I enjoy doing OPOIs (it stands for ‘one point of interest’) for Sphinx Review, the brainchild of Helena Nelson at HappenStance Press. The form, 350 words on one thing you liked about a new pamphlet, works like all forms – the restriction becomes a kind of freedom. If you haven’t written any criticism before it is a good, supportive place to start. By ‘criticism’ I mean any kind of reflection on how literature does and doesn’t work, though these days the word will seem negative to many people. There is no reason why this has to be the case.
For me, the beauty of the OPOI is that because of the word limit you have to direct that attention on the poems. There’s no room to speculate. Two recent efforts are below, on Stewart Sanderson’s An Offering and Hannah Lowe’s The Neighbourhood.
In the first, I talk about how rhyming can help a poem carry an argument or a narrative. I’ve been thinking about this again recently reading Pope properly for the first time, most of which is in rhyming couplets. Pope’s ‘Essay on Criticism’, incidentally, argues that the point of criticism is to encourage what is good. Hannah Lowe’s pamphlet is very close to home: my street in Brixton is on the front cover. In the OPOI I talk about how one poem in the pamphlet deals with different kinds of distances.*
*Even if you agree with Pope that criticism is a positive thing, the question then, is – who wants to put themselves forward as the arbiter of what is good? To which you can only really ask: who else is going to do it? Books want readers! At the end of the day, you are only explaining what you like and it is worth bearing that in mind…