Here’s a kind and thoughtful review of Forever Will End On Thursday from Peter Stephens. As I said about the last review of the collection: “it’s wonderful, it feels tender and respectful – and nourishing – when someone pauses in their life to make a moment of stillness and focus centered on your poems, gathers their thoughts on the poems, and writes them down.”
Beyond that, there are two things I especially like about Peter’s review. One is that he makes connections, as they present themselves to his mind, between my work and others’ work. It’s not really important for the purpose of marking this feeling to whom, or how, these connections are made. Just the fact of connections is very good. It’s a nice and new (for me) feeling to be ‘situated’ like that – as part of a tapestry, a stream, a wholeness, a poemy aural bigness.
Which sort of contradicts the second thing I especially like about Peter’s review, which is a lonelier and more separate thing, but – I don’t know – just as whole, too. Which is where he says:
There’s a longing to connect inherent in the act of creation, but it can’t come on the cheap. Poetry that fails to take risks or that papers over the inherently difficult relationship between author and reader is rarely worth reading. I don’t expect those issues to underlie a newspaper article, but I love it when I feel it in poetry. I want to feel in poetry a kind of existential tug, a sense that the writer is on her own, the poem is on its own, and I’m on my own, too. Only then can the three of us work to build real bridges.
Here is a a Peter poem at Whale Sound and there is also where Dave Bonta made it into a video poem. You can also hear Peter reading someone else’s poem in this Whale Sound group reading.
I ask for a couple of reasons. One is a passing remark by UK poet Dick Jones, who recently commented on this blog in response to a whining post on poetry reviewing in the US, one of a few resulting in part from Kent Johnson on poetry reviewing. Dick said: “Not true, by and large, within the UK poetry community. Whilst oblique strategies of critique might be employed – damning with faint praise, for example – flame wars are frequent.” Which made me think.
Then there are the online chapbook reviews accompanying the latest edition of the UK poetry review/publishing journal Sphinx. If you skim through, you’ll see that a good number of these reviews quite matter-of-factly highlight negative aspects of the work they are reviewing as well as positive aspects. This one by Liz Bassett, this one by Helena Nelson, or this one by Rob Mackenzie, for example. Which doesn’t seem to be at all how we do it in the US as a rule.
Rob (one of a handful of UK poets who also frequent the US poetry blogosphere) has a post on the Magma poetry blog today recapping the recent US blogosphere discussion on poetry reviewing and seeking comment from Magma readers. I look forward to seeing what our UK counterparts have to say on the topic.
Maybe they’ll give us some ideas…?
Late update: Because I just saw this at Todd Swift’s Eyewear. Not about reviewing, but pertinent, I think.
Do American and British poetry ignore each other?
And if they do, is that good or bad?
Is all new with feast upon feast of poetry reviews and other delectations. I have a review of Jill Alexander Essbaum’s amazing collection Harlot up, and don’t miss Tom Beckett’s interview with featured poet Reb Livingston.
This is my first published review and it took me on all sorts of adventures. Jill’s poems are rewarding material in that sense — they remind you deeply of things you didn’t even know you knew and send you scurrying off after connections and make you want to work out and connect with the ideas inherent in them. It was a lot of work but thoroughly rewarding on many levels.
Many thanks to Galatea editor Eileen Tabois for the opportunity and for the riches on offer once again.
“So when Guriel wonders why it’s no big deal when movie or music critics pan movies or music, yet why it’s so rare that poets pan the work of their contemporaries, the answer seems somewhat clear: The fields of criticism in the other arts operate with a relative degree of autonomy from the fields of cultural production they critique (most movie critics aren’t directors, for instance), while poetry, poor sister, has no substantially independent field of criticism that shadows it. Or to put it another way, critics in the other arts can and do operate like writers for Consumer Reports, and they readily lambaste poor products in their purview; ladder-climbing poets inhabit the cubicles of the very industry whose products they would and should lambaste, but if they do, they know the whistle-blower tag may ensue.”
And lots more other good stuff in this letter by Kent Johnson in Mayday Magazine. The comments are just as interesting.
“.. what we need in poetry are more people who don’t have a stake in it, more people who don’t know the people, the real people behind the words to care about poetry enough to write about it. This is true in every other field, it seems, but us. This is a problem because there is hardly any “demand” for poetry beyond practicing poets.”
Victoria Chang making an excellent point. When was the last time you read a review of someone’s poetry by a practicing poet that said: I consider this work weak, for the following reasons…?
Either people (and that includes me) say stuff is great, or they say nothing. I’ve been on a recent roll of ordering and reading chapbooks and collections by poetry blogosphere poets. Some of it is really good stuff and I have been and will continue to write enthusiastically about it.
Some of it, though, makes me go WTF?! and wonder what the publishing world and standards in general are coming to. I could defend my WTF reactions meaningfully and respectfully in reviews, I think, but I’m choosing not to. Choosing not to even begin to go there.
For snivelingly cowardly reasons, mostly related to my self-interest as an aspiring poet myself.
Woe is me. And us. Where are we going to get the critical feedback we really need, if we’re all so busy scratching each other’s backs…?
Related post here.
Woohoo! Just heard I’ve had a poetry review accepted by Galatea Resurrects for the upcoming issue, due out towards the end of the month.
Formal reviewing is a new interest for me. I was surprised by how much reading, work and thought and connection-making went into it. I’ll write more about the process as I lived it at some point, but it did confirm one thing for me — that ideas in poetry are important to me, and their importance is not just a matter of intellectual apprehension. The intellectual apprehension feeds the emotional response. And vice versa.
Or something like that.
a helping hand here would be nice. See para 4.