. I like to read in a quiet, well-lit room. But when it comes to feedback on my poems, it's hard to pin down what I prefer, and what works best for me. Except when I experience it firsthand.
Of course, we all want to hear that our poems are brilliant and need no fixing, but that's rarely the case. It's useful to know minor things that might be fixed. In my experience as a poetry group member (in several different states, and over ten-ish years, and in many different groups), it seems that there's often little dialogue about trends in a poet's work, and overall global things that are more difficult to talk about, versus the minor fixes. And how does that really help?
It's like a quickie triage clinic. Here's a band-aid for that. Oh yeah, and a little ice to help with the sting.
It's a rare talent, being able to read one poem and discuss things like narrative inconsistencies, the battle between lyric moments, and so on. I know that I've given some skimpy advice in the past, as well as receiving it. What I can't stand, though, is when I hear:
a) I just don't get it.
b) It just doesn't work for me.
The spontaneous nature of in-person poetry groups seems to make this kind of commentary more acceptable than it would be in writing. The best poetry groups are the ones that make you want to write. The worst...I guess that would be the opposite. I know that I'm in a bad poetry group situation when I consider writing poems of a certain sort just so that I won't rock the boat.
How do you feel about poetry groups, or informal workshops? Have they helped you? Hindered your work? What makes some groups better than others? Do you have advice for making them succeed? For making them fail? For rebooting them?