“There is a widespread belief that overboiled cabbage is delectable” [Mary Kinzie, riffing off WH Auden’s belief that one shouldn’t waste one’s time reviewing anything other than what is deemed by “all” to be “worthy,” she asserting conversely that writing reviews of a range of creations is necessary to raise public taste and sensitivities so they know the difference between insipid mush & a feast]
I started these Marrow reviews several years ago for a few reasons. One, although I have written reviews for such places as The Journal of Canadian Poetry, CNQ and Canadian Literature, I wanted to respond to what is happening in Canadian poetry without having to wait endlessly for the review to be published in a periodical, even if it meant I would receive no pay (other than the often-complimentary book). Secondly, I feel that writers need to write reviews, that it is a crucial practice for any thinking artist to assess what is being created around them and to develop educated opinions of one’s era’s aesthetic, formal, ideological and other choices or modes, and to offer a critical language to the public in the process. The act is, quite simply, a community maker. Thirdly, I had in mind a kind of review that would quickly plunge to the core of what I think matters about a particular text, rather than being an “over-view” or a glorified blurb. At first they were all organized in terms of What Shines, What Stumbles and then a fun, allusive segment called What It Echoes where I explored the multitudinous resonances in relation to art, film, music, food and so forth that the book deliberately or randomly evoked for me. I plan on re-posting some of these in the months to come while I write new ones. The recent style of these reviews though is that of the discursive entree, where I dive in and ramble a bit about how the book works, according to my honed (but also perhaps idiosyncratic) perceptions or doesn’t.
My aim is always to be as honest as possible in my reading without ever being cruel. If a book appalls me wholly I generally won’t review it but I strive to keep myself open to uncovering an interest in texts I may have been initially resistant to. Neither do I desire to pander from any fear that I will lose awards or grants as a result of being critical. The true poet will always understand. In the end, it’s all about conversation, evolving standards, a range of engagements and saying poetry is important, deeply valued and deserves more respect than to be shrugged off stupidly or lauded absurdly. Why should we leave the job only to those who don’t possess a critical vocabulary yet like blogging students or who are coming from a different perspective (academics or journalists)? Reviewing books of poems is one of the poet’s roles in this world.