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On writing about writing: 32 poet/critics respond

By Sina Queyras

Thanks for bringing up the review question again, Craig. I have been drafting and deleting responses to all this for weeks now. My instinct is to let the reviews stand on their own–each voice adds something good to the “great bran pie,” as Woolf might describe it. Any attempt to summarize seems bound to simplify.

For those who don’t know, from December 2009 to March 2010 32 poet/critics responded to the same 10 questions on reviewing. I then posted those interviews on my blog.  There are a few more on the way, but this is the bulk, I believe, and represents a far more nuanced discourse than most discussions about reviewing allow for, or that I could entertain on my own.

My frustration, and part of the reason I endeavored to curate this discussion, is the insistence on and defense of what people call “negative reviews.” I question what people consider negative in the first place, but moreover I resist the argumentative culture that comes out of simply having an either/or scenario. What an unnecessary dichotomy: on the one hand positive, noodly, glosses, on the other critical rigor. I don’t see reviewing as an either or proposition. Who wouldn’t want a rigorous review of their work? Who would prefer a gloss over critical engagement? Seriously.

It seems to me, particularly in Canada, we have had this binary used to deflate difference for too long. Anything that resists hierarchical evaluation is cast out as flaky. But one of the real uses of this negative stance it seems to me–and to several people below–is as a tactic to cast “other” as “less than.” To constantly uphold the poet or book of poetry under review as symptomatic of or a solution to the ills of contemporary poetry. Such as the post prior to this that suggests in the end, Kenneth Goldsmith’s provisional language is somehow to blame for something to do with to with the lack of readers.

My point is a simple one: there are many ways to review, and review well, more ways to write about poetry that open it up to new readers. But one opinion doesn’t quite cut it. The folks below have much more to say on the subject.


Posted in Uncategorized on Tuesday, April 6th, 2010 by Sina Queyras.