The editors of Poetry offer an articulate defense of the negative reviews that frequently appear in the magazine.
Any honest glance at literary history will reveal just how rare good poetry is. If a critic gets ten books sent to him for review, and he finds six or seven of them are excellent, then he is either the luckiest poetry reviewer on the planet, or he has no taste. We believe that it is important to publish these negative reviews along with the positive ones (though we would never print what we considered an ad hominem attack). Not only does it give some ballast and context to the critical praise, it also is a gesture toward treating poetry as a public art in the same way that films or novels are, both of which are routinely and fiercely argued over in the mainstream media. It is a service to serious readers.
Of course, this reviewing policy causes us great conflicts and disappointment at times. Anyone who has followed the magazine over the past two years can’t help but recognize that we are often in the position of printing negative reviews of poets whose work we have published extensively. In effect, our reviewers sometimes criticize our taste. This would be a very easy thing to control. It requires only a phone call to feel out a reviewer on a particular book, or a willingness to kill reviews you donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t agree with, or a stable of reviewers whose opinions you can easily predict. All of these options seem to us timid and deadening.
(Via the Literary Saloon.)
The editorial dovetails nicely with some of Lance Mannion’s recent comments about hobby horses and other common pitfalls of glowing reviews.
But Dan Green of The Reading Experience argues that the problem with Poetry‘s reviews “is not that they are too uniformly negative, as some readers seem to be contending, but that they are all opinion and no critical analysis at all.” (Thanks, Dave.)
- James Wolcott calls William Logan the best poetry critic in America. (Logan’s scathing critiques of students’ efforts were legendary at my alma mater, and he helped hone the skills of talented poets like Andres Rojas, who’s still remembered among his classmates for the Mark Strand-inspired poem “What Vallejo Calls Notre Dame Bridge.” These days Rojas writes dispatches about scuba diving that make me yearn for Florida.)