I’ve been reading a lot lately and not writing reviews of the books I’m reading, but I have been reading book reviews written by other humans. And while many are super duper some reviews are not so super so here's a:
Guy-ed To Writting More Bettr Poetry Book Reviews
1. Don’t talk about poets and readers of poetry as though these categories don’t overlap. Some people who read poetry books are themselves poets. Some people who read reviews of poetry books are poets. Some people who read poetry books and reviews of poetry books aren’t poets. Whatever. This distinction usually only gets brought up when the reviewer wants to do a number 2:
2. Stop assuming your readership is unimaginative and unaware that poetry includes many different modes of writing. People who are reading poetry reviews who aren’t forced into it because they’re trapped somewhere with only a single page torn from the back of some literary magazine are probably reading the poetry book reviews because they’re into poetry. Don’t assume they won’t understand or appreciate writing that isn’t written in your favourite style, and don’t make that assumption the basis for your review. It’s boring and insulting and boring and unhelpful and BORING.
3. Pick an angle and then try to hash it out coherently. Is the purpose of your review to tell your readers what’s out there and what’s worth checking out or avoiding? Is the purpose of your review to engage in a critique of the book in the literary criticism sense of the word critique? Certainly a review can do both, but sometimes reviews can become a muddled, poorly argued mess of the two approaches, where both are gestured at and neither is realized—something that seems to happen exclusively in negative reviews. And then I go read the book you’re trashing JUST TO SPITE YOU, book reviewer. Just spend some time thinking through your argument and whether or not it makes sense. Do you have a point? What is that point? What points support that main point? Do all those points contradict each other but you think you can wrap this mess up with a bunch of big words and poorly thought out metaphors and pass this off as a piece of criticism? Because you’re being confusing and also everyone reading this mess knows that under that pie crust it’s all cloves and ripped up tin cans and an old shoe. No one wants to swallow that. Metaphors!
4. Don’t focus on how the book could be different, because it’s already been published. If you found the book lacking then by all means be critical of it and point out the flaws, but a lot of speculative reviewing of what could have made the book better isn’t really all that useful, either for a piece of literary criticism or for a read/don’t read this book style of review. I understand the impulse to do this a little bit here and there, but don’t make it the main point of your review.
5. Review the book on its own terms rather than trying to squash it into some preconceived notion you have of what poetry should be. This is THE WORST. This usually happens in the should I read/not read this book style of reviews… If it’s that kind of review I want to know if the book is a good specimen of its species. I already know a book of visual poetry is a bad book of lyric poetry. Just like a hippo is a bad cat. You are making me SO TIRED right now with your “this book of X is not a very good book of Y” reviews. For real. If you’re telling me to read/not read a book I want to know if that book of lyric poetry is a good book of lyric poetry or not and maybe even why. I want to know if that book of found poetry is a good book of found poetry or not. STOP ASSUMING WHICH GENRES I LIKE. You don’t know me, book reviewer.
6. Describe the book in some way that actually makes me understand what the book is about, how it was written, what genre it’s in (SEE #5), and what effect reading the book has (its mood, tone, etc). Descriptions of poetry in reviews can get all flowery and incomprehensible. I often read a description of a book in a review, then read a chunk of the book, and the two seem to have nothing to do with each other. Just try to be objective and clear, just a little bit, maybe?
7. DO compare the book to other books but only if those comparisons are RELEVANT. Example: “If you liked X by Y author, you’re going to love Q by Z author because they are both cats and not hippos that engage with the idea of W through V.” That’s super helpful! Because I did like X by Y author! Or I never heard of that book before but Q by Z author sounds good, so I’m gonna pick that up, then if I like it I also know about X by Y author so I can go read that one too! Thanks book reviewer for being so helpful! Alternately: “Q by Z author reminds me of X by Y author, except that really great thing that ties X together doesn’t really happen in Q. Q is actually kind of derivative of X without the Xy goodness.” Hmm, food for thought, book reviewer. I see what you did there and I feel you. BUT “I don’t like G by K author because X by Y author is my favourite book.” OKAY AND?
8. Stop complaining about Margaret Atwood and/or Anne Carson when they have nothing to do with your review. FOR THE LOVE OF CHAUCER PLEASE STOP IT.
9. Do you even like poetry though? If you don’t why are you writing this review???
10. Do I even like poetry reviews you ask? Yes. Yes I do. When they do not do any of the above 9 things.
Oh, and omit the oppressive comments to do with gender, orientation, race, class, etc. But that's just a life thing in general so it should go without saying.