Sonnet Building Step 5: “Final Dress”

[If sonnets just aren’t your cup of tea, check out the related prose discussion below.]


Sonneteers! At this point, you’ve done everything you can on your own to make your sonnet shine. The next step, if you’re up to it, is getting outside feedback. Now if you’re like me, you have a poetry critique group to turn to. But I’ve found that to be pretty rare. So… I’m offering to be your critique group.

IF you want feedback, I will give it to you. If you’re really brave, you can post your sonnet in the comments and see what all of the sonneteers have to offer. If you’re a little more hesitant than that, you can email me privately at

Scared? Worried that I’ll tear you apart? Well, I’m not that type of critiquer. And the best way to assure that you get only what you need is to ask. When you email me your poem, preface it with what you want. “This is my first sonnet, and I’m not concerned about meter so much as the overall concept. Does the story come across to you?” Or “I want to submit this to a sonnet contest but my meter isn’t perfect. Can you help me smooth it out?” Etc. I’m not going to give you feedback that you aren’t ready for.

And if you want to share your poem with me without asking for critique, I’d love that! I absolutely want to read your sonnets, whenever you finish them, and I completely understand if you don’t want critique! I understand that everyone is at their own level, and I’m not going to judge you in a negative way. I promise. =)

If you didn’t finish your sonnet, I’d love to hear why. You can be completely honest with me. And if you have suggestions or things I might think about if I ever teach this material again, please let me know.

For those of you wondering what’s involved in poetry critique, here are some of the things I hear a lot:

  • word choice (if a word or phrase gives the wrong tone)
  • meter
  • rhyme
  • title choice
  • factual accuracy
  • clarity of meaning
  • overall flow and rhythm
  • message of poem


So what do you do once you’ve received your critique? You absorb, evaluate, and implement.

There’s no reason to be afraid of feedback. It’s just someone else’s opinion. You are still the writer. If they say “this sounds bad,” and you disagree, you don’t have to change it. It’s your creative project, remember? Consider, decide, and act. No good critiquer is going to be insulted if you don’t agree with what they say.


Not everyone shares my goals of publication. That’s perfectly fine. But I will admit that if you’ve spent so much effort on a poem… I can’t understand why you wouldn’t want to share it with someone. Whether it be me, your spouse, your cat, or at a local open mic night, I encourage you to show it to someone you trust.

And if you’re really brave, submit it for publication! I have tips on how to get started with that both here and here. Also, mention this to me in your email and I might be able to recommend a venue to you.

Posts in the Sonnet Building series:

Step 1: “Gathering DNA”

Step 2: “Structuring a Skeleton”

Step 3: “Filling out the Flesh”

Step 4: “Muscle Sculpting”

Step 5: “Final Dress”

* * *

Prosers: How do you decide when to listen to critique feedback, and when to let it wash over you? Have you ever had an experience that made you question your own judgment?

Sonneteers: Thanks so much for joining me! Writing a sonnet is no easy feat, and I really admire your courage in giving it a try. Hopefully it was a positive experience for you, even if you didn’t come out with quite what you expected. I wish you the best of luck in your future poetry endeavors.

In case you’ve missed it, here’s the whole series:

Intro to Sonnet Building 101
Sonnet Building Step 1: “Gathering DNA”
Sonnet Building Step 2: “Structuring a Skeleton”
Sonnet Building Step 3: “Filling out the Flesh”
Sonnet Building Step 4: “Muscle Sculpting”
Sonnet Building Step 5: “Final Dress” (above)

I hope you’ve all had a great National Poetry Month!

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  • Richardsfive

    How do I decide on what critique points to listen to? I usually have a gut reaction of some sort, mild or strong. If the reaction is mild, I’ll let it percolate a short time and then go ahead and make changes (or not). If the reaction is strong, I’ll let it percolate a looong time and argue with myself about it (yes, I talk to myself and I’m not ashamed – just careful to be aware of who might be listening). In the end I don’t make changes I don’t feel confortable with, because writing is something I do for me and it must make me happy. Otherwise it has no place in my life and I’ll do something else.

    • I totally agree. In the end, you’re the writer, not your critique partners, and if you don’t agree, you shouldn’t make the change. It hurts me a little to see really new or timid writers making every single change suggested, because I know they just haven’t found confidence in their own voice yet. So bravo for knowing exactly what you want and going for it. You give fantastic feedback, too. =)

  • Jeffrey

    I sent you my first sonnet. I’ll confess, I took the whole day to do it. Your encouragements were helpful, and your items for improvement were like hundreds of borrowed candles added to my own pitiful few. I learned a good deal about what I’m doing, a good deal about what I meant to do with that sonnet and what I might do differently were I to do it again.

    I tried to stuff way too much in to one sonnet, and am considering filling out the same picture, more detail, by doing a tryptich. Three sonnets, each built to hold some characteristic of the larger picture I was attempting to cram into my 14 lines. Give more room to explain why in my sonnet, the crows used to give advice to those Kings who worked for peace by praying for truce, not by preparing for war. Like the farmer who prays to the clouds for rain, makes a totem. In the end, he takes what he gets, but – and this was something else I wanted to portray and failed to – loss, grief, feels like murder to him. He takes it personally when good seems randomly plucked from the world. When the poet died, it wasn’t enough to be sad, to feel absence. It felt deliberate, a kris-licked wound that he doesn’t necessarily want to heal completely.

    It’s good to have pain, good to feel jagged about loss. Good to keep as much of what the poet gave us breathing, keep a pulse to it somehow. We placed cats in the burial chamber, gold, chocolate, cavalry.

    Maybe not for protection though. Maybe it’s like, mythologically we’re saying, “Make some noise.”

    Sorry to include the whole book here. . . Thank you for the help. Posting publicly. Any critique from your readers is welcome.

    Murder is an Odd Number of Crows

    three crows impose a requiem retreat
    above, the bone slow censer of a wake
    below capacity for venting heat
    their silver lights gone down upon the lake.

    before, the trees were occupied with winds
    the crows by twos would tease their whispers loose
    or arch their backs to brush the stars and spin
    so whisper rites to Kings who’d pray for truce.

    before, when tree tops stitched the Muses lace
    which crows by twos would lavish on the sea
    the poet’s lines would spring up from that place
    prevailing in the silver colloquy.

    a murder means there’s nothing more to say.
    a murder tells one crow to go away.

    • Hi Jeffrey,

      Thank you so much for all of your kind words. You were the first sonneteer to send me your finished poem, and I’m really glad that you found my feedback helpful and encouraging! Not to mention that I think you have a natural poetic instinct that made you a fantastic “student.” How lucky am I?

      A triptych of sonnets sounds absolutely lovely. I can see something like that published in a several-page spread of a nice literary magazine. And I agree that this poem has plenty in it that can be unpacked and delved into, so I like your idea. (Also, your explanation of your concepts is amazing. I definitely want to read more!)

      “It’s good to have pain, good to feel jagged about loss,” with a few metrical tweaks, could even be one of the lines in your next two sonnets!

      Thanks so much for jumping in head-first. I’ll be looking for your name in the future. =)

  • Thank you for all your posting help! I’m in grade 8 and we had to do an assignment on poetry. We had the liberty of choosing whatever type of poetry we wanted. So I decided to challenge myself and wrote a sonnet. To tell you the truth, I did skip over a couple of your posts because of the fact that I was on such a restricting timeline, but what I did read was very helpful. Your posts taught me more on how to write sonnets than all the other sites I visited combined.
    So my sonnet is called ‘Goodbye’ and here it is!

    In our youth florescent dreams of friends race,
    We had thought nothing would spread us afar,
    Yet soon the day of farewell will show it’s face,
    Like a bad joke that has gone way too far,

    Soon the day will come when we say so long,
    When we will have just one last parting dance,
    And we will sing our last departing song,
    To show the end of our childhood romance,

    But somehow it seems like just yesterday,
    As the curtain falls on the swept dance floor,
    That we were together for the first day,
    Dreaming not of what which we can’t ignore,

    And we will comply to our chosen fate,
    As our friendships will start to abrogate.

    The poem is based on how much I’m going to miss my friends, as they are all going to a different highschool than me.

    • Hi Joshua. Thanks so much for the comment; I love that you found my posts useful for your assignment. This sonnet is very moving; I would be absolutely stunned if you didn’t get an A+. It takes me back to when I was split into different schools from my friends after 7th grade, and it’s a powerful emotion. I hope you find some wonderful new friends at your new school. And I really encourage you to keep writing poetry; you have a lot of talent! Thank you for sharing this with me.