Friday, March 27, 2009

I've been reading, overhearing and actively participating in a lot of conversations about poetry criticism lately. The main points of which seems to be:
  • Criticism of contemporary poetry is largely ineffective, whether it be fanboy lovefests or Comic Book Guy "worst poem ever" disregard.
  • Thus, criticism is rarely careful critiques based solely on the work; the product of tools and choices "mastered" by the poet.
  • People write poetry. Few people read poetry. Fewer people read poetry criticism. About 3 people are writing it. We are losing this critical language, our ability to express it as well as our ability to work over it in our heads.
  • Poetry book reviews are trying too hard to be like NY Times book reviews, meaning the focus of the reviews that are being written is often on the reviewer's ability to review, rather than on the important work done in the book...or, they come across like infomercials, "Now with 50% more lyric power!"
There are many reasons that we are suffering this critical downfall, not the least of which are:
  • Academic fallout. Now that all poets are MFA trained, once they leave the rigors of the the academic world, its easy to revel in he ease of the pop-critical thumbs up, thumbs down.
  • The Internet makes it possible to say anything without any real thought and from a safe distance...I blog, I get it, I've said some things here that I would never say in "real" life to real people. I'm trying to be more thoughtful with that, to imagine possible reactions and to address them in my original statement, but I've only got my brain.
  • The flipside to this is the assumption that a bad review for one book equates a bad review for all of poetry, and why kick they guy while he's down. With so few readers, why try to convince more people to not pick up a book of poetry. Your mom told you about this a long time ago, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."
  • The poetry world is so small, soo small, that's it hard to be critical without being critical of your friends, or at most, of your friends' friends.
Now, the only solutions for this that I can see, is that we, as a community of writers, need to be more honest and thorough and knowledgeable with our criticism. That if we don't like something, we say so, but that we state so sincerely and with reason. That we realize that we no longer have the privilege of simple likes and dislikes. That we must carry ourselves with a literacy that at times will seem elitist, but with the hope that it will trickle down to credibility in a society that has no place for poems, that it will make worthy our art for those we hope to have read it. We are not the "everyman" and our poems no longer the voice of the people. But maybe, maybe, if we work hard to convince our wider world that we and what we do is worth their time, than maybe we can regain a foothold in society's cultural biology...maybe.

Zapruder's critical criticism

Black Ocean's critical conditions

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