Dear Editor,

I sifted through hundreds of books over a three-year period as poetry reviewer for the Seattle Times. I reviewed only those books I thought deserving of praise. Why rant about uninteresting poetry when space (250 words) and opportunity (every two months) were limited? The book editor, hoping to sell papers to mainstream readers, assigned longer pieces only when the poet was too famous to ignore (a rarity), or when the poet's biography was tragic or uplifting. My reviews were largely met, as far as I could tell, with silence. Yet what I gained from writing them had far more value than any recognition. Reviewing not only buffed and toned my prose style, it refined my tastes. Wrestling my response into a short review forced me to get at the gist of the book, to articulate what distinguished it from dozens of other newly-minted ones. These days when others ask my opinion about a new book, I toss one off. But I admit, I don't know what I truly think until I write it.

I think young women poets ought to write reviews, but in my experience I doubt those published in mainstream magazines or papers will "establish paradigms," kindle "passionate public conversation," or even champion new voices to any but a few. If I broaden Curdy's definition of "practical criticism" to include longer essays about, for example, retrospectives of our predecessors, or the purpose and character of poetry within subcultures other than those represented by the Hudson Review, the Threepenny Review, or the American Scholar, then yes, young women poets can and must write longer essays. These types of essays are the passionate conversation which defines what poetry is. Writing about poetry, then, is essential to writing poetry. Let's start pitching our ideas to editors of magazines such as this one.

Originally Published: October 30th, 2005

Emily Warn was born in San Francisco and grew up in California and Detroit. She earned degrees from Kalamazoo College and the University of Washington. Her full-length collections of poetry include The Leaf Path (1982), The Novice Insomniac (1996), and Shadow Architect (2008). She has published two chapbooks: The Book...

Appeared in Poetry Magazine This Appears In