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Old 08-18-2011, 10:42 AM
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Rick Mullin Rick Mullin is offline
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I pulled this one bit from something Rose wrote in the Accomplished Members thread for Mary Meriam's review of Maz's Grasshopper to hopefully get a discussion going here*:

"Maz used to question the value of poetry book reviews, saying it would be more useful simply to provide a sampling of poems and let readers decide for themselves if they were any good."

I realize I may be taking this out of the context of Rose's point. I put it here on its own as a starter.

Last edited by Rick Mullin; 08-18-2011 at 11:06 AM.
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Old 08-18-2011, 10:48 AM
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I will start by disagreeing. Criticism is in and of itself literature, of course, and reviews are criticism. It certainly matters to me that I am able to get a discerning reader's views of and responses to a book of poetry by reading a reivew. I thereby share my experience with the writer--I take it for granted I can get a copy of the book and read it myself (the commercial aspect of the review is not such a bad thing!).
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Old 08-18-2011, 10:58 AM
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Rose Kelleher Rose Kelleher is offline
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That was me, Rick, though I'm flattered by the mistake. I must have said something intelligent.

FWIW, I don't entirely agree either. Reviews can be enlightening. Most are either boring and useless or entertaining and useless. Anis Shivani for example is entertaining but little else; I would never buy or not buy a book on his say-so.

Last edited by Rose Kelleher; 08-18-2011 at 11:02 AM.
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Old 08-18-2011, 11:06 AM
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You indeed. Sorry, first person I attributed the Maz quote to, whose name has been expunged.

RM
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Old 08-18-2011, 03:45 PM
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R. Nemo Hill R. Nemo Hill is offline
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I prefer the essay setting to the review setting.
It opens things up a bit more, involves the writer of the piece more intimately, and undermines the formulaic advertising aspect.

Nemo
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Old 08-18-2011, 09:00 PM
Philip Quinlan Philip Quinlan is offline
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Reviews, as Rick says, are literature and can be entertaining in their own right. Or not, as Rose says.

As for the best way of helping the potential reader decide whether to buy a collection of poetry or not, I'd go further than Maz. Simply list the first line of every poem. Poems rarely improve after that. Not an infallible method, since the unscrupulous poet who cottoned on could simply write 40 dazzling openers followed by drivel, but if a first line doesn't grab you in some way and make you want to know more then the chances are you won't like the whole poem. I feel the same way about novels (although there you need a paragraph).

Nemo has a point about the essay, though. A well-written essay isn't out to convince you that something is better than you thought it was but is an aid to enjoyment (I don't see a lot of point in reading an essay about a poet or poem you don't already know).

There. I just agreed with everyone.

Philip
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Old 08-18-2011, 09:27 PM
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Another withdrawal. I'm feeling withdrawn~,:^)

Last edited by Rick Mullin; 08-18-2011 at 10:19 PM.
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Old 08-18-2011, 11:17 PM
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Well, per Nemo, a good book review is really a critical essay, and in my current opinion for now at least, reviews should rarely go under 1,000 or so words, and they should not deal with multiple books as a matter of course (though this is a tendency rather than something set--the juxtapositions can be enlightening). But I can live with multiple schools of thought on this one.
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Old 08-19-2011, 06:04 AM
Rory Waterman Rory Waterman is offline
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I review for the TLS a fair bit, and the space given to poetry book reviews is understandably limited. They fit a fair few in, though, by limiting most po-book reviews to either 400 or 800 words, or something like that, with the odd longer piece. This seems very sensible to me, and a reviewer really can give a good flavour of a collection in a few hundred words. It limits room for digressions, of course, and does not allow the reviewer to impose their personality. But I've almost never read a bad or unintelligent review in the TLS, and their longer pieces are often superb. Better than the books, probably, most of the time.

I love longer reviews and review-essays, of course; they can be a great pleasure to read. Gawd bless The Dark Horse and PN Review, the two best poetry mags I know for smart, longer reviews with bite and verve. At New Walk we try to do both: little, sharp reviews and long, ranging ones. I've felt a little squeamish about some of the reviews and opinion pieces we've published, and I don't always agree with them, but review and comment sections should - must - be more than knocking shops for third-rate poets.

As for the formulaic advertising aspect: I'd never review, for any publication, a collection whose author I considered a friend. I wouldn't be subjective, and nor is anyone who does this. And when people send us (at New Walk) copies of books in the hope of a review and they recommend potential reviewers who are likely to 'understand' the collection, I feel as though I'm being implicated in a nasty-nice little culture of ineffective back-scratching. I don't trust the intentions behind most poetry book reviews - not as a reader. I would also never review a book by someone after they had reviewed mine - or at least I don't think I would. I don't yet have a book, so I can afford to make such a remark without having to worry about it! I don't say these things to criticise what others do - but I believe in what I say.

Does reading reviews make me want to buy books? I love reading reviews on their own terms; but sometimes it does.

Last edited by Rory Waterman; 08-19-2011 at 06:14 AM.
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Old 08-19-2011, 07:09 AM
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Marybeth Rua-Larsen Marybeth Rua-Larsen is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rory Waterman View Post
As for the formulaic advertising aspect: I'd never review, for any publication, a collection whose author I considered a friend. I wouldn't be subjective, and nor is anyone who does this. And when people send us (at New Walk) copies of books in the hope of a review and they recommend potential reviewers who are likely to 'understand' the collection, I feel as though I'm being implicated in a nasty-nice little culture of ineffective back-scratching. I don't trust the intentions behind most poetry book reviews - not as a reader. I would also never review a book by someone after they had reviewed mine - or at least I don't think I would. I don't yet have a book, so I can afford to make such a remark without having to worry about it! I don't say these things to criticise what others do - but I believe in what I say.
I'm just starting out reviewing books, and I like and agree with these guidelines. Thanks, Rory. I also shoot more for the essay rather than the review in the sense that I want to understand the book I'm reviewing and share that understanding with others (though they may disagree, of course). In the future, I don't see myself spending time reviewing books I strongly dislike or think badly written. There are reviewers out there who relish that kind of thing or just want to express a justly negative opinion (and that's their prerogative), but I'd rather put my energies toward more positive pursuits and celebrate the books I do love by attempting to shed light on them and explain what I think makes them good. That may wind up making me a not-so-great reviewer in the end, possibly, but so be it.
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