Thursday, June 16, 2005

The blogs are abuzz with thoughts on the status of poetry reviewing, kicked off by a longer-than-usual-post by our friend P0-bot: (here, here, here, here). John Yau's article on Ashbery as reviewer, in the May/June APR, and on reviewing culture in the artworld, might provide a useful perspective, and some sort of explanation for the place where we are. If Ashbery's influence is as massive as we all suspect it to be, and his definition of great art is that which makes exposition or explanation of it unnecessary--and troubles even the articulation of appreciation-- where does that leave all of us with advanced degrees and precise vocabularies and sagging bookshelves? We're then in a situation where, yes, we want to be told what we might enjoy but also want to be entertained during the process. The thesis-driven review--which notes a tendency among several different books--is a good thing, and often makes for an edifying read, but I suspect that a great deal of the most interesting poetry will fail to conform to this model. Books like this often ask for another kind of writing largely confined to academic journals, even if these distinctions aren't hard and fast. All of this is why--per Tim Yu's comments--I read blogs. I don't agree with Tim, though, that a large reviewing concern need be committed to one particular side of the poetry-wars or another--as is the case with Boston Review and Poetry. The virtue of the Constant Critic site, and other journals or sites that feature regular reviewers, is that you come to get a sense for a particular reviewer's tastes/agenda--Jordan or Joyelle McSweeney or Stephen Burt or Calvin Bedient--as much as you do a particular magazine's. I don't see any reason why we couldn't have a clearing house for these individuals and, then, wildcards like myself thrown in for good measure. Would it be a solution to segregate the zing-zing from the bling-bling and thesis-y? I would call it The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

1 comment:

Tim said...

Good points, Jasper. I didn't mean that any major journal had to pick sides, though I do think a journal has to have some kind of intellectual or aesthetic coherence for its judgments to be intelligible. Poetry magazine, in fact, doesn't think it's on a side, although of course it is; this is why the criticism tends not to be just biased but bad.

A reviewing clearinghouse that carried the reviews of Davis, McSweeney, Burt, Bedient, you, and (if I may) me still wouldn't capture much like the whole of poetic production. I would doubt, for instance, that you would ever see a review of performance or slam poetry. That doesn't mean that it wouldn't be a good read; but it wouldn't be much of a paper of record.