Saturday, December 09, 2006

reading and reviewing

Between now and April next year I will read seven new books of poetry with an aim to review at least five of them. I have five to hand and another two will arrive next week. Reviewing is a complex pleasure and at times, a difficult pleasure. During this year I've completed six poetry reviews, published in three different journals, print and online. In a roundabout way, I fell into reviewing poetry quite recently, although a few too many years back, for a short moment in time, I did have a byline with a local newspaper and reviewed fiction, non-fiction and poetry - but the space was limited and I had to select from boxes of books, some that looked to have been hanging around a while, and others that I wouldn't select or purchase for myself. A very different type of reviewing to what I find myself engaging with now.

I read a few poetry reviews, (always seek them out when a favourite poet has a new release or a new anthology is published) and the review is always a point of contact for me, prior to reading the work, but it often happens, that I've read the book myself. Sometimes it feels like the reviewer and me have read two different books (though not too often), sometimes we're on the same page, sometimes I find an insight the reviewer has discovered and it takes me back to the book of poems for another look. A bad review (is there really one?) can damage the ego for a short while. I've had a bad review myself, and it can pierce if the reviewer is spot-on. Just a learning curve then and a quick lick of the wound. And I guess, that reviewers don't always get it right, I hope though, that they always read the work and in a considered way, so that the work is allowed a little space to make a claim. Reading is an act of attention as much as it is an act of pleasure (or displeasure) as the case may be.

So, I've been thinking about how I approach reading poetry for review and wondering if it is different to how I approach reading poetry without the intention to review. I think that to begin, it occurs in the same way. What is different with the book which I intend to review, what I do differently, is to have some stick-its or note paper handy. When I'm skimming the book for the first time, if something in the content or language use or general pulse of the poem grabs my attention, I keep reading and mark the page. Later, I go back through the book, only looking at the marked pages, making some notes. Then I read the book again from start to finish. If the book is going to be reviewed the note taking segues into my own writing, my own writing based on my reading of another writer's work. So the poet is the subject, the poet's poetry is the subject. It can be difficult to stay in focus on that point - that the creative act I'm engaging with is based on an act of attention to another writer's work and about another writer's work. It is important for me to keep that path, to offer to represent the reader in that way, by following the claim the author makes on my attention and discovering, as a reader (who is representing the reader), what comes my way. Wearing the reviewer hat, creates an expectation, both in the author of the work, and the future readers of that work. I am expected to talk about the work and give examples of what I find, and possibly do some research to provide interesting background if that is required and will inform the 'review'.

A review should do what it is meant to do. There have been discussions about reviewing for almost as long as there have been discussions about writing. Reviewing is not easy. Reviewing is easy. There should be more reviewers, more books of poetry should get reviewed. There are so few reviewers and so few venues willing to publish the reviews. Not enough space, or not enough money or not enough interest? I don't have any answer, save this one, which is not an answer, rather it is a question. Would you like to get a review for your next book? Tick Yes or Tick No...and anyone who ticks no - hats off to ya. Reviewing poetry for publication has increased my pleasure threshold, increased my knowledge and awareness, and I think it is nuturing my own writing. You can't beat the 'paying attention principle' it works every time.


Anonymous Paul said...

Would you like a copy of my book? I have a spare one I can mail you and a review would be fantabulous, as scathing as possible, as brutally honest as any ever written. I would be forever in your debt. I asked Graham for feedback but didn't get much. As you know I get plenty from my readers but until I get some from 'the people who know stuff about literature' I am in the dark. I'll even commission it. How much is the going rate? How about a signed copy of the book for starters? Please please it would be the hightlight of my glittering career so far.

2/6/09 15:10  
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