An introdcution to the thorny question of deciding whether a poem is any good or not.
There comes an inevitable part of any process of practical criticism when the critic has to ask herself, is this poem any good? Is it better than others? How can I judge what is good and what is not good in poetry? There are several ways to approach answering these questions and, preferably, several component parts to a composite but complete answer.
The first point is quite easy to determine: has the poem been written with skill and subtlety? Is the language used memorable and do the images, similes and metaphors illuminate the central points being made? If the critic is in doubt, it is possible simply to talk about the extent and number of such poetic uses and then note that the poem is more artistic or more everyday in structure and style.
The second point is to relate the content, form and design of the poem to the subject matter. Certain styles and techniques are to be expected in certain types of poems and, if these are not present, then it is worth mentioning it. In a love poem, for example, it is expected that there will be some sort of description of the beloved object or creature: if there is, is the description conventional or does it suggest something unusual in the relationship considered? In general, it is necessary here to compare what is directly observed with what might be expected and then trying to account for any differences. If there is a gap between what should be present and what is actually provided, according to the critic, then it is reasonable to say so.
Third comes the issue of agreement or disagreement with the message or meaning of the poem. While it would not be correct to claim a poem is good because one might agree with its central idea, the opposite is also true and it would be wrong to dismiss a poem as a work of art simply because of ideology that is not acceptable. From a practical point of view, it will often gain extra marks to acknowledge the merits of a poem with which the critic disagrees, since this makes the writer seem fair-minded while also providing the opportunity to begin sentences with constructions such as ‘Although’ and similar.
Finally, it is necessary to make a measured judgment about the poem on the whole. Judgments are usually considered mature if they balance both positive and negative elements and then come out on one side or another. Points are also awarded for judicious use of comparative material: e.g. not as good as x but more powerful than y.