Friday, November 22, 2013


One of the reasons I don't write book reviews, I mean besides lacking any authority to write them,

is that if you like a book and want to recommend it, you have to quote from it.  But first you have to choose the right lines to quote, the lines which, when they read them in your review, people are going to find worthwhile.  Lines which will convince people to buy the book.  Wouldn't that be your duty or goal as a reviewer?—

You can't just shower it with hyperbolic approbation: who's going to take your word alone for its merits, or my word if I wrote reviews—presumably there are reviewers whose word alone is a gold standard attesting to quality, but I certainly wouldn't be one of those reviewers.

But I constantly read reviews filled with laudatory assertions, reviews which then go on to quote lines that aren't intriguing or evocative or dazzling or meaningful or for that matter any good at all,

and that puzzles me.  Take this review I read today, of a book by a poet whose work I'm not familiar with, and which, after reading the lines quoted by the reviewer, I have no interest in pursuing.   

— here's a link to the review:

The reviewer gushes praise throughout, but the lines selected for quotation are laughably inept and flat, prosaic and just plain bad.   Every one of the lines quoted is banal at best.   I understand they're quoted out of context, but so what? 

Not one of them persuades me to look for this book, or to look for other works online or elsewhere by this author. 


Ideally I guess a reviewer would have space enough to quote whole poems, not just excerpts or snippets, or if online could link to whole poems—

I don't review books, but occasionally I recommend poems which I find exceptional, such as this one by Sampson Starkweather, which seems to me to be quite brilliant and well worth rereading:

Of course a commendation from me lacks any weight.  I hold no position of power in the PoBiz. You won't find blurbs by me on the backs of any books: no USA poet is crazy or stupid enough to want kudos from me on their CV.  No prestige can be conferred by my acclamation.  Nor can anybody's reputation be damaged by my disapproval—all the nasty notices I've posted about various poets on this blog haven't scratched their vaingloriousness one little bit.



in the last post I mentioned "Succinct : The Broadstone Anthology of Short Poems"

which I bought last week and have been reading since—

it has a surprising number of bad poems in it, and among the worst are the ones by the two editors

Jonathan Greene and Robert West—

if you're the editor of an anthology and you put your own work in it, how pathetic is that—

Louis Untermeyer a now-forgotten poet from last century was an inveterate anthologizer and woe he would include his own poems in the olios he edited—

e. e. cummings wrote a little response to Untermeyer, which all such self-anthologizers should heed:

mr u will not be missed
who as an anthologist
sold the many on the few
not excluding mr u

. . . this cummings poem is not included in the Broadstone short poems anthology.

But who am I to damn their self-antholing when I myself am guilty of the shameful act of self-publishing my own poems?!  The saucer calling the cup white.  No real (legitimate) publisher will have anything to do with my work: I too have been forced to slink away into the dismal vale of vanity volumes, the pit of pelf-pubs, the cellar of selfie-serialization, mongering there in despair as I gehennate over the onanistic issuing of my own throwaway tomes.

Recently I've sporadically been reading straight through every poem in Volume 2 of the Collected William Carlos Williams . . . I'd forgotten how many translations he'd done over the years, from the French and Spanish, several rhymed versions from Yvan Goll's Jean Sans Terre in the 1940s, and then in the 1950s he did wonderful things from Octavio Paz and Parra and Neruda and other Spanish poets, and in 1960's "The Cassia Tree" he co-translated with David Rafael Wang a collection of Chinese poems . . . 
and wouldn't it be a treat to have all his translations gathered together in one volume? They're all in the Collected, but still, I'd love to have a separate book devoted solely to them, with annotations etc. . . .
Remember Frank O'Hara saying there were only 3 American poets better than the movies: Whitman, Crane, and Williams.
(O'Hara is better than the movies.  Koch is not better than the movies.  Ashbery is the movies. And since the Swedes hate the USA so much—and who can blame them—that they won't give Ashbery the Nobel Prize for Literature he's deserved for at least the last two decades, maybe they could give it to him in the category of Cinema?  Alas they don't have a Cinema category, and they didn't even give the Lit Prize to two film-tainted authors who should have gotten it, Marguerite Duras and Jean Cocteau . . . )