the guild

I have... a fairly large file of reviewers’ emails (more of them from recent years) that apologise for not being able to review this or that book, on the grounds that it is a poor one, and that its author, or his or her publisher, would never forgive any reviewer who pointed that out. I, of all people, can hardly say such fears are groundless. The rise in the academic industry (maybe a better term would be the guild) of ‘creative writing’ has also, I suspect, helped to tighten lips: might not a ‘bad’ review, after all, be taken as a declaration that some (doubtless expensive) practitioner was not fit for their post, or worth the cost of their courses? Would lawsuits be far behind?...

The climate for critical reviewing of poetry is no better now than it was ten years ago; it may perhaps be worse; and I myself have no appetite either for the endless grudge-match against the professional promoters of poetry, for whom everything they promote must be beyond any kind of critical stricture, or for allowing intelligent and original younger critics to compromise their own prospects in the little creative/academic world where – maybe, one day, with a few breaks – they might end up making a living.

- Peter McDonald, summing up a phenomenon I experienced more than once while trying to drum up reviews for PRISM international, from his introduction to Tower Poetry Reviews: 2004-2014. You can read the whole thing here. Thanks to the Vehicule Press blog for pointing this out.


a divide between literary criticism and promotional copy

... Appreciation is one of the highest skills in criticism, and one of the rarest: it is worth aspiring to. There is a difference, though, between appreciation and approval, just as there is a divide between literary criticism and promotional copy. Much of what passes for critical discussion of contemporary poetry is (and for some time has been) merely a form of recommendation, one that tends to the hyperbolic. I do not believe that reviewing should be a form of professional networking; but I have to acknowledge that here the facts are against me. In time, all the hyperbole proves corrosive: it should be no surprise that, the higher the volume of praise from reviewers and prize juries, directed in predictable ways to a consistently small circle of predictable names, the less a general reading public feels inclined to tolerate contemporary poetry.

- Peter McDonald, from his introduction to Tower Poetry Reviews: 2004-2014. You can read the whole thing here. Thanks to the Vehicule Press blog for pointing this out.


there is something about not understanding

I confess that, although I am comfortable with modern liturgy, I lean toward the lofty. I adore the sound of "We have left undone the things we ought to have done, and done the things we ought not to have done, and there is no health in us." (Someday, when I'm going on yet another diet, I'm going to tape that to the fridge.) I actually get a kick out of "We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under Thy table..." And one of my favourite moments of the year comes on Ash Wednesday, when a priest dabs some grit on my forehead and says, "Remember you are dust and to dust you will return." Somehow, "Keep in mind you're gonna die someday" just doesn't have the same ring.

Ring. As I look back over what I've just written, I see that sound keeps coming up. I could as easily have been writing about music. The sounds of words, even of those I don't understand - perhaps especially of those I don't understand - have always intrigued me. When I was small, I named my rocking horse Gideon because it sounded like a good horse name. And I had a toy stuffed dachshund whose moniker was - what else - Doxology. For years, I've harboured a desire to attend an all-Latin mass. My high school Latin not-withstanding, I would understand little of what was being said. And while that would make many people feel left out, it might just draw me in.

There is something about not understanding, not knowing the exact denotation of every word of a ritual, that is strangely appealing. Last year I attended a ceremony in a Buddhist temple that involved drumming and chant. I actually went into a trance. Was so relaxed at the end that I could hardly stand up. I know little about Buddhism, and could not understand a word of the ritual. But it got to me. It got in.

So what am I saying here? That language can be a barrier? Maybe the Jews had it right when they forbade the naming of the deity. But what kind of attitude is that for a writer to have?

- K.D. Miller, in conversation with Christine Poutney and Susan Scott on the topic of writing about religion and spirituality, from the Winter 2016 issue of The New Quarterly.


March Dead Poets Reading Series Lineup!

The next Dead Poets Reading Series event will take place at the Vancouver Public Library's Central Branch, Alice MacKay room, on March 13th, 2016, from 3-5 PM.

The lineup:

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917 - 2000), read by Chelene Knight
Langston Hughes (1902 - 1967), read by Susan MacRae
Pauline Johnson (1861 - 1913), read by Joy Llewellyn
Andrew Marvell (1621 - 1678), read by Christopher Levenson
Oscar Wilde (1854 - 1900), read by Ken Klonsky

Attendance is free. For more info, visit the DPRS website.

I hope to see you there!


only as they become necessary to me

Matthew Walsh: How does this project fit within your body of work?

Robyn Sarah: It’s funny to hear it called a project; I don’t think of my poetry collections as projects, even though our prevailing literary culture encourages poets to conceive and think of poetry books that way. I write poems only as they become necessary to me, and each is conceived as an individual work. When enough new poems have accumulated to gather into a collection, I begin assembling a manuscript and it naturally will reflect my preoccupations (conscious and unconscious) of the period in which they were written.

- Robyn Sarah, in conversation with Matthew Walsh over on the PRISM international website. You can read the whole thing here.