Comment on this
WHY WRITE POETRY REVIEWS?
BY: CHARLES P. RIES
I often wonder why I write poetry book reviews. I could spend all of my writing time
doing them. They have a short shelf life and unlike a poem, short story, or essay, are
generally never read twice. They are more like popcorn - here and gone. They will never
appear in an anthology of Americaís Greatest Reviews. Who cares about them?
After completing a recent poetry review I had an anxiety attack - I wondered if anyone
actually read the damn things. I know poets love them because they grow reputation and
there is nothing like a third person saying I love your work. Just look at the back jackets
of most published books.
So why write reviews? Initially I did it as a service to the sector, and because it was a
new form of writing for me, but later I realized others things were starting to happen. I
was meeting some wonderful publishers and poets; many have since become friends. I
was growing submission channels for my creative work by offering editors non-fiction
content for their publications. With every review I was deepening my knowledge of
form, style, theme, and pacing. I was getting my MFA in poetry by writing reviews and
reading work critically.
I donít rip writers apart in my reviews. Many negative reviews have as much to do with a
reviewerís taste as they do a writer's skill. Face it; reviewers are just readers with gender,
bias, and tastes. So when I find weakness in a writerís work I ask them to explain it.
More often than not they have made creative choices. Experienced writers do what they
do for a reason. But there is still such a thing as talent, and some writers lack it. After
reading hundreds of poets and poetry books, talent is something that jumps off the page
at you. You can see the kernels of it in very young inexperienced writers. They just have
it Ė it just is. But talent or not, I donít view my job as a reviewer to bang poets over the
head. This is why I weave interview into most of my reviews. Not just an interview that
allows the writer to talk in endless paragraphs about themselves, but specific questions
about choices they made within a particular collection of poems.
Iím not sure reviews sell books, but I had another fear that was far worse; people werenít
even reading them. So in a recent review of Michael Krieselís, Chasing Saturday Night I
buried an offer to give away ten free copies. If the reader read all the way to end of the
review, they would find the prize. Surely a reviewer can make no sacrifice greater than
paying to give someone elseís art away, but I was desperate. I needed to know if I
was totally wasting my time.
The experiment is now over, and I am here to report the results. Today, three months
after my review of Chasing Saturday Night was first published, I mailed the tenth and
final book of poetry. What a relief! A few people were actually reading poetry reviews.
So let me take a moment to honor those ten intrepid readers; readers who read reviews to
their glorious conclusions. Thank you:
1. Jonathan Penton - El Paso, TX
2. Mary Joe Malo - Forest, OH
3. Kris Bluth - Eugene, OR
4. Len Swiler - Corte Madera CA
5. Mukul Dahal - Chitwan, Nepal
6. Leah Call - Wesby, WI
7. Heidi Overson - Coon Valley, WI
8. Christine Coleman - Moline, IL
9. Angela Mankiewicz - Los Angeles, CA
10. Max Reif Ė Walnut Creek, CA
Honorable Mention: Petra Bachonja who commended me for offering the book for
free, but wanted to pay the publisher direct. (Letís just call him St. Petra, The Patron
Saint of Poets).
Reviews are the step-children of the small press. You will not go down in history as a
great poetry reviewer. We who write them do so as favors to friends, to grow the
reputations of writers we love and/or to interface with writers we admire, but mostly we
write poetry reviews because itís just the right thing to do. So, why donít you?