At the beginning of my first year in creative writing, the seniors gave the fresh peeps a lesson on what might be the most important assignment in the class: literary critiques. We got a lesson about what literary devices were, and how we would have to write an essay about them, but I focused more on the exciting new aspects of writing—poems, skits, and other fun games. While the topic had been mentioned over the course of community weeks (and quite heavily complained about), I didn’t imagine an essay to be the most difficult part of the class. In middle school, I loved writing essays, especially about works of literature. I had thrived in analyzing tiny aspects of topics, and sharing my perspective on the meaning of situations. I had, naively, hoped that I would be one of the few people who at least semi-enjoyed writing literary critiques. However, my hopes were dashed as soon as I got back the comments on my first draft. A slew of comments, mostly repeating the same message: I was completely all over the place, didn’t stay on topic, and overall had a horrible ability to be concise while still making sense.
Wrapping up our fifth literary critique for this year, I’m beginning to find myself closer to the knowledge of what in the world I am even supposed to be writing about. I chose my own poem to critique for the first time, which I found a liberating while also quite stressful experience. The ability to handpick a poem that specifically stood out to me after paging through websites for a good hour seemed to help me get into a groove of digging through layers of literary dirt. After finishing the first draft, I counted four printed-out copies of the poem, each page so covered in annotations I wished for a pair of binoculars. As the due date loomed closer, I traded drafts with a fellow classmate and felt my inner professor kick in, as I peppered their analysis with responses of my own. I spent what felt like years condensing every note, every question, every single thought that crossed my brain in regards to the poem into four pages of connections and realizations.
None of the process I went through is to say that I’ve gotten particularly good at writing a literary critique, one that doesn’t leave my reader scratching their head and wondering how I managed to write something so completely nonsensical. On my most recent one, for example, while doing peer revisions I received at least three comments simply asking “Natasha, what the heck does this even mean?!” I admit I asked myself that many times while writing: “Natasha, what does anything you’re thinking even mean?” Despite this hagarring inability to do what appears to an outside view a simple assignment, I haven’t given up on ever writing a perfect literary critique, something that makes my reader think to themselves, “Yes, you took the words right out of my mouth!” I still believe that I’ll be able to sound intellectual instead of spewing randomness. Despite the randomness, I would have to admit I love the feeling of getting into a poem. I love spending the day as an archeologist, sifting through mounds of gold in the form of words, and finding pieces that connect like bones creating the skeleton of a newfound perspective.