Monday, December 22, 2008

Thinking about poetry reviews

My father once told me not to read reviews. He says that they will say positive things for all the wrong reasons and negative things for all the wrong reasons. I have been thinking of this lately. I used to review poetry books and loved it, but had to quit because life got in the way. I worked for Jewish Book World, Harvard Review, St. Marks and a few others.

I have very particular ideas on how to interact with poems. I believe that a reader should let a poem unfold to him or her. I think a reviewer/teacher should figure out what the poem/poet is trying to do. I think the reader should set aside their own prejudices and expectations. One will not read a Michael Palmer or a Jill Essbaum or a Mary Oliver poem in the same way. All have their failings and successes -- note, I haven't seen a poet who only writes good poems, although Palmer and Rilke probably come close. When reviews/teachers have rigid expectations -- say, I only like trendy post-language poetry or the poem MUST have a narrative -- the review is going to be, ultimately, unfair and not as complex. I wish poets were more flexible. Why can't we cross all the fake barriors we have set up. The barriors actually have nothing to do with poems themselves. They are reflections of snobbery, academia, and personalities. 

That's today's two cents.

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