I, like many other poets out there, make my living by teaching freshman composition, and I must say that Kent Johnson’s appeal for anonymity in reviewing is just a variation of a condition I try to school out of my students: the fear of the audience and its response to a writer’s opinions. After all, most poetry criticism seems to be written for the poet whose book is being reviewed and not for a broader readership who might be interested in how the book reflects larger conversations.
Ideally, poetry criticism—defined not by “outside” reviewers but by the productive back-and-forth of working poets—encourages us to be more reflective about what we’re doing, and why we’re doing it. These days, a little introspection and critique seems appropriate. After all, poets continue to be in a produce-produce- produce mode (four ballrooms filled with poetry books at the Chicago AWP!), as if we are somehow immune to the larger economics of production, and to the serious issues of recycling and landfills (if no one reads our poetry books, where do you think they’ll end up?)
I enjoyed reading Jason Guriel’s review, which triggered this debate, and, like Susan Gubernat (one of only four women, incidentally, who posted a response to the original thread), would happily use it in a classroom to provoke students to talk about their reliance on hasty abstractions, and to encourage them to ponder their purpose in producing poems. I say: let’s stop worrying about the ideal reviewer (well, we might as well keep dreaming) and instead commit ourselves to refining the genre of poetry criticism for what it is: poets, engaged with their art, absorbed by reading poetry, reflecting on their reading practice and, hopefully, the state of the art in general.
Read more responses here.