What’s in a Review?

The purpose of poetry reviews probably shouldn’t be pinned down exactly. As a reviewer myself, although not comparable to writing a poem in sheer craft or originality, I do take to the task of writing an article to be a serious form of writing. It bothers me if poetry review takes a lofty, intellectual stance and makes a specimen of poetry. But it is part of the shared and reflective practice of reading poems, and an important way to draw one another more deeply into a certain poet’s work.

Here is a list of things I consider true about a poetry review, it:

  • Has to evoke some essence of the book
  • Needs to sync with the poet’s own wavelength
  • Has no business in destroying it’s subject,
  • nor any business in being sycophantic
  • Is shared experience, linking readers with poets with each other
  • Only requires intellectualism insofar as poetry requires intellect to read it
  • Isn’t a chance to hold forth on the purpose of poetry
  • Isn’t there to tell readers what good or bad poetry is like
  • Does encourage deep reading, for its readers and writers alike
  • Isn’t an advert. It’s a gift. Potentially
  • Is read in the hope of connecting with others
  • Is to remind us what it is like to be moved by poetry
  • Contains something palpable not just about the poet but from how the reviewer experienced the poet
  • Differs from criticism, compared and contrasted, whose articles illuminate poetry in a cultural context.
  • Is the mutual reading of poetry

Although there are no boundaries in writing, and there is always crossover, I believe the study of poetry and its techniques, which must draw on works for its example, is not the same as review, which is more an account of reading a given work, just as a piece of travel writing describes visiting a place.