At the risk of getting nothing but negative reviews for the rest of my life I have to comment on the terrible state of reviewing....thinking of course, of the recent slaughter of Nathalie Stephens in the Globe & Mail versus the glowing, gloss of a review such as the recent one of Paul Muldoon by Ken Babstock. Let me just say up front that I don't have a problem with glowing reviews, or Ken Babstock, or Paul Muldoon for that matter, but don't these extremes point to an inconsistency of editorial policy at what is probably the only national venue for poetry reviews in the country?
The G&M seems to be very good at assigning certain kinds of poetry (or maybe certain people get to pick the ones they love). Babstock loves Muldoon ergo we're going to get a positive review of Muldoon; Todd Swift loves Babstock therefore we're going to get a glowing, over-the-top review of Babstock...whereas who (or what pray tell?) does Judith Fitzgerald love?
While there are those who prefer the scalding review, I wonder what the point of Fitzgerald's approach is? Who wins from this? At least Babstock writes an intelligent and often instructive, review, whereas all one feels from Fitzgerald is her bite.
Is that what we expect from newspaper reviews? Can't we expect a little more from a national "Book Review"? Unbiased I mean. Informative. If the G&M intends to be unbiased it should be unbiased...for all. It should decide whether it wants critical reviews and then go for critical reviews, illuminating critical reviews, reviews that will give people an opportunity to actually learn and think about poetry, about a book that is being offered for their consumption...
I've said this before and I say it again, like or don't like just isn't interesting. Maybe for a blog, but not for what we look to for a critical review... One wonders whether the G&M feels that poetry isn't worth the attention? Isn't worth finding the appropriate reviewer for a given book? Or, does it have an agenda, like so many other publications seem to have, of promoting a certain--very limited idea of poetry? If so, then why bother attempting to be inclusive? I haven't done the math, I wish someone would...I would be surprised to find a balanced representation, but it's possible.
This lack of inclusiveness is disappointing, particularly given the rich poetries currently being published in Canada...or is it just outside of the country that people see how rich and diverse and enviable the state of poetry in Canada is?
Is editorial consistency too much to ask for? Can we not expect as much from a publication such as this? Or is it really just the luck of the draw and innovative writers just happen to find their books in the hands of people predisposed to not liking them?
Finally, whatever happened to How Poetry Works? That was brilliant--those columns were clearly taking advantage of and allowing poets to show their smarts in their choosing and reading of poems. It appealed to poets and non-poets alike--why not build a critical community by informing people of the real range of contemporary poetries, and allowing them a way in to appreciating them? Or at least learning something about the work, at least coming to it open...