I’m still on my mission to convince readers of poetry to try their hand at reviewing a book of poetry at least once! It amazes me how when poets publish a book they hold their breaths awaiting critical responses, and then become disgruntled or depressed when no one else gets off their behinds to review a book. The culture of passivity needs to change, and there’s one good way to do it: the Internet.


Since book review sections in newspapers across the country have become stingier with column space (please see the Save the Book Reviews Page campaign over at the NBCC Blog Critical Mass), and since poetry books are usually at the bottom of the priority list (big press fiction and topical nonfiction fare a little better), the chances of receiving attention at a newspaper are slim.
Kirkus, Booklist, Publishers Weekly and the Library Journal are the magazine foursome that includes more poetry reviews, but the succinct, mostly hit-and-run write-ups usually leave much to be desired.
Literary journals are more likely to print reviews of poetry books from small and independent presses, and the reviews are usually more substantial than the thumbnail sketches in the aforementioned magazines. But unless it’s a big-budget affair like Poetry, the literary journals will have a limited circulation and audience. That doesn’t take away from the fact that the poet, the poet’s press and the small readership are quite appreciative of the usually literate and intelligent write-ups. Thank you, small journals.
The Internet, however, with its wide accessibility and unlimited space, will be the salvation of the poetry review. There are websites out there that dedicate time and energy to the poetry book, like The Constant Critic, Coldfront Magazine and Luna: A Journal of Poetry and Translation, where I’m also a contributing editor.
But for word-of-mouth, nothing beats the blog and poets blogging about poetry books. Bless them! That is how I discovered one of the recent books I purchased and eventually reviewed, Steve Fellner’s Blind Date with Cavafy. Published by a small press, Marsh Hawk Press, it took a blogosphere buzz around the winning title and equally alluring book cover (designed by poet Claudia Carlson) to get this book some attention. (For my review of this book, check out Luna online.)
In short, the benefits of the Internet are many. The venues are already out there, as are the countless approaches to poetry reviewing. It actually doesn’t take that long to write one once you write a few, and it’s about time poetry readers commit to more than the casual responses posted on Amazon.com. We need to take the experience of a poetry book seriously, because it is a serious art.
I review at least two poetry titles a month: one for the El Paso Times, whose features editor has been incredibly generous with column space (shout out to Ramón Rentería!), and one for Luna. The lesson is: we have to do this ourselves. I never set out to be a critic. Like many poets, I was quite guarded about my writing time, and yes, reviewing takes away some of that time. But after years of watching good books becomes ignored, I decided to participate in the conversation about the books themselves, and not just chime in on the whinier one about books getting overlooked.
In the meantime, I’d appreciate folks sending links of other poetry reviewing venues on the Internet we should all know about. Where else can we send a poetry book for review? Where else can we send a review of a poetry book we would like to spread the word about?

Originally Published: September 8th, 2007

Rigoberto González was born in Bakersfield, California and raised in Michoacán, Mexico. He is the author of several poetry books, including So Often the Pitcher Goes to Water until It Breaks (1999), a National Poetry Series selection; Other Fugitives and Other Strangers (2006); Black Blossoms (2011); and Unpeopled Eden (2013), winner of a Lambda Literary Award. He...

  1. September 8, 2007
     Simon DeDeo

    Kate Greenstreet's first book interviews are another great way to learn about things. And Janet Holmes, who runs a fantastic press, blogs pretty regularly about the stable. All of the bloggers do a little reviewing, some more "free form" than others.
    I review things pretty regularly on rhubarb, and people have been fantastically generous in sending review copies. Interestingly, this past few months I've started hearing from the "mainstream" presses — this used to be a game only the subpress (literal or figurative) would play. Most recently, I covered a fantastic new Canadian poet, Sarah Lang, and a neglectorino, Victor Segalen.
    As for print journals, there are many excellent ones and the blogs are not going to replace them soon. I think the Boston Review and the London Review of Books both do a fantastic job (and they are wide circulation.) Weirdly, Marjorie Perloff got really really pissed at the LRB because of an article they wrote right after 9/11, and declared she would boycott them, so no more Perloff wisdom to be found there.

  2. September 9, 2007
     Francisco Aragon

    Rigoberto's tireless efforts at poetry book reviewing are, to a certain degree, what has prompted me to attempt a project I am embarking on with a mixture of excitement and trepidation: Latino Poetry Review, an online venture slated to launch in early 2008 in collaboration with my employer, the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame. It's the reason I started a blog that goes by the same name, which Rigoberto linked readers to when he mentioned Robert Vasquez's Braille for the Heart last week. Anyway, I bring it up here because I am indeed interested in connecting with potential reviewers, Latino and non-latino alike, who would like to have a crack at writing prose about Latino poetry. As I've said elsewhere, being a specialist in Latino poetry is not a requirement, just a desire to write thoughtfully about poets who happen to be Latino/a. I've been lucky enough to line up a number of reviewers whose writing I've enjoyed, but I'd like to hear from more people who have books or Latino/a poets they're interested in writing about. Any questions? Drop me a note.
    Thank you for this timely post, R

  3. September 9, 2007
     Patricia Spears Jones

    Thanks Rigoberto--another reason for getting poets to review books is to get more of us to read each others work. One blogspot where poets write fairly lively reviews is Eileen Tabios' galatea resurrects. Janet Hamill who had never written a review did one for my book last year and found it to be a great experience. A journal where many poets write is Black Issues Book Review,where I, Greg Pardlo, Tara Betts, et al have covered a growing number of books and anthologies by poets from the African Diaspora. Poetry continues to be the critic's stepchild. But with poets and critics such as you and others, some attention gets paid. I enjoy your posts.

  4. September 10, 2007
     Matthew Thorburn

    Hi, Rigoberto. Great post. I'm working on writing reviews more often, though I'm nowhere close to two per month!
    Another terrific online venue for book reviews is Rattle (http://www.rattle.com/ereviews.htm), which has started publishing "e-reviews" on their website. As Simon mentioned above, Boston Review's microreviews (and their longer reviews of poetry too, of course) are another good place to go.

  5. September 10, 2007
     Sophia Kartsonis

    Thank you so much for promoting the reviews. It's true that so many poets complain--often good-naturedly, in a self-deprecating way--that their books meet great silence after they are published. That may be so, and it might too, be true that we sing to our own verse-inebriated choir for the most part, and for those reasons we should read one another, we should write about one another. We should engage, even risk enraging one another if it means reading and writing and considering all of these books. Steve Fellner's book is brave, sassy, sad and funny. Thanks for checking it out.

  6. September 10, 2007
     Sophia Kartsonis

    P.S.
    Kathrine Wright and I edit wordsonwalls and we would dearly love to get some reviews to consider for publication.
    Our next three issues are geographically-themed and would likely be most interested in reviews by or about writers in Ohio, Florida or Utah. We would certainly be open to considering others, as well.
    Thanks!

  7. September 11, 2007
     Jeannine Hall Gailey

    Thanks for this post!
    Two good review sources:
    I love New Pages because they do Lit Mag reviews and The Pedestal Magazine reviews books and, often, chapbooks.

  8. September 11, 2007
     Miguel Murphy

    Don't forget 42opus.com and RAINT TAXI online! Two great places to read thoughtful reviews of poetry. . .

  9. September 13, 2007
     Anthony Buccino

    I bought a chapbook and would have like to write something nice about it, but I didn't think most of the poems were ready. So rather than discourage the young poet I wrote nothing. Meanwhile, I do read other people work, I do, I do, I do!

  10. September 18, 2007
     Bernadette Geyer

    Another fine journal that publishes poetry book reviews online is The Montserrat Review, http://www.themontserratreview.com/bookreviews.html. And a friend of mine turned me on to http://www.GoodReads.com, which is kind of like MySpace for book-lovers.

  11. September 18, 2007
     Alicia (A. E.)

    There's also Contemporary Poetry Review online--(www.cprw.com)

  12. September 20, 2007
     RK

    I'd like to second the mention of RATTLE...their e-reviews allow for a variety of approaches and styles. I worked with them recently (my first review, actually) and it was a great experience.
    Also, JACKET has many good reviews....
    Thanks for encouraging folks to try it...

  13. September 21, 2007
     Rigoberto

    Thanks, everyone, for these helpful suggestions. In terms of choosing to review a poetry book, I have a very simple policy: If I don't like it, I move on to one that I do, and that I feel needs the audience. Review space is so valuable, I prefer to bring attention to noteworthy books.

  14. October 12, 2007
     Scott Hightower

    BOXCAR POETRY REVIEW is an interesting on-line review site for FIRST BOOKS.
    COLDFRONT MAGAZINE cuts a very wide swath.
    BARROW STREET REVIEW has a place at the table for trying to keep a space opened for reviews and reviewers and a conversation about books.
    I also follow SMALL SPIRAL NOTEBOOOK on the web and PEBBLE LAKE REVIEW (out of Houston) and BORDERLANDS (out of Austin).
    DANIEL BORN does a great job at the COMMON REVIEW.

  15. November 4, 2007
     Christopher William Purdom

    I'm added mostly very short poetry book reviews to my personal site and am going to add at least one a month, and hopefully more.
    http://www.philart.net/chrispurdom/poetrybookreviews.php

  16. January 4, 2008
     Christine

    Right on Rigo!