Today, we are chatting with Luke Prater, the founder of Facial Expression Poetry Circle. FEPC is a community of poets based online that was founded in 2010 on Facebook. Recently, the community moved off Facebook forming their own network. They share poetry and offer each other constructive feedback & critique. FEPC is a community of peers working together to grow as writers.
I suggest you get comfy for a long and exciting read as Luke explains his philosophy on critique and tells us all about the recent move Facial Expression Poetry Circle made to their own network.
River: FEPC is unique. It stands out amongst other poetry communities online with a strong sense of community and a genuine mission of helping poets improve as writers. How did the idea to form FEPC come to you?
Luke: Well…early in 2009, I was getting back in touch with a lot of old friends. They were all saying “you should come on Facebook”. I was not into the idea at all but, I was persuaded and actually I really liked it. Then I saw how the Groups system worked on there, the discussion boards…and I thought “what about starting a group for poetry?” (I didn’t know if there were any other groups that used Facebook for poetry…and actually there were tons of them). I thought a discussion board would be perfect for facilitating poetry critique/an environment of mutual creative growth.
I’m the sort of person that likes to get to the nitty-gritty. If I do something, I like to do it properly. So if I want to talk about poetry, I like to actually talk about it, take it right apart, get right in there. I like to deconstruct and analyze, constructively. I was interested in getting feedback on my own work, and helping others with theirs too. I’ve always enjoyed helping others. So I started the group.
River: What is your philosophy about critique?
Luke: Poetry cannot exist in vacuo. Engagement with the work of others is paramount in our growth as writers. Yes, reading published poetry, the great poets etc, but even more so, our peers. And to comment on their work (especially in a way that shows some effort to grasp/critique etc) is probably 50% of the learning process. I learned more on crit boards like ours in a few months than I did all those years at University. The beauty is that we all learn from one another. Even if you’re presented with a piece that you would consider lacking in many areas, we can learn from the mistakes we see there. What is it about this piece that makes it struggle to sing? (in my opinion; always, in my opinion). Similarly, we are often inspired by the successes of others, and influenced by a technique or device they may have used to create an atmosphere, or some aural quality that works wonders. I wanna try that out! But before we can accept the views of others, a fresh pair of eyes, honest opinions on our work (which we always have the prerogative as poet to take or leave as we feel appropriate), the ego must be left behind for a while. If all we want is a pat on the back, that ego-stroke complimenting our work, then we will grow very slowly as writers. Our ego can be our greatest enemy. The greatest gift a peer can give is their honest opinion on our work.
Key to the functionality of this group, and all like it, is that poets posting their work comment on others, as they like to receive them on their posts. Comments do not have to be ‘crit’, technical, require schooling, etc. People comment any way they want or can. There are plenty who do give critique (and amazing in-depth critique at that); a poet commenting ensures the group continues to run smoothly as posts get shuffled around nicely, and they are engaging with the work of others. This is accelerated learning. Members I’ve seen who don’t have time for other peoples work grow at a far slower rate (and eventually stop posting because no one comments on theirs anymore, I watched it happen).
Read. Read the old Masters. Read the newly-published poets. Read the work of your peers. And ask yourself why it did what it did for you. Or didn’t, as the case may be. And on a Board, you have somewhere to voice that. It helps critiquer and poet. It’s how we learn. Poetry cannot exist in vacuo.
River: Do you think that FEPC is more for form writers?
Luke: No, I think it’s about 50%-50%, or even 60%-40% to free verse. First, I think that poetry is having resurgence right now, but not professionally. It’s become everyone’s hobby. They all want to be a poet, but on a professional level, poetry books still don’t sell well, and, generally speaking, free-verse is what’s in.
River: How do you critique them differently? Is there a different approach that you take when you have a free-verse poem in front of you?
Luke: I find form poetry easier to critique, because I can find technical aspects easier to assess than content.
Somebody once said….. men, like when they look at women, see structure first and content second. When I see a poem, the first thing I see and can assess is the structure, the rhyme, the meter, that kind of stuff. In most critique, people are more likely to look at the content of a poem, and comment on that first. I’m also a musician, so sound/aural device really appeal to me – cadence, rhyme, meter; that grabs me before the visual part (metaphor, etc). I don’t think that it’s essentially different…Free-verse still has a lot of musicality. A good free-verse poet might still use rhyme; even if there is no rhyme whatsoever, there is quite likely to be runs of rhythm, instances of alliteration etc…you know, all the tricks that make poetry aesthetically pleasing aurally. The answer is that actually there’s not much difference. There are also ‘rules’ to free-verse – it’s still structure that I can see. If a piece of free verse is all in one lump, quite likely I’ll suggest stanza-breaks to give it some breathings space, more body, and aid readability.
River: Why did you move Facial Expression?
Luke: The main reason we moved was because Facebook changed their group platform. The key issue was that they got rid of the discussion board… fine for small social groups, but for any kind of in-depth discussion almost impossible and they’ve basically thrown away a whole aspect of their site.
River: Are there advantages to the new location? What is similar? What differences are there?
Luke: It was the best thing that ever happened to us. I found a new site, a professional platform, fully customisable, not bound by shady privacy and work ownership/plagiarism issues, nor glitches/bandwidth lags that we were on WritersCafe (brief stint) or on Facebook. It took the Group to a new level. It’s more than a Discussion Board – it’s our own private network that includes facilities for poetry video embed, visual poetry (image) upload, a blog facility for writing of any kind not going under critical scrutiny (excellent side-feature for those a little tentative around the crit board to begin with), full profiles, chat, no advertising, etc. A bit like having Facebook all to ourselves but just for poetry, and pretty much on our own terms.
River: How many members are there? Active members? Administrators?
Luke: Right from the beginning I wanted to keep the Group small and closed, for two reasons: first, it stays more intimate and the atmosphere is friendly, which is conducive to creativity. Second, it keeps the standard of poetry there high. But I should say this: our policy from day one has been to accept anyone who comes and requests to join. We do not screen new members. What happens is, they then find out for themselves if it’s the right place for them at that particular time vis-à-vis their poetry. Either new members get involved, or they don’t, it’s entirely up to them. Novice poets that join almost always either get straight on the crit board, work hard, absorb everything they can and become fine poets within a matter of weeks (you wouldn’t believe some of the transformations I’ve witnessed – and it’s the most enjoyable, wonderful thing to see), or they realise they are not in a at a point where critique/open discussion of their work would feel beneficial to them. This is not right or wrong, better or worse; it’s just where someone it is at with their work. So members? On leaving Facebook after a year and a half, well over 300. With the transition being fairly recent, we’re building up again; the point more is how many active members… for a very long time now, the board has been incredibly busy for a small group. Constant commenting and posting. We had 3000-plus topics on the board on leaving Facebook (where, usually, the poem begins the topic, but it might be a haiku thread containing several). Aside from the admins (seven), we at any one time probably have about ten (hyper)active members online at any one time. Some are there everyday, some most days, some just around when the have new poetry, others come then go and we might not see them for months.
~A Word Paints a Thousand Pictures~
River: How do you see FEPC in five years?
Luke: As a larger yet still relatively small group/network of poets continuing to grow, learn from one another, and collectively inspire and help shape creative work. A first hardcopy Anthology is being discussed at present; I hope this comes to fruition. I see no reason why it shouldn’t, and more further down the line.