Sunday, December 04, 2005

Perloff has a lot to teach us about reviewing/reading books

Marjorie Perloff continues to amaze. Here she is on Elias Canetti, here on Anna Akhmatova, and here on Apollinaire, all in Book Forum (now available on line by the way), and again in The Boston Review (more later) on new translations of Paul Celan. I've already posted links to her essay on Bok and Bergvall--an essay that I'm still grappling with--and I have a few of her books by my bed, so hopeful they are, on top of the pile begging to be read. Sigh. If only more reviewers would take a look at her work. Here's a list of work thanks to the EPC Buffalo.

I also discovered an excellent essay on the art of reviewing by Sven Birkets here in Book Forum. Thinking about tone and intention are basics, and yet so few take the time, or they take the time inappropriately, within the review itself, making the review about them, not about the book. The other big flaw is agenda. The agenda of the reviewer is often obvious so quickly that one needn't bother continuing, rather just slot the review on whatever side of the so-called-poetry fence, said reviewer is occupying. Not so with Perloff, and this is one of the things I admire about her--this ability to take work on its own terms. She contextualizes, but she really tackles each work individually, carefully, respectfully. This is something I also admire about Ron Silliman, who reads widely and always nails what is exciting about the project before him. I'm still not sure I understand the point of writing about something--particularly poetry--unless it's about building, about creating more understanding and appreciation for the work itself.

One may swipe at projects that seem vast and unwieldly, but it's a practice I embrace hesitantly, and I think it needs to be reserved for occasions, not as a matter of course.

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