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I wrote a comment in response to Simon DeDeo’s response to Don Share’s post below. It dovetails with Rigoberto’s call this week for more reviewing.
I don’t disagree with Rigoberto. As an author, I loved getting reviews. As a critic, I like reading them, especially if the reviewer has style. But what’s in it for the reviewer? If everything you write is positive, you’re seen as merely a booster. If you write anything negative, you’ll isolate yourself. Just to assume the critical distance, the authoritative mien of the reviewer, will isolate you.
These letters to Poetry magazine include valuable information by Eavan Boland, Mary Kinzie, Brian Phillips, Peter Campion, and our very own Emily Warn on what it means to review. I won’t try to paraphrase their considered judgments here.
There are other problems with reviewing (for the big venues like the New York Times). One is the interdiction against reviewing “friends,” which may include anyone from lovers to teachers to blurbers. In our small but very fractured and contentious poetry world, this is a journalistic convention well worth chucking. One can still have something to say, and a lively way of saying it, even if one is acquainted personally. Not objective, you say? Well, is every non-famous poet’s review of a famous poet more objective? Is it objective to review every book Knopf or Norton publishes, but to eschew anything by Hanging Loose or Burning Deck?
On the flip side of the coin, at the Poetry Project Newsletter which I edited for 2 years and wrote reviews for intermittently since 1998 or so, there was almost complete freedom but little quality control; lots of favors being asked but very few being returned. It was a hustle. Just because people do work for free doesn’t mean it’s pure or good.
I still write reviews, so I must find some pleasure in it — the pleasure of crafting sentences, the pleasure of arguing out loud. But it certainly has its own deformation professionnelle.