Carmine Starnino Responds
I feel badly that my “phrase-mongering” caused Beverly Bie Brahic to suffer so. Perhaps in the future she should skip anything with my byline on it. The virile distinctiveness / verbal subtlety contrast was actually intended to break down a cliché. It was part of a larger point I was making about Boland’s originality, and in her matchup with Heaney I award her all the points. In fact, it’s breathtaking to be accused of an ad hominem attack for a review that uses up most of its word limit carefully enumerating Boland’s many achievements. True, I don’t think much of her new work—nor Harry Clifton’s, for that matter. But Brahic’s characterization of my criticisms as “put-down[s]” seems driven by the conviction that the best way to get smarter reviews is to enforce more courteous reactions. This (to paraphrase the late Tom Disch) is just another form of censorship—censorship by civility, by politeness, by arbitrary standards of so-called disinterestedness. Brahic assumes readers need to be protected from the sinister seductions of confident critics, but no reader is really that innocent. Which is to say, lighten up. Reviews dwell in a discretionary realm: you can choose to refuse anything in them.
Carmine Starnino’s books of poetry include The New World (1997), Credo (2000), With English Subtitles (2004), and This Way Out (2009). He is also the author of A Lover's Quarrel (2004), a book of essays on Canadian poetry, and is the editor of Signal Editions. He lives in Montreal.