Monday, October 18, 2004

Responses to Contemporary Poetry: What Matters?--a Reading Assignment due in class by Wednesday, Oct. 27.

Dear Students,

I participate in an international poetry listserv called Poetry Etcetera. It is moderated by Alison Croggon, an Australian poet, novelist, critic and editor (whose writings and sites are linked on her website here). Poetry Etc recently began to explore how reviews of new books of poetry do or do not seem to be effective, and to discuss various reasons why. I want to add that I think in many ways we can say problems in this also apply to other genres--in other words, the questions being asked will elicit answers not necessarily limited to only one genre of writing, nor to apply only to creative vs critical work (not a strict binary): there are some things here that have to do with how, rhetorically and culturally, we perceive text and our own readerly subjectivity: that ol' *rhetorical triangle* we've discussed, and yet, with more to it since in this course we are concerned more with poetry.

Many think that review-criticism should be unyielding, should hold the line on (what, which, whose?) aesthetic ideal(s), which seem always to be predetermined rather than part of a process that involves dialogue in the moment, which would add multiple perspectives on any one work of art. Others wonder that reviews are full of blurby-sounding praise with nil for critical substance. And many wonder at the lack of empathy in apparently divisive ways of sizing up text (via review writing). Still others think that these traditional ways of responding to poetry are lacking, or are too limited, in terms of today's more elastic rhetorical means: the modes and venues made available online.

Dialogue, an interaction between reader(s)/writer/text-as-object-of-art, is one main reason for, as well as a result of, reviewing, though dialogue often seems stifled in the face of apparently dueling agendas between hyper and hypo claims to critical paths of inquiry and praise for poetic work.

With all of that in mind, I thought you might find interesting and I hope, useful (in terms of a model), the review, "Permission to be Bored," by Martin Stannard, which is located at the top of the right sidebar of the current issue of Stride Magazine (UK). In this, Martin Stannard is reviewing a book of poetry called Permission to Breathe, (Smith/Doorstop, 2004) by Michael Laskey, who Stannard has known well, and written reviews on for some time. Yet Stannard is uneasy, is not especially impressed by this book. How does he handle this problematic?--have a good read on this before Wednesday, Oct 27, when we will discuss in class. For purposes of understanding context and of extending interest, you should read all of this issue of *Stride*--and thus, notice that there is one more piece there by Martin Stannard, "New York, New York," as well as what seems to be a response in poetry-mode to something else he's written... ah! very intriguing then...