Every now and then I’ve dipped
my toe into the ocean of poetry
reviewing. But I feel ill at
ease there, queasy, tempest-tost by
what reviewing does and doesn’t do.
Reviews think or feel with texts,
help us find ways into poetry
that we might initially find impenetrable,
or foster fellow-feeling (“Oh good,
someone else noticed what fascinated me!”).
Reviews are a cheat; they summarize,
letting us know “what’s going on
in poetry” at a distance, allowing
us to read-without-having-read
more books than we have time
or energy or courage to read.
Reviews amplify: they market: they create
buzz: they let us know what’s
what, what’s out there, what we
would otherwise miss. And with so
few reviews getting published, (with so
many books getting published), we miss
nearly everything. But so every book
review feels like a conscious decision
not to review every other book.
Reviews are not a zero sum
game, but every review, every amplification
I have written has made me
painfully aware of what I was
not reviewing, not amplifying, not promoting,
and not for lack of love!
(Some reviewers, however, champion certain books
in order to stymie other books
and prevent them from being amplified;
such destructive agonism mostly baffles me.)
But also: Reviews are texts made
writeable because of other texts. But
not all texts propagate other texts!
We might love those texts most
which inspire us to write least.
I used to (badly) photograph pages
from poetry books and post them
to Tumblr—only books I owned,
but not only books I loved—
as an experiment in reviewing, one
that was anchored in the ocean
of my experiences without being wracked
by my attention, my judgment, or
my ability to speak with them.
I’m not sure it was successful.
I’m not sure reviewing can improve
anything—and yet we miss nearly
everything. So reviewing is melancholic. If
this is a prelude to speaking
what some texts have encouraged me
to say, to amplifying some books
that I find myself able to
meaningfully promote, please remember: These words
that might happen to make waves
are the surface of an ocean
which teems and swells with life;
some I love but can’t speak