Thursday, February 17, 2011

Reviews and kindness

I exercised on my elliptical machine last night. It was abbreviated (30 minutes instead of the usual 45-55) because around the 23 minute mark I was hit by the need to write and sort of forced myself to keep exercising for the following 7 minutes.

I don't think it helped that the chapbook I was reading through most of those 7 minutes was, I felt, a real stinker.

Prior to reading the stinker chapbook, and when I was initially hit with the need to write, I was reading Kristen Orser's Folded into Your Midwestern Thunderstorm from Greying Ghost Press (I would link, but their website seems to be having problems), which I greatly enjoyed. I don't think I'll be able to write a full review for it right now - I feel like there was something I missed in it when I read the collection through the first time. I love the wordplay that Orser uses and her language is always engaging. She also works with line breaks and page placement in a way that I really appreciate and that I myself am not nearly as skillful with. I got a very strong sense of atmosphere from the collection, but not a strong idea of movement or what was going on. I don't think it has anything to do with Orser's writing, though - I was a bit distracted and tired. I really enjoyed the experience of the poems, though, if that makes any sense, and I can't wait to give the chapbook a reread.

Orser's chapbook really got my poetic mind moving, her deft language put me into the space and rhythm where I feel like I want to write, and I was all excited to read another chapbook and then get off the elliptical machine and run straight to the typewriter. However, the next chapbook I started I just did not like at all.

I won't say what the title of this book was or who the poet was, because in all honesty I didn't finish it. I read a few poems, realized that I had the exact same problem with all of them, and quit. Nothing that I enjoyed about Orser's work was present in this book - there was no sense of rhythm, the language felt sort of lame, and the line breaks and stanza breaks (what few there were of the latter) were honestly boring and added nothing to the poems. I used to finish books like this, but now I just don't. I don't have time for reading things I dislike and feel are not skillful. I am more than happy to go outside my comfort zone (John Grochalski's book, for example, is not my typical fare, but I read the book, felt there was skill and purpose behind it, and enjoyed it), but bad writing goes beyond going outside of one's comfort zone.

I could write reviews of these books that I genuinely think are not good, but 75% of what I read these days is put out by small or micro presses. Their books don't get reviewed at as high of a rate as the work put out by the larger presses, and I would absolutely hate to have my review be one of the only ones out there and for it to be bad. How heartbreaking would it be for that poet?

I'm usually not someone who wants to spare everyone's feelings at all costs, but I'm not mean. I have done mean things, thoughtless things, but I am not mean. I feel that to eviscerate a chapbook put out by a micro press or small press is not only sort of mean to the poet, but is also doing that press, which also put a lot of time, love, and money - perhaps most of their extremely limited resources - into this chapbook, a huge disservice. I know that we can't all be nice all the time and we have to be honest and promote the good stuff and blah blah blah, but that is what I try to do - I try to bring attention to the good stuff. If someone asks me about the chapbook I did not finish last night in conversation I won't lie to them about it (I will also mention that I only read 5-6 of the poems). If I am asked for a recommendation, I will not recommend this book. I'm just not going to rip it apart on my blog.

I'm not saying this as if to imply "everyone look at me! I'm so awesome!" because A) I'm not and B) I'm not sure that what I am doing is 100% the right thing. As much as I want to be kind and only say nice things, I really have a bit of distaste for the kid gloves that I see everyone having to wear all the time. Yes, we are artists and we are sensitive and what one person likes another person might not, but isn't criticism one of the vehicles through which we ultimately improve? But then this makes me think of visionary art and the "workshop poem" and argh! I don't know. I am so very conflicted - I keep going back and forth in my own head.

I am also saying these things to make it clear that while I write a lot of very positive reviews (I think) I do not have universal love for all poetry. Quite the contrary - I am extremely hard to please. If I don't review your chapbook, though, it's not necessarily because I deeply disliked it and think it is a blight on contemporary poetry and all copies should be burned. I often just don't get around to reviewing everything in a timely fashion. I have 3 reviews I need to write that I can think of just off the top of my head, and I adored two of the books and really really enjoyed the third. I'm crazy-busy, and now I have a press, too. That was smart of me.

Speaking of which! I just picked out the second chapbook I will be publishing! Announcement soon! I think I'll be publishing more like 3-4 chapbooks this year!

No comments: