poetry reviewing – do they do it differently in the UK?

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?

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Nic Sebastian

Nic is the author of Forever Will End On Thursday and Dark And Like A Web. She founded the now-archived Whale Sound site and is co-founder of The Poetry Storehouse. Nic blogs at Very Like A Whale and Voice Alpha.

4 thoughts on “poetry reviewing – do they do it differently in the UK?”

  1. I’ve been perusing your blog. It’s among the very best. Really, it’s the finest of its kind. Yours will be one I return to frequently.

    Having lived in England for a year my sense is that the British, culturally and in general, are more intellectually disputatious than Americans. You can sense that rapier combativeness in BBC interviews and I love them for it. I profoundly wish the American press was as confrontational & insightful. The British don’t sugar-coat criticism the way Americans tend to.

    There is good and bad in that.

    That same rapier wit easily turns to vacuous self-importance in mediocre hands. Plenty of that can be found over at Eratosphere.

  2. Thanks, upinvermont! I’m on the fence as to the import of the difference/separation — do we really all want to be one melting pot of Poetry in English, without local distinguishing marks? Does it matter if we are? Having separate pots, as it were, makes smaller ponds for fish to rise in, and fish of different kinds.

  3. Interesting to find this discussion here. I remember writing that review and being very struck by the strengths but also by what I perceived as weaknesses in some of the writing. I think that reviews should be written with a potential reader in mind (rather than the author of the poems) and so think it’s part of their function to present negative aspects if they are there. I would always try to have a healthy respect for what the poet was trying to achieve though, and also be aware that I am only expressing my subjective opinion. What do other people think?

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